MediaPunch/Rex USA
January 23, 2015 07:15 PM

As Gabriela Ordoñez prepares to represent her country as Miss Honduras in the 63rd annual Miss Universe Pageant on Sunday, following a strict crash diet is the last thing on her agenda.

“In fact, I had to start eating a bit more,” the 22-year-old tells PEOPLE and PEOPLE En Español. “I lost more pounds than I needed and I was thinner than usual due to the stress and the traveling.”

But that wasn’t always the case for the now size-zero Ordoñez – she used to be 40 lbs. heavier.

“My body was an obstacle for me in daily activities. I felt very tired. I had stomachaches at night,” she says of the health issues that prompted her to overhaul her daily regimen.

“The moment you decide to change your lifestyle, you make that decision for life. It’s not a matter of doing a quick diet to lose weight fast. I changed not only my body, but my mind as well.”

Aside from minimizing carbs, maximizing protein and drinking a ton of water, Ordoñez was loyal to a daily two-hour routine of cardio and weights. “It didn’t matter how tired I felt, I always went to the gym,” she says.

As for her diet: “I would wake up in the morning and eat egg whites with turkey slices and I ate something every two hours. I eat a lot of dried fruits.”

While she is happy with her new body, Ordoñez, who only began modeling last year, says a healthy body image is really about balance and projecting one’s inner self. “Being thin serves no purpose if you don’t have charisma. Having the perfect smile serves no purpose if you don’t project a real smile.”

Of course, being crowned as the next Miss Universe on Jan. 25 would certainly make her smile – and allow her to fulfill her dreams of traveling the world. “After that I would like to be a mom, to have a beautiful baby boy or girl and to work as a lawyer,” she says.

But her first post-pageant order of business? “I’m sure I will eat a whole delicious cheesecake, says Ordoñez. “You have to give yourself a break to be happy.”

Reporting by LENA HANSEN

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