For the greater part of the last two years, I have been on a life-changing stretch of my personal “fitness” journey. Funny thing is that for years I had been working out endlessly, and aimlessly, just for the sake of maintenance. What does that mean, exactly? Well, it meant that while I was constantly working out, my priority was really more about my social life. I worked out so I could go out. Back then I’d considered myself a creature of indulgence; indulgence punctuated by excellent times with friends engaging in fun nights, deep (and also shallow… let’s be honest) conversations, travels both domestically and abroad, and always a good meal and an almost never-ending stream of drinks.
If you knew me then, it was never a surprise to find me at the newest restaurant enjoying foie gras-laced handmade pastas, or throwing back top shelf vodka martinis like they were glasses of water at the newest trendy bar. My goal was never to go out and drink to get drunk, but I am part of the population of humans who actually enjoys good alcohol. Never mind the mixed drinks, sugary cocktails, sweet dessert wines (which people drink with their lunch or dinner much to my confusion), beer or cheap dribbles –all a waste of time (and calories) IMO. I am all about the top shelf bottles that go down smooth with just a swirl of an ice cube (no chaser), or a splash of vermouth and stirred to perfection. Drinks are my kryptonite because I can never just leisurely sip on a pour of The Balvenie, for instance. I throw back drinks rather quickly that by the time I reach the point of incoherence, I’ve probably already scarfed down an $18 grass-feed beef burger with truffle fries, or something else ridiculous (aka “delicious”). The point is, this habit was not only bad for my wallet, but it was more so bad for my waistline.
My other “thing” is that I am a guy with a keen interest in style and fashion, so looking my best in the type of clothes I want to wear has been somewhat of a challenge over the years. This interest in being fashionable while remaining gastronomically indulgent eventually became too hard to balance, and I’d struggled with this for a good portion of my post-collegiate life.
It was during college that I gained the freshman 15 much like everyone else. But it wasn’t just freshman year that did me in. I had probably gained the “freshman 15” each year I was in school. (Thank you, dining hall chicken fingers, baked potatoes with broccoli & cheese, and bottles upon bottles of Fruitopia. #justdatedmyself) By the time I graduated, I was at an uncomfortable 230+ pounds. Wasn’t exactly a great look for a not-so-tall Asian guy. Also like most people, I struggled with getting started on the path to weight loss. For whatever reason, I had an excuse for not being able to start. Until one day, I just couldn’t take it anymore. There is no doubt that getting started is THE hardest part of any weight loss journey. Once I did start, however, I did not (and could not) stop.
I then spent the greater part of a year gradually building up my endurance doing cardio exercises. I gave up drinking in that time, and became “that person” at restaurants who would order no dressing on my salad, or opt for butter-less dishes, and drank sparkling water to give me the false sense of having something less plain than tap. If you ask me, it was all a complete mind-fuck then. But it was a mind-fuck that worked. I had struck gold, and next thing you know I was back on the party scene, flaunting my new size 32 waistline and surprising people left and right with my transformation.
But I didn’t really know how to move on from that.
Cardio remained my de facto mode of exercise, because it had worked. I’d spend anywhere from 45 minutes to an hour at least 5 days a week cardio-ing my way through just to prepare myself for nights out with friends, libations flowing freely like waterfalls, and stuffing my face with poor, but obviously delicious choices of food. I would then spend the next 12 years or so maintaining this lifestyle, and teetering between gaining and losing 12-15 now and then. Thankfully, I’d never reached that 200+ mark again, but I’ve come close enough that it all eventually came to a point where I needed change.
That was the question I asked myself that really got my brain working overtime. Since then, I’ve learned that knowing and believing in your “WHY” is really what will set the foundation for the change that is to come.
At the time, I was about two months out from a trip to Spain with close friends. These friends, like me, share a similar interest in culinary indulgences. We had spent a weekend in Paris before, which was gastronomically unforgettable. With that in mind, I knew that traipsing around Spain with these two would entail heaps of tapas, goblets of proper ginebra y tonicas (literally goblets; if you’ve been to Spain or Portugal then you know exactly what I’m talking about), and endless bottles of wine. What else to expect from a trip through La Rioja and on to San Sebastián – the unofficial Michelin star capital of the world? (Read my account of that trip here.) I was not in my best form leading up to the trip, and one of my friends is a great photographer so I needed to get myself camera ready. (#guilty)
Looking back, my WHY (at the time) was purely entrenched in vanity. There, I admitted it. But what I began to learn as I prepared myself for that trip also laid the foundation for my eventual, true WHY.
I signed on with an online fitness coach that I found on Instagram. It seemed like a ridiculous idea at the time, but I’d been following a handful of these “coaches” on IG and was drawn by the wealth of knowledge that they were sharing. This knowledge was so intriguing to me, and I was truly at a loss when it came to figuring out the direction I wanted to go with my fitness journey. For about two years prior to this point, I had taken up resistance training and complementing that with cardio instead of focusing on a cardio-led regimen. I had put on an ok amount of muscle, enough that one morning my roommate (at the time) walked into the kitchen as I was preparing egg whites for breakfast and she nearly gasped at the sight of my arms in my t-shirt. So I clearly did not see what she saw (and frankly still have a hard time seeing progress which others seem to notice more clearly than I do), but I took it and ran with it. Back then I based my routines and knowledge off things I read online or on fitness magazines. Those things worked, but there was still something missing.
I narrowed my search for an online coach down to a guy who was less about being a half-naked muscle model (though at the same time – if you got it, flaunt it!), and more about being a fitness entrepreneur whose purpose was not only to live a fit lifestyle for himself, but to help others find the same head space. Was he strictly “healthy” all the time? At times, sure. Especially when prepping for a (physique) show or something along those lines. But he was so real that he shared his struggles with his own bouts of indulgence. And he didn’t take himself too seriously, which was miles-away the most appealing thing about him. After giving it some thought, I was up and running with him on a 4-week weight loss program. I followed it strictly, meal plan and all, for a month. After that was over, I continued with the plan on my own for another month, and sure enough I was ready as I could be for Spain. My friend’s camera was good to me, and the wine flights and food comas were definitely worth all the hard work I had put in.
When I was back Stateside, I had to face the reality that I probably ruined ALL of the hard work I had put into preparing for that trip. I enlisted in two consecutive 16-week programs with my online coach, this time capitalizing on the weight I had put on and working on turning that into lean gains. Those programs taught me the basics of building lean muscle mass while losing weight, the importance of weekly weigh-ins with my coach, and balancing out my eating habits.
After those programs ended, I moved on to a new coach after a short break, not because I was over my first one (still plan on going back to him eventually), but because I personally like to absorb the many nuances that different coaches bring to the table. This time my goal was to cut while maintaining the muscle mass I had gained. My next coach provided me with the clear tools to understand nutrition by consuming daily macros based on my current body weight and my goals. I also learned about flexible dieting, which really started to drive different results. I knew then that I was on to something more than I had ever expected to get myself into. My WHY was becoming more clear.
Now I’m here. Started a new program about 3 weeks ago with a new coach, who brings to the table other ideas that complement what my previous coaches have taught me. And as I go through this 8-week program, I am learning even more elements that I can throw into my now evolved lifestyle.
I’m not at a point where I can say that I am 100% where I want to be with my fitness, but I also have realized that I may never get there – not because I can’t, but because I now look at this journey as a continuous process that will always be evolving. My goals will always change, but the one thing that remains is my WHY. For me, that is being the best version of myself, and sharing what I have learned with others.
In the past few months leading up to the recent holidays, I have been asked by a handful of family and friends for fitness advice, tips on working out and nutrition, and one of them even went so far as to ask me to help create a “plan” for her. Mind you, I’m not certified in anything, let alone anything fitness or nutrition based. But I put together some thoughts for my friend to use as guidance, and we are currently working on weekly check-ins to gauge her progress and tweak her plan as necessary. This is exactly what has become my WHY. WHY do I do this, besides for myself? Well — besides wanting to look good naked, or have sex with the lights on (an inside joke, btw, with friends… that is really #kiddingNOTkidding), or get to a balanced point in my life where a cheat meal won’t be detrimental to my physique or health… my WHY is caring about people and their well-being. My WHY is encouraging people who aren’t afraid to seek change in their lives. My WHY is guiding people through changing their habits in a good and sustainable way. Because I’ve been able to do it for myself, I am confident that anyone can do it just the same.
Stick around if you are interested in learning more! I will continue to document my journey as I go along, and share all I can in what I hope will be as meaningful a way as possible.
I know that the struggle is real! (I mean I was literally just now in a mental deadlock with a piece of chocolate.) Getting started is, and will be, the hardest part. But as a wise Chinese philosopher once said, it takes a single step to start any journey. Know that once you start, and you set realistic short and long term goals for yourself, the possibilities are endless. [Insert cliché upon cliché here, and blah-blah-blah forever and ever. Amen.]