My Health Journey – from skinny to chubby, then healthy

Pig eating

Growing up, I was a skinny kid who could eat whatever I wanted and never gained weight. At school, I was a relatively active boy, who usually participated playing tag, football, handball, and whatever else kids did at the time. However, I wasn’t involved in weekend, club, or representative sports. So, it was a surprise to me when years later that I gained some chubbiness and looking back, there was probably also some denial about it. But let’s start from the beginning.

Signing up to a gym

The first time I was intentionally active was after a breakup in my early 20s. I wanted to take my mind off things so I bought I cheap bike from Kmart (I think?) and cycled on the road (I quickly discovered it was not a great idea on Sydney roads), bought some roller skates and taught myself how to skate (I crashed so many times – my poor hands and knees), signed up for swimming lessons (although I could “splash” around in the water, I wanted to learn the proper techniques) as well as joining the gym.


I didn’t know the first thing about the gym and back then, there wasn’t YouTube, Instagram, or other social media platforms (yes, I’m that old), so the bits of knowledge about training in the gym was hearsay (think broscience) and buying men’s fitness magazines whenever I could afford it. And forget about getting a personal trainer – that was way out of the realm for a poor uni student.

In addition, I didn’t have a clue about diet and nutrition. I didn’t even know it had that much of an impact to physiology of the body. Sure, I knew that deep fried stuff was bad and I should restrict my chocolate and chips and all the other bad stuff but that was the extent of my knowledge on food.

When life happens

Despite my ignorance about all things fitness, I had a consistent routine; going to the gym and swimming pool at the local leisure centre after work about 3 – 4 times a week. It was made all the easier when my new girlfriend was also into fitness at the time (actually, it was how we met but that’s a whole different story!).

Three months pregnant

This girlfriend later became my lovely wife and a few years after we met, we welcomed 2 kids into the world… and that’s when almost all exercise stopped for me. Having to look after 2 little kids plus juggling a master’s degree at the same time, something had to give and I dropped the gym. Unfortunately, I was still eating as though I was still going to the gym and ever so gradually, my waistline ballooned and the kilos increased. When people told me that I piled on the weight or I looked a little chubby, I joined in their joke and laughed it off. Lucky I was still beautiful, I replied, patting my 3-months pregnant belly.

False logic

Even when I was piling on the weight (gaining about 15kgs to 85-90kgs), I still felt like I was the skinny kid who could eat whatever I wanted. Any weight I gained was simply a part of getting older, I assured myself. Anyway, I was still going to the gym on and off about 2 – 3 days a week, so I thought I was doing enough to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Even when I looked at photos, I didn’t see a chubby person reflecting back. In hindsight, it seemed that my wife and I were ballooning at the same rate so perhaps that gave me a misleading idea that I was still skinny. But she had a good reason for her weight – she had given birth – twice – whilst I was stuck with a permanent 3-month pregnant tummy.

Moving to Hong Kong

Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to travel the world with my work and it wasn’t until I moved to Hong Kong that I was finally frustrated with my progress. Prior to that, I was going to gym regularly (3 – 4 times a week) but my body shape retained its chubbiness despite the buckets of shedded sweat during hours upon hours in the gym. At first, I wanted a better physique but that changed into having better health. Luckily this time, the internet is more prevalent, and YouTube was bursting with fitness and nutritional tips whether you want it or not – thanks “influencers”.

Starting with diet and nutrition

At times it was confusing to distinguish which advice was based on science instead of broscience but after binging on hundred of hours of YouTube fitness videos, I realised that I had to start with diet and nutrition if I wanted to improve my health. (By diet, I mean what I eat, not a style of eating which usually deprive myself of certain food groups). It became obvious very quickly that hours in the gym will not improve my health if I was not eating properly.

My body is a temple

I started intermittent fasting and ate a pseudo-keto diet (pseudo because I wasn’t strict about it). For fasting, I decided on the 16:8 split – i.e., fast for 16 hours and eat all my meals within an 8-hour window. This meant that I would give up breakfast and eat lunch and dinner anywhere between 12pm to 8pm, and nothing outside this window. The beginning of fasting was torturous. Like most people, my body was programmed to eat breakfast, so my stomach growled at me for food and stabbed me with hunger pains when I ignored it. It took months to get used to it but I continue to maintain the routine til this day.

Just say no to sugar

Among the plethora of food I discovered were unhealthy (even so-called “healthy” breakfast cereal was not healthy – shock horror), I learnt that I should give up added sugar. So, apart from fruits which I eat in moderation, I generally don’t eat anything with added sugar, including soft drinks and sauces. This was a material departure from my childhood when I would devour anything that had sugar in it. In fact, when I was a kid, I would eat spoonfuls of sugar straight from the packet as a substitute for candy. Having quit added sugar for a few years, whenever I eat anything with sugar, it is almost always too sweet for me.

Fast forward to today

In the first 12 months since arriving in Hong Kong and started to take my health more seriously, I lost about 15kgs, which I have maintained the last 2 years relatively easily. Even though I trained in the gym in my 20s, I feel like I am in better shape years later because I have better understanding of nutrition and fitness. I think the secret is:

1 – I don’t view my way of eating as going on a diet

It’s just how I eat. Plus, my family eats similar things that I do, which is a balanced mixed of meat and veggies.

2 – I don’t deprive myself of the things I want to eat

I eat it in moderation. After all, I found that I could not beat cravings with will power over the long run. Sure, I could postpone it for a few days, weeks or even months but I’d torture myself in between by obsessing over it. For me, it’s better to eat whatever I’m craving in moderation to get it out of my system, so I can stop thinking about it. This way, it is like a safety valve, which prevents me from binging after a period of deprivation.

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