Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Darren Spruyt

Darren Spruyt believes in sustainable or IIFM (If It Fits Your Macros) dieting. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Life goes beyond the digits on the scale and your body is capable of so much more. Yahoo’s #Fitspo of the Week series is dedicated to inspirational men and women in Singapore leading healthy and active lifestyles. Have someone to recommend? Hit Cheryl up on Instagram or Facebook.

Name: Darren Spruyt (@dspruyt)

Age: 32

Height: 1.78m

Weight: 70kg

Occupation: Financial planner

Status: Attached

Diet: I believe in sustainable dieting, being able to enjoy my hawker foods and balancing between clean foods. Other terms people use are “flexible dieting” and “IIFM (If It Fits Your Macros)”. I plan my protein intake first depending on my goals (bulking or cutting), then I would allocate the rest of my calories between carbohydrates and fats.

Training: I would hit the gym five to six times a week first thing in the morning depending on my programme and spend between 60 to 90 minutes per session. During the off-season, I rarely do any cardio.

However, during my competition preparations, I was doing up to two High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and two Low-Intensity Steady State (LISS) cardio sessions. I would do my best to keep weight training and cardio sessions as far apart – so most of my cardio sessions were performed in the evening.

Q: Did you play any sports when you were a kid?

A: I was one of those active kids who would participate in everything when I was younger. From primary school all the way up till junior college (JC), I would always join all the relay events during the sports days. I was in the school bowling team during my secondary school days. While in JC, I was involved with kayaking, dragon-boating, and bowling.

Knee injuries and eczema outbreaks caused Darren Spruyt to disengage from sports, and subsequently gain weight. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

What other sports did you get into as you grew older?

I started gaining an interest in rugby during my upper secondary school days. However, as my schools did not have it as a Co-Curricular Activity (CCA), I was not able to play it.

It was only until National Service where I volunteered to play for the inter-division rugby competition that I learnt a lot more about the rules and gameplay of the sport. Sadly, this was also when I got into an accident during one of the friendlies and I tore my left ACL – which I had to go for an operation.

When did you start falling off track?

After my operation, I did not engage in much sports for a long time and would only hit the gym occasionally, especially during my rehabilitation phase. I participated only in a couple of inter-faculty games held in university.

Then things took a turn for the worse when I was in my second year of university. I was born with eczema at the legs and while I was younger, I struggled with this condition where I would get really bad outbreaks and infections. It was only until JC when my condition got more manageable and did not frustrate me.

In university, I was involved with the yearly Rag and Flag event, which required us to build huge floats, with the top ones being selected to perform at the Chingay Festival. It involved us learning how to work with construction materials such as the saw and different types of drills, so that we were able to construct these massive floats in a couple of months.

Due to the nature and environment I was exposed to, it caused my eczema to break out throughout my whole body. It got so bad that the backs of my knees were infected, and I had such thick layers of skin dried up that I could not bend my legs while walking. If I bent them, it would cause the wounds to open up again, and plasma would ooze out of my legs.

The condition spread to my eyes, ears, lips and even to my back which caused me a lot of frustration. I had to see a skin specialist and I was put on oral steroids for three to four months. I was also advised to avoid being in environments which would cause me to perspire as it would aggravate my skin.

The side effects of the medication caused me to be really hungry and I gained close to 10kg in a couple of months. I remember one occasion where I had two large bowls of soup and two large steaks – and within an hour I was hungry and looking for food again.

This period was also when I went to the United States for a year-long exchange programme and the serving sizes did not help my situation. I grew from 70kg to 80kg.

The threat of health issues creeping up made Darren Spruyt decide to lose weight and improve his physique. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

At which point did you feel you needed to do something about yourself?

It was after I returned to Singapore and my skin condition had recuperated that I started exercising again, doing the P90X and Insanity programmes. Back then, I did not understand anything about nutrition except “eat low-carb, high-protein”. The only result I got was losing whatever little muscle mass I had and becoming “skinny fat”.

After I graduated, I started lifting weights in the gym regularly as I wanted to grow bigger, bulking up to 75kg. However, the nature of my career meant that I had to go through an intensive initial phase where I did not have any time to myself.

This was when I stopped exercising and my diet maintained – resulting in me getting heavier and fatter. By mid-2017, I had gone up to about 85kg.

As my clothes were tailor-made, I remember having a conversation with my previous manager about how I was feeling lousy and his only questions to me were, “Which do you feel is more important? Your career or going to the gym?”

I gave the answer that did not resonate with my inner-self and was probably when I started to feel less confident about myself. It was a downward slope from there. In addition, that same manager and my other teammates would tease me daily.

They would make comments like “Eh, why you so fat?” or “Darren, your belly button is playing peek-a-boo! I can see it!”. My ex-manager was also one of the few people who would engage in this daily “teasing” thinking that it was a joke.

Although I tried not to show it, deep inside, I was feeling less and less confident about my self-image. Just thinking about those incidents a few years back still hurts me.

I decided to switch environments in 2017 and my weight continued to increase as I wanted to excel in my career and only focused on work, so I ended up at my heaviest weight of 92kg in February 2018. I could clearly remember being in a state of really low energy. I felt extremely sluggish and could feel my weight while walking. It came to a point that I was so unproductive.

One day, I visited a TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) doctor as I had a sprained neck – and upon him touching my wrist and feeling my pulse, he commented, “Do you have fatty liver?” That was probably the biggest turning point, where I knew I had to take charge of my health as I was too young to have any health issues. Thus, begin my weight loss journey till today.

You recently competed in a physique competition. What prompted you to take part in that?

Two things that really prompted me to take part in the competition. Firstly, it was to prove to myself that I could do it – and to push myself even further beyond that.

Secondly, through my weight loss experience, I was able to read up and understand a lot more about nutrition. One thing that did come up was the fact that most people trying to lose weight are always involved with fad diets. They start changing their diets totally and although they hit their goals, they revert to their previous diet and lifestyles, causing them to bounce back to their previous conditions and sometimes even heavier than before. This is what most experts would term as a “yo-yo” dieting, something which is not sustainable for a person’s health in the long-term.

I wanted to show that if a person monitors their food intake and activity and manipulate certain variables, they can also achieve weight loss. To put it simply, the calories you burn have to be higher than the energy you consume from the food you eat.

Of course, it does not have to go to the extremes of preparing all your meals and weighing all your food. While eating out, I always refer to the Health Promotion Board’s Nutrition Composition Search page to get a rough estimate of the calories of certain foods and their macronutrient composition.

A change in work environment made it easier for Darren Spruyt to manage his physique. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Will you continue to compete in more?

I do not foresee myself competing at least in the next two years as I want to focus on building more muscle mass. Preparing for a competition also requires a lot of mental energy.

During my preparations, I was on a caloric deficit and this made me moodier and more short-tempered, It was not easy on my girlfriend and mother, as they could not understand why I behaved in such a manner.

I shall see where the next couple of years take me before I decide if I wish to compete again.

When did you feel the least confident about yourself?

This has to be while I was still in my previous company when everything just was not turning out right for me. My ex-colleagues were teasing me daily, my clothes were extremely tight – I did not wish to meet new prospects or existing clients as I was always thinking about the “belly button playing peekaboo”.

I will never forget how I would always sit as upright as possible, and I would tug at the bottom of my shirts to ensure that it would not open up and expose my body. It was also about the same time where I had gotten out of my previous relationship and I was struggling with work. A lot of things were just not working out.

The greatest thing that I did for myself was really to change my environment. After switching companies, I started spending time with people who were more supportive, more sensitive and encouraging. I would say that because of that, I was gradually able to pick myself up and move forward from there.

What advice do you have for people who have given up on themselves?

The best advice I can give is to take that first step and to be patient. I’ve had several people ask me what I did to lose so much weight and I’ve shared my advice with them. However, none implemented what I shared with them.

It took me a good two to three years to get to a state that I was extremely unhappy with my self-image. It took me another 20 months to get to a state where I am in the best shape of my life. If we take years developing a diet and lifestyle that is not in alignment with our self-image, how we do we expect things to turn around and change within a couple of weeks or months?

Take it slow, develop a healthy relationship with food, and enjoy the journey.

What are your fitness goals now?

I am focused on building up more muscle mass and to maintain my existing relationship with my food. Of course, it is also about striking a balance between having social gatherings/meals and chasing after my physique goals.

Did you get any comments about your body now?

Tons! My mother used to comment about my belly and advised me to go “low carb”. Now she has gone to the other extreme saying, “Your body now very nice ah! Don’t grow bigger and look like those big bodybuilders.”

Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Darren Spruyt. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)