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: Marcus Neo (@marc.neo)
Food: I’m on a strict ketogenic diet except for cheat dinners on weekends.
Exercise: 5 days of functional strength training followed by boxing, 2 days of running
Q: You weren’t an active kid.
A: Yeah, growing up as an only child with overprotective parents, I wasn't that active in school or had any sporty hobbies. Even PE classes and inter-class games were a dread, given how unfit and inactive I was.
When you were younger, did you experience any incidents that made you feel insecure about yourself?
I was fortunate to have been spared unceasing bullying in school, except for a few incidents where I got made fun of for not playing sports or lacking stamina.
The biggest insecurity, however, came from being surrounded by cousins who were school athletes and exuded a confidence that I wish I had too. They were looked up to within the family in conversation and admiration.
By focusing on measuring myself against others rather than paying attention to my own inherent value, I suffered from emotional adversity and undervalued my capabilities throughout my youth. The less I believed in myself, the more I felt leading an invigorated life wasn't a priority.
You started to struggle with weight in the army when you got injured.
The first few weeks of basic military training (BMT) gave me a wake-up call to how unfit I was. The constant exercise, marching and running gave me zero excuses to slack off.
It was there that I realised I was born with extremely short Achilles tendons – something I wasn’t aware of due to years of inactivity in my youth. After six intense weeks of lower body exercises in BMT, my tendons eventually snapped and I instantly lost all mobility.
To regain my mobility, I had to undergo surgery to lengthen both tendons, which entailed a prolonged recovery and halted any fitness progress gained in BMT.
Subjected to a wheelchair and crutches for nearly half a year, I gained weight from the lack of mobility. Seeing my weight creep up again made me lose most of my motivation to get fit and I returned to the bad habits of slacking off and mindless eating again.
Would you say you let yourself go after that?
Yup. Being inactive again for half a year abruptly after getting used to intense activity (and losing weight in the process) broke any motivation. Eating healthy and progressively ramping up activity as recovery advanced took a backseat, especially since I had a sedentary job in NS.
Despite having little support from friends and family, I made several attempts to lose weight after my ORD, spurred on by the fact that I was gaining weight at a rapid pace. There wasn't much else to do while waiting to enrol into college in the United States, and I started working out in the gym and doing a bit of jogging. Unfortunately, those attempts ended up in vain as they felt highly repetitious, and I lost the drive when I was due to leave for college.
I hit 79kg at my peak and having to refit my entire wardrobe for larger sizes felt highly demoralising. I stopped looking at myself in the mirror and even seeing my face in a video chat felt embarrassing. Despite the self-consciousness, the culture in the US wasn't one where being unfit or overweight was frowned upon. Finding comfort in food from homesickness was more consoling than going on another crash diet or workout plan.
Then your turning point came.
Yes, I found boxing by chance in college and decided to give it a go, as I never really enjoyed playing most sports growing up. Furthermore, a rebellious side of me wanted to shed that over-protected childhood through participating in a combat sport.
After a few training sessions of getting beaten down by my lack of stamina and fitness, I decided to persevere for the long haul. A few months into training, I started seeing an improvement in my confidence. My motivation to get fitter grew as I wanted to progress even further.
Having a goal to build my fitness made me more aware that I was eating roughly 4,000 junk food calories daily. I radically swapped it down to a healthier one at 2,500 calories with whole grains, healthy fats and lean proteins.
The radical change in diet also improved my overall fitness, which enhanced my training, boosted my stamina and helped progressively shed weight. After several months of training, I lost nearly 5kg by adopting a 2,000 daily calorie ketogenic diet, boxing twice a week with strength training and cardio three times a week.
How do you feel about your transformation?
To date, I have lost nearly 14kg from my peak while maintaining muscle mass. It is incredibly gratifying knowing that I have lost all the weight from being motivated to train and improve in a sport I'm passionate about.
The transformation has allowed me to be at the fittest I've ever been in my life. Being able to push myself physically in boxing, running and callisthenics is highly gratifying. The climax of the physical transformation was competing in boxing twice, which thus far have been one of my most remarkable life experiences.
Emotionally, I feel far more focused and mindful of the "why" in remaining consistent with exercise and persisting with the keto diet. Boxing has also given me far more confidence in myself, leading me to recover more efficiently from setbacks and adversity while looking forward in life with more optimism.
How long have you kept up this lifestyle?
I have been trying hard to keep this lifestyle up for close to five years since I started boxing in 2016. Conclusion – there are times when keeping consistent with my goals was more difficult, especially when travelling abroad for work with lifestyle patterns changing suddenly and drastically. It was also tricky keeping the motivation up with boxing after returning to Singapore as the training was unfortunately lacklustre and the community not as encouraging.
Thankfully, I am happy with the gym I currently train at and I am optimistic the flame of enthusiasm will remain alight. Another challenge I had returning to Singapore was the struggle in adapting local cuisine with the keto diet since the options here are limited and pricey compared to the US.
To overcome dietary challenges, I adapted to using more plant-based proteins. Pre-planning meals have allowed me to maintain some variety without eating chicken breast and broccoli all the time. I also allow myself to break the monotony with one or two high carbohydrates "cheat" dinners with friends over the weekend.
What are your current fitness goals?
My current fitness goals are keeping up with daily exercise and pushing my cardio limits through longer and faster runs. I aim to keep my weight consistent throughout the year, especially since weight is a crucial aspect of competing in boxing.
Beginning this year, I have also made it a wellness goal to practise daily meditation and be more self-aware of my actions. This has helped with my confidence and given me the awareness not to let negative emotions or events (such as the pandemic) ruin the habits that I've built so far.
When did you feel the least confident about yourself?
I felt least confident about myself over two occasions – when I was in BMT and when I started boxing. Both instances unveiled my ignorance of how overweight I've become and how unfit I was, unable to complete simple exercises and constantly gassing out.
Overcoming those challenges in BMT was straightforward especially given how little opportunity there was to be distracted. Instead, improving fitness performance in the shortest period was the only way forward to have a more enjoyable time.
The same negative feelings came about again when I finally decided to try out boxing after slacking off for more than two years after recovering from surgery. However, overcoming my physical inadequacies was far more challenging given how I lived in the "real world", this time with distractions than the bubble BMT was.
Fortunately, I had an incredibly supportive community for support and coaches who adopted a "tough love" approach to building my fitness and confidence. The desire to improve my fitness to progress in a sport that I finally had a passion for helping me curb most of the distractions, negative thoughts and comfort eating.
Reigniting the motivation was similar to my BMT experience and I started to shed the weight off again with consistency. Overcoming the fitness hurdles of boxing while juggling other responsibilities gave me hope. With the confidence received from a robust support system, I could subdue a lot of the negativity and laziness I've carried with me to this day.
Are you satisfied with your body now?
Yes, I'm satisfied with my body now. Having been large from my late teens till my mid-20s, I am incredibly grateful for having the slimmer stature now. I also view this as a second chance to lead a healthier, more fulfilling life. Being lighter also means that I carry far less "luggage" around, and I can progress in the physical activities I enjoy without the burden of unnecessary injury.
Is your body a result of your workout regime or is it something you worked towards?
I'll say with complete confidence that my body results from a consistent workout regime and conscientiously sticking to a diet plan that works around my lifestyle. Knowing that I started my workout regime to get fitter and healthier has prevented any unnecessary comparison with others.
Have you ever received any comments about your body?
Over the years, I've received both positive and negative comments about my body. Many who knew me as overweight and one who shunned sports have commented positively on my physique and the fitness to compete in boxing.
On the other end, I have received negative comments from coaches and training partners that I am still too large and lack the athleticism to progress further in boxing. Despite the negativity, being conscious of how far I've come through my fitness journey and knowing what still lies ahead spurs me to work on constructive criticism and silencing the pessimists.
If you could change anything about yourself, would you?
I am incredibly grateful for having the opportunity and support to radically change my lifestyle habits around to be the fittest I've been in my entire life. With that said and as cliché as it sounds, the only thing I will want to change is to constantly evolve into a better version of myself every day.