“It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” It might be a huge cliche, but when it comes to wellness, these are words to live by: health isn’t something you arrive it, but work on consistently, working towards, achieving and resetting goals to constantly challenge and improve your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. As a personal trainer, Beth Wright works with clients every day to help them define and stick to their wellness journey, and under Beth’s guidance, Founder of Sponge Diane Younes experienced this journey first hand. Beth and Diane talk us through the transformation process, and how she completed the first stage of her wellness journey.
Beth: You have always been fit and active (played basketball in college to a high level, a hardcore spinning queen in New York) and we met each other initially by bumping into each other (literally) every day in the gym. Do you want to share some background as to how we started working together?
Diane: I’ve always been into sports, and it all started with my love for basketball. I even played in an all men’s league after college. As I grew older, I started going to the gym more often and adding different classes to my workout routine. I wasn’t seeing the results I wanted. I was lifting heavy and keeping fit by going to the gym 5-7 days per week, but I didn’t see that in the way my body looked.
You and I were celebrating a friend’s birthday at Zuma, of all places, and I told you that I wanted my body to look strong. To which you responded so nicely, ‘I’m going to help you.’
The very next day, you sent me a detailed questionnaire on my health background and my goals. You also asked me to track everything I was eating that day on MyFitnessPal. That night, after looking over my materials, you said my protein was much too low to maintain and build muscle. The very next day, our adventure started! And at the same time, I upped my gym game and started doing CrossFit 5-6 days a week. I had always wanted to try it and thought this was a good time to do it.
Beth: What were your main goals when you started out and how did the programme we put together differ to what you had done in the past? Describe an average day for you.
Diane: My goal was simple: to be strong and look strong. I always thought I had pretty good eating habits: I knew what was good for my body and what wasn’t, and I tried to limit eating what wasn’t good. As it turns out, it’s not that simple. I was neglecting protein, and those dinner get-togethers with friends on weekends would derail all the hard work I had done during the workweek.
Thankfully I had you to guide me as I first tried to lose fat, then we would move to the second phase to build muscle. To lose fat, you calculated my daily maintenance calories and we agreed to create a moderate calorie deficit for the initial fat loss phase. This meant tracking everything I ate on MyFitnessPal. I used a meal delivery service, Nutrition Kitchen, to help with keeping food varied so that I wouldn’t get bored of eating the same meal. I could indeed eat what I wanted: no food was banned. But everything in moderation, as long as I hit my 200g of protein per day. Initially, you told me to target 30g of fat and approximately 120g of carbs every day. I would send you my food entries at night and you would check and give feedback on them. I would also ask you which food items on a menu were best when I would go to a restaurant.
The first three days took some getting used to, but it was smooth sailing after that. I lost 15kg of fat in two-and-a-half months, and successfully maintained my muscle mass, which was important for our second phase.
What was most important to me during the first phase was to not feel hungry—because who likes to feel hungry? I ate enough food to feel satisfied and to fuel my CrossFit workouts. To be frank, I could not have imagined an easier fat loss programme. I didn’t have to guess or make wrong turns—I had you to guide me every day.
Beth: What has been the most surprising thing that you have learnt about your body through the programme and working with me over the last four months?
Diane: It’s crazy what your body will do when you give it what it needs. It will do what you want it to do and it will look the way you want it to look. This is my biggest takeaway and it has quite frankly blown my mind because of how simple and logical it is. Yet we tend to forget this or set it aside.
Your body also needs to be tricked from time-to-time when it is in a fat loss phase. Every three weeks or so, you would tell me to increase my calories to my maintenance calories for three days to make sure I wouldn’t plateau. It worked every time and it would accelerate fat loss the following week as I returned back to lower calories. Magic.
Beth: What was the hardest part so far and did you ever feel like giving up? If so how did you keep going?
Diane: I call it ‘Fruitgate’. At the beginning of the process, I was losing fat but not as fast as we were hoping. You noticed that I was eating fruit—my favourite food for breakfast—in the morning. You told me to stop doing that because my body was using the fruit glucose as fuel for my lunchtime workouts, as opposed to using my own body fat. While this may seem like a small adjustment, I had always eaten fruit at breakfast since I was a child and I loved it. So I didn’t want to give it up. I pleaded. You reminded me of my goals. I caved. I gave up fruit for breakfast and had it for dessert at dinner. My fat loss accelerated—go figure.
Beth: What has been the best part about working with me and would you recommend this way of working with someone to whom you are accountable as a good way to achieve your goal to others?
Diane: You were a nutrition coach who acted like my best friend and not only answered all my questions but held me accountable. You can Google nutrition advice all you want, but it won’t be tailored made to you, your body and your lifestyle. It won’t ask you how you feel on a particular day based on the types of food you are eating. And it won’t give you the results you’re looking for, whatever those results might be. Investing in your health is the best investment you can ever make.
Beth: What Hong Kong fitness studios, nutrition companies and apps would you recommend that made your health and fitness journey easier? Do you have a favourite restaurant that you could enjoy a date night and still stay on track?
Diane: I cannot recommend Crossfit Asphodel enough. I have found a home there. The coaches are experienced, professional and most importantly, they care and are patient with you. I can do things now that I never thought I would be able to do. You will work hard, challenge yourself, have fun and learn so much about yourself in the process. And to top it all off, the gym itself is top-notch. MyFitnessPal is a great tool for tracking your food and macros. I used Nutrition Kitchen as a food delivery service for phase one—the food is good and the delivery is always on time. My go-to restaurant was, and still is, Tango in Central: their steak is amazing and it’s a great source of protein.
Beth: Your workout wardrobe has definitely grown with your increasing confidence, success and killer workouts. Any favourite athleisure brands or boutiques in Hong Kong that we should be on the look-out for?
Diane: Under Armour and Gymshark are my favourite athleisure brands. They fit my body type and they have a great range of styles. Most importantly, their clothes are long lasting.
Beth: What changes did you make at home to help you stick to the plan and keep you motivated? Was it hard living with someone whilst doing the programme or did you encourage each other to be motivated to be healthier?
Diane: I had always eaten somewhat healthy, so I didn’t have to make any changes at home. I didn’t lose motivation throughout the process, as you made it easy to stay on track. If I wanted a cookie, I could eat a cookie and we planned and tracked it. My husband made it easy too, as he started using Nutrition Kitchen and increasing his protein intake. So I had a team of people making sure I would be successful!
Beth: As an entrepreneur, a big part of your business is attending and participating in events (often with food and wine). Was this a challenge for you whilst doing the programme and how did you balance the two?
Diane: I don’t drink that much alcohol, and I’m too busy chatting with people at events to really dig in the food. For dinner events, I would send you the menu in advance and you would provide advice on which items were best for me to eat.
Beth: What is your next goal and how are you going about working towards that? Can you share a bit about how we moved out of a dieting phase into your next strength phase?
Diane: I am currently eating 2500 calories a day to build muscle as I am in phase two and that number of calories is my baseline. Basically, I am constantly eating and I’m having a lot of fun doing it! I focus on getting 200g of protein (a number which has and will stay the same), and I fill the rest of my calories with healthy fats and carbs. The increase from 1500 calories a day to 2500 calories a day didn’t happen overnight. You were closely monitoring my food intake and weight every day.
To make sure my body didn’t store the extra calories as fat and to build up my metabolism, we did it in increments to give my body time to adjust to the extra calories. Thankfully, my body adjusted to an extra 1000 calories in 25 days without gaining any weight. To build muscle, your body needs to be in a surplus of calories so we will be slowly increasing from my baseline of 2500 calories. I will be participating in a few CrossFit competitions this year, and my goal hasn’t changed: get even stronger!