I'VE ACTUALLY BEEN an an athlete for much of my life. I’ve lifted weights since I was in secondary school, and I was a national youth athlete, representing my country in the national junior canoeing team during my junior college days. Even as an adult (I’m 39 now), I’d go to the gym at least two or three times a week.

That said, I wasn’t in great shape. At my heaviest, I weighed about 203 pounds and had a very high body fat percentage. I hated to step on a scale, and I really hated my appearance. I kept injuring myself, too, probably because of poor form in the gym. It felt like each injury took longer to recover from than the one before.

I’d been thinking about re-focusing on my fitness and health for a long time. I saw a pair of amazing transformations from people who’d worked with Ultimate Performance Singapore. Reading their stories made me determined to make a change for myself.

How I Transformed My Diet

Before my transformation, a typical breakfast for me would usually be bread or pastries at home with a flat white, followed by local breakfast with another cup of coffee.

Lunch would usually be from a mixed vegetable rice stall—or whatever I could find around my workplace. Dinner would be some Chinese food.

During the transformation, I put more thought into my meals.

Breakfast was usually standard: flat white coffee and Greek yogurt or overnight oats mixed with whey protein and fruit. For lunch, I usually chose healthier options from the eateries around me, including a poke bowl or grain bowl. Snacks would be either a protein shake or a protein bar. Dinner would usually be soup, vegetables, and a lean protein like chicken breast or fish.

I really got used to taking my pocket scale everywhere to weigh my food. My whole view toward food changed as I learned more; I tracked everything and focused on what fit my nutritional goals. Everything I ate, I logged in the app.

How I Transformed My Fitness

I did weight training three times a week, one hour per session. My trainer took me through a program of upper- and lower-body resistance exercises. On off days, I’d do about half an hour of cardio, then rest on Sundays. Every day I was hitting at least 10,000 steps.

We revisited the basics and I re-learned exercises I thought I knew like the back of my hand. He explained in detail why form is so important, and just how to execute each exercise for maximum benefit. And he instilled in me the discipline and attention to detail I needed to succeed. (I literally used to skip leg day. That doesn’t happen anymore.)

The Benefits

In 12 weeks, I lost about 26 pounds and gained about 4.5 pounds of muscle. My blood pressure and cholesterol levels improved significantly. I feel more energized and work and slept better when I come home. I’m also a lot more confident with how I look and I definitely sound more convincing dishing out advice to patients about weight loss.

As a medical professional, I’m glad to be leading my patients by example, and to be a role model. One of my favorite effects of this transformation is how many people ask me how they could start their own journey.

I tell them that one of the most underrated ways to improve fitness is increasing the number of steps you take each day. Beyond that, “you are what you eat” is an excellent reminder that your diet is so important. For people who are really looking to progress, I recommend a good trainer. Even as a medical professional with knowledge of anatomy, weight training, and food nutrition, I found it difficult to piece all these together without some guidance. It’s just good to have experts in your corner.

We’re all a work in progress, including me. I have so many things I want to learn and improve on now, from cardiovascular health, to building more lean muscle mass, to making more progress in the gym by getting stronger and lifting heavier week after week.

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Jesse Hicks
Jesse Hicks is a Detroit-based writer and former features editor at The Verge who specializes in longform stories about science, health, and technology. He has written for Men’s Health, VICE, Harper’s, and many other publications.