I would like to share with you the journey and hiccups of going through the 90 days plan of The Body Coach by Joe Wicks in Asia. It’s a 3 months plan, where you exercise 4 to 5 times per week and are provided a (pretty good) meal plan to get lean and gain muscles. In consequence, you lose weight, but it’s not a weight loss plan! The difference is very important – this plan gets you lean so on the scale you won’t necessarily see massive results, but you will see the results on how tone your body will slowly get. You also are not starving yourself, so it makes it, in my opinion, a more sustainable option. Joe Wick being famous in Europe, most recipes and support are for and from people based in UK or Ireland. If you are living in Asia, sourcing and doing this plan takes additional challenge & effort. This is my 90 days plan journey in Asia.
9 years in Asia working for fine foods and pastry products had me indulge in all kind of sinful delights. One can’t say “no” to a passionately crafted desserts by a talented pastry chef. But my waist circumference and my overall health was taking a big hit ! After years of abnegation “ never been to the gym not about to start now” and to be frankly honest not finding myself unattractive ( hello boobs ! ). I had a million excuses, and the biggest one being: I am a regional sales person, I spend almost half of my life in hotels and with very weird flight patterns at time, I can’t control what I eat with the business diners etc...
I just needed a good reality check. It came in the form of a photo my Asian (and beloved) colleague did at one of our launching events in March 2020. As many expats in Asia would know, Asian friends have NO FILTERS at all when it comes to commenting on fat/weight/height and being kind to western sensitivities. Well I got skinned that day!
This is the incriminating photo:
But how to start? No seriously, when you have NEVER done any exercise in your life, the idea of going to the gym where all these beautiful people are, is daunting! The idea of paying a gym membership or even trying a gym, and then receive their absolutely horrible pushy marketing campaigns... no thank you. I was ashamed and didn’t feel like exposing my flabby self to the scrutiny of strangers.
I also knew that hardcore diet would not work for me, I still have to taste (and I enjoy it) my customer’s amazing culinary creations and I just love to eat. Going to the restaurant on the week-end is a big part of my lifestyle. I was willing to make compromise but I needed to find something sustainable. I was lost between all these YouTube channels of fitness junkie doing stuff that looked insanely difficult in body’s too perfect for me to identify myself to.
Well one of my colleagues, who is quite fit, showed me one day during a lunch break, her 90 days plan. She told me the food was good and showed me the recipes, we also looked at the Cycle 1 exercises and she explained the philosophy behind it. I thought that it seemed a good starting point towards building some bit of fitness. I am aware that when you start exercising and you are also nearing 100kg, if you don’t do it right, you can just end up hurting yourself. I just needed something that seemed simple and structured to get me started.
Then hit Covid-19, a blessing in disguise - it just blew away my major excuses. I was blocked at home for an unforeseeable time with no business trip whatsoever and I knew I would get horribly bored if I didn’t have a project to keep me busy when work was low. Two weeks in confinement I made the purchase. My husband was right by my side and he did the exercise, the food and the batch cooking with me the entire time. He pressed play when I just wanted to hide in my bed on some morning. I can’t stress this enough, it’s so much easier when you surround yourself with people who believe you can do it. The few friends I talked about it, were just as supportive. And I commented to my family, they were there on Facebook when I shared my progress. If you don’t have anyone, the official Facebook group from the 90 days plan is an amazing source of inspiration and motivation. It helps (a lot!).
But let’s not talk about the progress now - it’s a self-journey, I think what you all want to read is how to do the 90 days plan in ASIA! Most precisely, I did mine in Indonesia.
Facebook Verbose & plan language
90 days plan cycles: 1 cycle = 1 month. Often abbreviated to C1 (cycle 1), C2 (cycle 2) and C3 (cycle 3).
Workout: Each cycle has 4 to 5 workouts. When people are referring to a specific workout, you end up with comments containing C1W4 e.g. cycle 1 workout 4.
CYO: Cook Your Own
MFP: My Fitness Pal (it’s an app that tracks your macro / calorie). I put it there because many people mention it on the Facebook group and as a total noob, I didn’t know what it meant!
JSA: James Smith Academy, I guess competitor of Joe Wicks with a different approach to fitness. Also comes regularly in comments and conversations for his free calorie and macro calculator tool… took me a while to catch this one!
NSV: non-scale victory. All the little extra that you can see and feel improving that are not visible on the scale.
DOMS: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness a.k.a cramps, Robot walk, granny joints. All the pain you get the next days of a workout. DOMS just makes you sound smarter.
The Body coach 90 days plan in Asia - The food
The 90 days plan recipes are expensive for Asia.
As it’s a UK based program, many recipes have ingredients you just won’t find in Asia. Almost 80% of all the ingredients you will be purchasing are imported.
First challenge will be supply, inconsistent, is what it is at best. One week you know this product is there, so you plan the recipe for the second week and when it’s time to buy - pouf! - gone! Leaving you furiously searching the swap tools in the middle of the supermarket for a replacement or opting for another recipe altogether.
Second, is the cost. Almost everything you purchase, even most veggies are imported. They are sold at a premium. Meat is imported, frozen fruits are imported... almost everything in the plan!
My average grocery shopping per month for two during the 90 days plan was 12,500,000 IDR - about 735 euros. It makes about 185 euros per week. It’s about almost doubles my food budget from before. Adjustments on budget can be made if you cook loads of batch cooking and similar recipes. But as mentioned earlier for me variety is important, it’s a one of the reasons I love going to the restaurant. All in all, I think I spent the same amount for food, because with Covid-19 – I was not going out anyway: no more restaurant expenses.
Cook your own (CYO) is a life saver
Well since following the meal plans and proposed recipes to the letter can prove challenging in Asia. Here come the Cook Your Own ratios each month of the plan to your rescue.
At the end of every cycle PDF, you are provided with ratios of typical food types to cook your own recipes and stay within the plan principles. This is helpful when you end up, remember, in that supermarket with half of the ingredients not available anymore and still a week of grocery to buy! I just revamped some usual recipes I was doing before the plan adjusting the quantities.
I have seen on the Facebook group, people who do most of the plan on CYO, because the plan doesn’t match their usual ethnical taste profile or diet.
The Asian swaps you won’t find on the official website
First, do this as little as possible. Some swaps are there to add equal amount of nutrients as the original ingredients. Some of my swaps might not be the best - Well you have to get creative right? And also, there are so much more fruits and vegetables available in Asia! Why can’t I just use what is locally available?
Greens: I just was feeling super “Meh” of broccolis half way through cycle 2. Baby spinach was a nightmare to find. Therefore, I went for all the Kang Kung, morning glory, sweet potato leaves or even cassava leaves. These are amazing greens you can stir fry easily with just water and some garlic. They are super easy to find and real cheap.
Worcester sauce: like the golden goose, quite impossible to find but you just can’t pass on these turkey meatballs in cycle 1. A worthy substitute, very similar of taste in the final dish: plain fish sauce.
Chipotle paste: again something impossible to find here. Good old sriracha sauce does the trick. Then hunt for a non-sweetened chili sauce ( Jawara was good in Indonesia )
Apple sauce: why can’t they just call it compote in the plan? 2 medium size grated apples cooked with a stick of cinnamon and the coconut oil allowance of the recipe = 1 batch of low carb granola.
Jalapeño peppers: just do it yourself, the canned or jar stuff is impossible to find. I used this recipe, super easy and tasty.
Low carb granolas: use tropical dried fruit instead of apricot! I loved it with jackfruit, pineapple or papaya! And sometimes I replaced the coconut shavings with freezes dried tropical fruits. (Unsweetened and often found in the snack session next to the nachos & other crisps).
Indian style mousse me up: powdered cardamom in the yoghurt, some jelly powder / agar agar to set it and then use some fresh and super sweet local mango from your fruit snack allowance. Just lovely!
Finding staple food without sugar added
In Asia many of the protective consumers laws of Europe are not there yet and often local palates are sweeter. Reading the labels could become an Olympic sport here.
For example, for me, to find (non-imported) yoghurt without sugar was a good 15min on the first shopping day with the translator in hand... And goes the same for any staple food that you would normally think doesn’t contain any sweetener. Of course, you can go all imported to be safer ... but your wallet won’t thank you. Your very first shopping will be a long one reading through labels, google translate in the other hand.
For Indonesian reader: the set yoghurt of Biokul brand is good. There is an almost clone copy packaging of the same brand but they call it smooth and this one has sugar! (Very misleading)
The seeds, nuts and other fitness ingredients
This was my seed and nut section in my imported food supermarket. Most what was needed could be found. It just choice was quite limited at times (supply issue). Often you have to go to specialty stores in Asia to find these kind of ingredients - they are not all available in your standard supermarket.
No myprotein website in Asia – I did saw, in the 90 days plan Facebook group, some Australians leanies being able to get them delivered by Amazon. An available alternative is to go to the nearest gym - they often have a small shop. Or in South East Asia, I have found that the brand GNC is almost everywhere and in their stores cater to a good selection. These 2 products in Indonesia fall within the recommendation of the plan as disclosed in the cycle 1 pdf ( they come in few flavors - I've used the About Time chocolate even though I'm not a vegan, just not really lots of choices available):
The different between isolate and normal whey protein powder – are you like me? Totally lost on that first-time purchase?
Whey come from a by-product of cheese making (super simplified explanation). If you don’t digest dairy well or are lactose intolerant, go for the isolate. It’s been further processed to remove the dairy protein.
On a normal day where average temperature is 30oC - you already sweat like a pig. So add exercise to the mix and I do believe you have to drink more than the allowance stated in the plan.
The Asian diet
I did show the recipes to my Indonesian colleague and her comments were: “There is no rice” and “I don’t like yoghurt”. She looked at the ingredients and told, “wayyy to expensive” and doesn’t fit anything that she likes to eat. That’s a whole demographic that will struggle with the recipes in the plan.
If you live in Asia for a while - some of the “Asian” recipes are just too westernized, it was horrible to eat. I lived in Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and now Indonesia. I had to spice things UP, most of the food felt bland and I added extra chilis and lemongrass or other spices to make them satisfying.
I did love the Thai fish cakes and the shrimp burger patty with Thai red curry paste - these were truly innovative and nice pairings in cycle 1 and 2.
Some recipes that I think, would need a twist
C3 Carrot & lemongrass: I guess than in Asia the lemongrass taste 200% more flavor than in Europe. You must put a lot less than the recipe to make this dish edible and not taste like dishwasher soap.
C1 Coconut and mushroom soup: that’s called Tom Kha Gai (Gai means chicken in Thai) in Thailand. And you need to add lime juice and some button mushrooms in it and some fresh curry leaves to make it closer to the real stuff. In Thailand they don’t use red peppers.
Indonesian stir fry: actually, the one that was pretty close to the stuff you would eat on the street. Albeit they would use cassava leaves and not the expensive kale.
The 90 days plan - the exercise
Buying weights and dumbbells in Asia
I started during Covid 19 and all the malls were closed. I purchased online - no shortage whatsoever and probably for a fraction of the price of Europe cost. So big plus there for Asia !
Then, if you are living in a condominium - the standard gym amenities often have the exercise bench and a whole set of weights and dumbbell free to use. You shouldn’t need to buy any at all! That’s also pretty grand.
Preparing your room for your workout
I forgot - but there is a timer on the A/C ! Plan it so it automatically switches on 30min before you plan to start you workout.
Not getting injured
Even if the videos are well done, if you are total noob like me – chances are you won’t be doing the movements right and get discomfort and pains. I had loads of knee pain for the first month. These are the tools and tips, I (painfully) learned myself:
- Warm up properly. Don’t skip the warm up videos
- Make sure your squat and lunges form are good. This is 80% of the pain gone if they are done properly. This video was a life-saver.
- Shoes can have an impact. That I think, is highly dependent on your morphology. I did C1 and C2 barefoot on a thick yoga mat. Then I just bought standard addidas running shoe. Took some balance adjustments that’s all. But people reported great improvements of knee pain with special trainers like Metcons or Supereps.
- STRETCHING! Yes, I only started using the stretching video post-workout on C4 (graduate plan). I was a total moron before. The moment I started stretching after the exercise, I gained tremendous flexibility and my knee pain was TOTALLY gone! Don’t be a noob like me and stretch after every single workout. I am using this video from Joe’s Wick at the moment.
Since I lost loads of boobs… At least a good cup size. Vanity got me trying to get what’s left UP and I added for a while this video by other fitness youtuber Chloe Ting. It was quite a good add-on instead of one of the abs finishers from the plan.
Going back to work in Asia and continuing the plan
I had to go back to the office on the last 30 days of the plan. In Asia it’s all about rice, you get lucky if you can find those two miserable slices of cucumber on the side sometimes. ( I think they are merely decorative.)
I used to eat at food court every lunch with my colleagues. In Indonesia, everything is fried and salty and too sweet. You must prep like a pro and shift to bringing food to the office and eating at the food court with your colleagues, but your own food.
Most expat know that cooking in Asia is more expensive than eating local food out. Sustaining a healthy diet still requires commitment while at work and you should be prepared for the increased cost compared to what you would usually spend.
This plan is a slower process than all the calorie deficit hardcore diet and program. Its results are there but it takes more time. I do feel that there is a clear change in mindset if you truly commit to it.
I have seen my own habits change as follow:
- I eat less quantities of food: cooking just the right portion and not being hungry and not having leftover is grand.
- Although tedious at first, I actually enjoy making a weekly shopping list now and spending less than 30 min in the supermarket (my husband takes half of the list and I get the other half).
- Batch cooking is still a chore… but when we do it together and with music, it’s alright. And not having to cook in the evening on weekday when you come back from work tired is definitely AMAZING!
- I was not eating badly before, but probably not the right nutrients and I felt often hungry while eating much more in volume than on the plan. It’s interesting to achieve satiety with less volume and very educational to notice this.
- I actually have found time for workout, where before I would say it doesn’t fit in my calendar. It really is a question of resetting some priorities.
And for the Non-scale victory after 3 months:
- I have lost at least 2 sizes in dresses YET I have only lost 6kg in total.
- Less hair fall (in Asia it’s been a struggle – between sun, bad water quality, A/C, pollution…)
- My skin is softer & more hydrated (I credit this to actually drinking enough water & tracking water intake)
- I have so much more energy everyday
- I am no longer breathless climbing stairs and carrying my grocery shopping bag back
- I am no longer afraid of pain. Yes, one of the major things I hated was cramps after exercising. I was so unfit that every time I subjected myself to this – the next day’s pains would just deter me from doing it again. But if you persist through the first week – I promise NO MORE! Yes, NO MORE! Now I am actually hoping to get some cramps, because it makes me think that I worked… this plan transformed me into a masochist.
Some critical thoughts about the plan
The philosophy of this plan is to get you on a lifestyle change where you learn to know what a proper portion meal size is, and how to manage exercise and nutrition instead of making you count calories and macro. While I totally agree with this approach (calories are not obvious to know when you go shopping). I did feel like a little bit more education on macro nutrients as well as overall diet education would be a great plus. This plan will not teach you this but can be a start for you to seek the education you want or need.
I read this book from James Smith. It’s half-way through inspirational and educational. It gives some good insights on diet as well how woman physiology impacts training and performance. (effect of menopause on performance, menstruation cycles etc…). After reading this and observing my own performances or also when I didn’t want to press play… a couple of things clicked. And it helped not beat myself up when it was just not that good. Consistency is the true key here for results.
Another non-official group who follow the plan and wants to talk macro has been created.Often calorie talks are frown upon on the official facebook page. It contains good recommendations to start your learning: Body Coaching, Macros and Beyond
Still, I am greedy for weight loss – there are so much more I need to get off. I am now as well more confident that I can manage myself. I have decided to start tracking what I eat to understand better the calorie and this diet under the plan. What I wish to achieve is a lower calorie diet on the weekdays (where I can have some control) and be able to keep my restaurant lifestyle on the week-end or know the impact of my business diners & tasting sessions. I do not want to count calories (it’s just not enjoyable), but I need to educate myself more to strike a balance.
I found this tool: Eat This Much – which I have been using to track the Graduate plan menu I just started. I also appreciate that it proposes recipes based on your calorie and macro targets. And it does your grocery shopping list and manage your pantry inventory! It’s a bit of a pain to set up – but once it’s rolling; I find it’s quite a convenient tool to use. The app works well when you are out grocery shopping too.
All the benefit from the plans are there - A more fit body, increased muscles and better mood. I am actually loving the exercise and I am proud of what I have achieved on the plan. It was worth all the investment in time and expenses. I think it takes more effort to complete the plan in Asia, because of the heat (you are tired just by moving around during the day) and the financial effort it takes to eat healthier. You will have to get creative on the ingredients and don’t let that stop you. Even if not totally on plan - we just work with different constrains in Asia - the results will still be there. On the longer run, I know that I will need to learn to cook my own dishes with local ingredients and will have to develop whole new set of recipes to continue this sustainably into my lifestyle.
I am not chasing super slim body, but being able to climb stairs and do some hiking without being breathless. I am sure that I will find some balance between controlled meal on the week days, much more regular exercises and still enjoy my restaurants on the week-end!
My next challenge will be to actually start using the gyms in all the hotels I will be staying at, once business travels are allowed again. I might need to change my hotel habits to fit exercising - I’ll review some facilities of hotels on the blog in the coming month - so follow me on one of my social media channels to stay tuned of the good ones I find!
I am now moving on to the grad plan - bring it on!
Here for the ones who had the patience to read until the end. Me today in almost the same pose as the photo that started it all. Also, me today in this same dress that used to be close to my body and now totally loose!