May Chow, voted Asia’s Best Female Chef in 2017 and Chef-owner of restaurants Little Bao and Happy Paradise, talks us through how a new perspective on nutrition and exercise changed her life.
Why did you decide to embark on this health and fitness journey?
I was in a time where I had multiple restaurants, I was really stressed out, working 12 – 16 hours a day and losing touch with my work-life balance.
I was about to turn 35 and I thought wow – I’m never going to be less busy than this so there would be no chance of me being healthier later. So, I thought it was the right moment.
How has embarking on this health and fitness journey impacted your life?
I’ve achieved something I never thought was possible, which has set me up to want to achieve so much more in my personal and professional life.
I’ve never really had concrete fitness goals. When I first got started, I jokingly said I wanted to have “abs”.
It was something in my life I thought I would never care about, and I never really even thought it was attainable. But the plan we put in place at my initial consultation was so concrete I could see that this was something that I actually could achieve.
I’ve never been fitter, to be honest. I even see pictures from 10 years ago and can’t believe how I looked back then. Even though I work 12, 14, 16 hours a day I feel really fit.
This journey has redefined how I perceive a healthy lifestyle and has reset what is important in my life with regard to work-life balance. Before work would take over and I would prioritize it over other activities. Now it is fitness that has a scheduled time in my diary and takes priority. It has completely changed my whole lifestyle.
I was always confident before but the sort of confidence that comes from physical performance has been really empowering.
I’ve had an extreme fear of heights since I was 15. I’ve been going on extreme hikes with Hong Kong Outsider for a while now and I used to have wobbly legs when I saw some of the big drops. Now as I’m dangling off the rocks, I don’t have that fear anymore. I know I can overcome it because I have faith in my physical performance. I think that is very empowering, perhaps especially for a woman.
When you win in a physical way it can be very emotionally encouraging and help you to accomplish all kinds of things in other parts of your life.
As a chef how has your relationship with food changed during this process?
The groundbreaking change for me has been understanding how food makes me feel physically. How it makes me feel emotionally is different; I can have a great night out with friends enjoying all the greatest foods but before this journey, I didn’t notice how these meals would make me feel afterwards. I would feel lethargic and bloated.
After incorporating health and fitness into my life and being far more aware of what I was eating, I really started to see the difference in how I felt.
It’s interesting how food can affect your everyday life. Now that I want to perform at a higher level mentally for work, I take a lot more care in deciding what to eat. When I am more mindful I feel like I make better decisions, I think more clearly and have more sustained energy throughout the day.
Nowadays I have a much better balance. When I go to large tasting menus I ask myself if I really want to eat that much. How am I going to feel after the meal? Will I need to have 2 cups of coffee just to counteract how sleepy I feel after that meal?
"When you win in a physical way this can be very emotionally encouraging to accomplish other things in other parts of your life."
What would your message be to women wanting to begin their fitness journey?
For a lot of women, there are many things to juggle in life. They must be on top of their game at work while balancing having a family and taking care of so many other different aspects of their life.
They should never forget to focus on their own health and fitness but these things can often take a back seat. However, fitness is what’s going to create more stamina and mental wellbeing for them to excel in all those elements they need to take care of, so they really shouldn’t forget to treat their own bodies well before taking care of others.
What advice would you give to someone about to start their fitness journey?
I think It’s most important for people to see its a happy journey.
I’m a food lover; I love my wines, I love to travel. I travel all the time and I have a really hectic work schedule, but I still want to see my family and hang out with my friends.
It’s possible to do both and in fact doing both is such an important part of our lives. Once you gather momentum and achieve success in fitness, it has such an impact on every element of your life It shouldn’t be put on the back burner.
There is no better time than now. We live in Hong Kong, we will never be less busy, we will never have more time for family/ fitness/ health. None of us is getting any younger; this is the time to do it!