Daniel Becker, 37, tells Men's Health how changing his sedentary lifestyle—and the way he thought about his health—led to a physical and mental transformation.
I was very fit through my twenties, and played competitive sport until I moved to Dubai in 2017, which is when I began to gain weight. With my new role, I was traveling up to 26 times a year, entertaining clients, and eager to impress the people around me with my determination, so I sacrificed what little personal time I had. Keeping to any kind of healthy routine was a struggle. I engaged in fits and starts of dieting or training, but could never get in the zone or remain truly committed.
Then came lockdown, which was especially strict in the UAE. My lack of discipline worsened due to massive inactivity, coupled with the craze around home baking. At my heaviest, I was around 176 pounds, which is not a great look on a 5'6 frame. That was more than 20 pounds over the average weight I'd maintained in previous years.
I felt disappointed in myself, but never truly accepted that my weight might lead to potential issues with my long-term health. My clothes were tighter, but it was something I could laugh off, and deal with another day. On reflection, I had my head in the sand, and I only realized there was a problem on my first Father's Day: it was a fantastic day, but there's a photo of me and my son where my weight gain was stark.
At the end of quarantine, I was at my lowest mentally. Working from home and all of the big changes of 2020 had left me mentally drained and slightly depressed. I knew I had to change something to improve my mood. I have always enjoyed fitness and love a challenge, so I signed up for Ultimate Performance Fitness.
I knew from the start that I would need to find a higher level of accountability, both in myself and with someone that was going to help me, and that was what I found in UP.
My diet was closely controlled, and dropped to around 1,300 calories per day. My macros were there in front of me. I was accountable to my trainer for each meal, and we discussed this every day, in order to seek improvements in choice and to ensure I was getting satisfaction from the food I was allowed to eat. It was tough and a big change to the food intake I'd been used to, but within just two weeks I could see the impact. I’d shed significant weight already and it was exciting to push that forward.
My daily activity focused on steady state cardio, whether it was running a gentle 5K at some point in the week, or hitting a daily 12,000 steps. These turned out to be some of my favourite parts of the day, where I could get out for an hour and clear my head. I can’t think of a better way to strengthen my mental state.
I trained in the gym three times a week, and this was definitely the best part. I was always buzzing to get into the gym. Working out with UP was also enlightening in terms of rebuilding my form: I had always been good at compound exercises like squats and deadlifts, but we needed to tweak my technique. I really enjoyed retraining myself and getting rid of the bad habits I'd picked up. It made me massively stronger in the long run; I'm now deadlifting upwards of 130 kgs (286 pounds). That's twice my bodyweight.
I lost over 16 kgs (35 pounds) during the 12-week program. The feeling was incredible. I'd never been the kind of person who felt comfortable taking off their shirt in public before, but the confidence I took from the photo shoot after my transformation is something I'll never forget.
My wife was by my side every step of the way, and helped keep me on track when it came to meal choices. At the end of the process, she was proud of me, but not shocked; she could see the effort I had put in, and the results were a representation of that. My friends and colleagues were all stunned—in fact, one coworker who hadn't seen me since before the pandemic didn't even recognize me. And a few friends have said that I've motivated them to get off the sofa and go work out.
I don't think I'll ever be finished now. There are so many positive things that come from changing the mindset you have regarding your health. I'm getting closer to 40, and I want to pass that threshold looking and feeling as great as I can.
If you're starting your own fitness journey, I would say invest in yourself. That's what UP was for me. Be informed, talk to different people, and choose the best option for you. Also, decide what is realistic, and in what timeframe. Accept that "cheating" is not really acceptable, no matter how many of your friends might tell you so. It's your journey, and you've got to own it 100 percent of the time. Don't put it off. Once you're in it, it's addictive, and you only stand to win!
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