Anna Ho's passion for healthy living takes her to bodybuilding's world championships
Pursuit of fitness rather than just superficial beauty has paid off for 46-year-old
Beauty being skin deep, Anna Christianne Ho decided a long time ago that she would prefer to devote her energy towards having a truly healthy body instead of one just pretty on the surface. Ten years later, her efforts paid off when she won a silver medal at the Asian Bodybuilding and Physique Sports Championship in Vietnam last month.
Think bodybuilding and the stereotypical images are Arnold Schwarzenegger flexing his biceps and grunting "I'll be back", or of Lou Ferrigno bursting his shirt and turning green with rage. So, on the lookout for a ripped female giant, I was surprised when my subject walked into our Starbucks rendezvous rake-thin and with a mischievous smile on her face.
"Everyone expects a bodybuilder to be sprouting muscles but in my case it is more about muscle definition and tone, as I'm in one of the smaller weight categories," Ho says. "In Hong Kong, women are all generally of a smaller size and as such we compete in the model physique category or, like I do, in the athletic physique category."
If it was boxing, she would be competing in the lightest weight category. Weighing around 47 kilograms, Ho excelled in the Ho Chi Minh City event, which drew 350 contestants from 27 countries. She was just pipped to the gold by a Thai competitor.
"It was amazing. I only returned to Hong Kong from living abroad last year and I soon found myself in the thick of it all, winning a local competition. It was a great feeling to stand on the podium representing Hong Kong."
Bitten by the bug, she has now set her sights higher and will represent Hong Kong at next month's World bodybuilding and Physique Sports Championships in Budapest, Hungary, along with two other medal winners at the Asian competition - Josephine Yeung Ka-yin and Zico Hau Kin-man, bronze-medal winners in model physique and men's fitness respectively.
It all began for Ho, 46, soon after her second child was born 10 year ago. A yoga and fitness practitioner, she decided bodybuilding would suit her passion for healthy living.
"It is a lifestyle I chose. In Hong Kong, most women focus on beauty. They want to be thin rather than healthy," Ho said. "But being beautiful on the outside does not really help - what matters is to take care of your heart, lungs and other organs. A healthy workout is better than just paying attention to your skin."
As she is a physical trainer by profession, the healthy workout was readily available, and it was just a matter of taking the next step to become a bodybuilder.
"It's all about discipline, especially your diet. We bodybuilders have to be very careful about what we eat. While it is not so bad on a daily basis, when it comes closer to competition time, you have to make a lot of sacrifices, the biggest being water intake."
While she tries to cut down as much as possible on salt, sugar and oil in her normal diet - "I occasionally fry an egg with three drops of olive oil" - Ho as a habit drinks alkaline water ("it helps detox your body"), eats a lot of protein ("mainly fish") and maybe a slice of rye bread. A piece or two of dark chocolate is a treat and when she really wants to indulge, she will go for a piece of creamy Japanese cheesecake.
"If you train yourself and make it a habit, it becomes easy. If you have been eating dessert all your life, try to cut it by half, and then another half and before you know it the benefits will start showing."
Ten days before the Asian championships, Ho cut down her water intake drastically, making do with 800 millilitres a day to increase her muscle definition and "vascularity". "Your veins jut out and you become more ripped," she says.
A member of the Hong Kong China Bodybuilding Association, Ho admits her sport struggles with an image of being riddled with doping and steroids.
"Even though the sport is practised by a small handful and is overshadowed by drug scandals, the Hong Kong China Bodybuilding Association would like to raise awareness, not only of its health and fitness benefits but also so we can portray the correct body image which our vibrant population, especially the youth, should try to adopt," says Ho.
Ho stresses that she and all other athletes are constantly being monitored by the Hong Kong Anti-Doping Committee, and that they are clean.
"We have to undergo random urine tests taken out of competition and I'm pleased to say that we are all clean. This is all about living a healthy life and why would you want to dope yourself?" she says.