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Keon Lee’s always active daughter inspires him to be more physically active, and helped him shed 27kg. Photo: Keon courtesy of Keon Lee

Fat to fit at 40: milestone motivates dad to shed 27kg with support of family, friends and associates

  • Keon Lee was the heaviest he had ever been as he approached his 40th birthday, and resolved to lose weight, something he had tried in vain before
  • He turned to family and friends for inspiration and support, and has left his junk food lifestyle far behind

Keon Woong Lee has battled the bulge as long as he can remember, he says, showing a school yearbook photo of his “fat kid” 11-year-old self.

“I had ajummas always giving me food but at the same time saying, ‘why are you so fat?” recalls the Hong Kong-based Korean of the family friends he called “aunties” when he was a child attending Sha Tin College.

Lee, the general manager of Faust International Youth Theatre in Hong Kong, says his voracious appetite for soft drinks and foods such as Choco Pies and French fries played a role. He tried everything from juicing to eating healthily for months, but never sustained those habits, so the weight always crept back.

In late 2019, Lee hit his heaviest weight: 115kg. “I was 38 then, and was going to be 39 in November that year. I knew I wanted to lose weight before 40,” he said. Whether it was a symptom of a midlife crisis, or just the idea of reaching a milestone age that inspired him, a determined Lee sparked a transformation that saw him shed 27kg.


Lee in 2019 at 115kg (left) and a recent shot at 87kg, wearing a tank top made by his wife, who is thrilled he has to get a new wardrobe. Photo: courtesy of Keon Lee
Lee credits his family and the “fitness gods and goddesses” among his friends, some of whom are Spartan race participants, as well as Business Network International (BNI) community peers (from an organisation whose members support each other and help refer leads to grow their companies), who fuelled his motivation to take physical fitness seriously.

His active nine-year-old daughter, who loves climbing trees, was among his many role models. “My family are this constant inspiration in my life, so are people in my community who are health professionals,” he said, noting that perhaps subconsciously they influenced his pursuit of a healthier lifestyle.

How one man ate his way to happiness and health

 A game changer was exercising daily for 15 to 20 minutes with Fitness App, an idea suggested by a friend. Through its videos, Lee became familiar with high planks, Russian twists and more. “Now, I know the difference between a half versus a full burpee,” he chuckles.

 When social distancing measures allow it, Lee visits Prajna Yoga in Lai Chi Kok, Kowloon, once a week for a hatha yoga class.

 His supporters helped Lee, too. Vincent Hiscox, a health coach for men aged 40 and older, reminded him to exercise with a positive mindset, to stay engaged in his workouts. “He suggested constantly acknowledging all the things you’re achieving as opposed to beating yourself up over what you’re not achieving,” says Lee.


BNI community members (from left): Vincent Hiscox, Michele Wisla, Keon Lee, Helen Revans, and Kishore Kumar of Prajna Yoga. Photo: courtesy of Keon Lee
Michele Wisla, founder and plant-based nutrition coach of Our Conscious Kitchen, regularly advocates eating different types of vegan fare, advice that Lee took to heart. Instead of his usual order of barbecued meat from a favourite Korean restaurant, he has different types of kimchi (fermented vegetables, often cabbage), small dishes of mostly vegetables, and soups.

Although he still eats meat, he eats more plant-based food now. “We would eat roasted veggies for a meal and that would be it,” he says.

Lee also embraced intermittent fasting and skips a hot breakfast since his eating window is from noon to 8pm. “There are lapses. Sometimes if I’m hungry, I eat fruit in the morning,” he says. During his eight-hour window, his go-to snacks are pineapples, bananas and apples.

Lee’s initial target weight was 95kg. When he hit that goal within six months, in early 2020, he thought: “Why not go further?” He soon discovered he had hit a plateau, though, so he turned to his BNI community, including a “nutritional detective”. 

A decade of intermittent fasting – see how one health coach did it

 After a detailed questionnaire probing his medical, family history and more, Helen Ravens from Nurture Your Life, a certified health coach in Hong Kong who specialises in gut and hormone health, determined that Lee had lactose and gluten intolerances. He gave up foods that contained these ingredients, marking a “permanent shift” in his life.

Not only did he lose another 8kg after this change, to reach his current weight of 87kg, he no longer experiences brain fog or digestive issues. “Before, it was like I was submerged in water but didn’t know it, then I dropped back and things became clearer,” elaborates Lee.

 He still yearns for pizza, but made headway recently by concocting alternatives with wheat-free pizza bases topped with vegetables, even kimchi – an idea his daughter suggested.

‘Not black magic’: what hypnotherapy can do for you

BNI member Maiko Yahagi helped him overcome his addiction to French fries, using hypnotherapy via Zoom from Japan. “I was conscious the entire time – it wasn’t like ‘snap fingers, you’re asleep,’” he said.

The hypnotherapist asked what flavour Lee wanted to associate with fries that might disgust him enough to stop eating them. His first thought was ear wax. While he was in a suggestive state, Yahagi helped Lee associate fries with this substance.

 “When I see French fries, I have this weird reaction. Normally I would grab them, but now when I see them, I go: ‘I think I’m good,’” he says.

Lee with a pair of his old trousers. He dropped from a 107cm waist to 81cm. Photo: Jonathan Wong

Lee now wears jeans with an 81cm (32-inch) waist, down from the 107cm ones he wore before. During the pandemic, his wife has taken up sewing and making clothes, so she gets excited whenever he sheds weight. “Every time I lose weight, it’s a reason for her to make new clothes for me,” says Lee. “I’ve a personal seamstress at home and it’s just fun.”

 That includes her custom-made tank tops. “I like wearing clothes like tank tops, things I would never have thought of wearing,” he says. 

For anyone embarking on a similar health transformation, Lee suggests a positive mindset and to turn to people in your community for help.

“Apart from going to the gym, you think of fitness as a solo activity and concern, but my experience was the opposite,” says Lee. Without his many supporters, “it would have been impossible or at least very, very slow”.