Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Jonathan Cheok

Singapore #Fitspo of the Week Jonathan Cheok is an executive producer.
Singapore #Fitspo of the Week Jonathan Cheok is an executive producer. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Life goes beyond the digits on the scale and your body is capable of so much more! Yahoo’s #Fitspo of the Week series is dedicated to inspirational men and women in Singapore leading healthy and active lifestyles. Have someone to recommend? Hit Cheryl up on Instagram or Facebook!

Name: Jonathan Cheok (@cheokboardstudios)

Age: 38

Height: 1.73m

Weight: 77kg

Occupation: Executive Producer

Status: Single

Food: I follow a ketogenic diet with occasional carbohydrate-cycling. I usually do an intermittent fast from the night before until about lunch-time the next day, where I only drink a cup of black coffee without sugar and eat a banana.

On days where I have weight training at the gym, I will then load up on carbs. Subsequently, after my gym workouts, I try to consume at least 100-120 grams of protein throughout the day and this usually comes in the form of meats, seafood, eggs and soy products.

Exercise: On a daily basis I will average about 20,000 to 30,000 steps depending on how busy my day is. I will do an hour of Low Intensity Steady State (LISS) workout, like a brisk walk in the morning.

During lunch, I will go for an hour of weight resistance training. My gym sessions are divided between a "Push" day and a "Pull" day and I throw in additional accessory workouts like shoulders, biceps, triceps, abs and legs, depending on whichever body part is not as sore from the day before.

I love my late-night cardio walks and I will do another one- or two-hour session of LISS around 10pm at the Jurong Lake Gardens. Late-night walks are not only beneficial to my physical health but also to my mental health, as it gives me a safe space to be at one with myself to reflect on the important aspects of my life.

Q: Were you sporty when you were younger?

A: In my younger years, I was very hyperactive and extremely sporty. I would play anything and everything that you can think of. Yes, even netball! During primary school, I was in the basketball team; in lower secondary school I was in the badminton team, and then in upper primary I played soccer for the school team and even trained for a period of time at the Singapore Armed Forces Football Club's Under-16 squad.

When I got to Ngee Ann Polytechnic, I played in the inter-department league and at this point, also dabbled in golf. Although I am a 20-handicapper, my brother Gabriel played for the Singapore youth squad and eventually went on to become a professional golfer. So, I reckon athleticism runs in our family.

All throughout school I participated in multiple sports meets, running the 100m, 200m, 400m and even won silvers for javelin, shot put and discus. I have a deep love for all kinds of sports and I am a super competitive guy. Only in recent years have I mellowed out and learnt that sportsmanship is more important than winning itself.

Jonathan was very active in his school days, taking part in all kinds of sports.
Jonathan was very active in his school days, taking part in all kinds of sports. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Especially now, with my new passion project, the Ultimate Armwrestling Championships, an organisation promoting the niche sport of arm-wrestling to the masses, I learnt that there's always someone stronger than you, that is why I strongly advocate this motto, “To be Humble in Victory and Gracious in Defeat”.

As you got older, what was your fitness regime like?

I have always worked out from my 20s to 30s but never got to a point where my physique was buff or ripped. I would go through a series of letting myself get kind of pudgy and then get kind of fit for a television or movie role, then over time I would get complacent again and eat whatever I want, enjoy life a little bit and rebound in weight. So, I never really got to see my defined abdominal muscles ever since my NSF days when I was a mere 65kg.

Staying motivated is probably one of the hardest things to do when it comes to fitness. Finding the constant drive to stay consistent can be very daunting at times and I know many working adults can relate to this. Also, when you get older, your metabolism slows down and energy dips tremendously, making long term fitness goals feel like they are impossible to reach.

Ultimately, I feel the main thing to keep in mind is to just go slow and take it one step at a time, one workout at a time. Remember, fitness is a journey, not a destination.

What made you decide to do a transformation?

Before COVID-19 hit in 2019, I was directing a whole bunch of award-winning short films and chasing my movie dreams. Therefore, my fitness priorities took a back seat and being single with no one to impress also contributed to the backsliding and I hit my heaviest weight of my life – a whopping 90kg. I was definitely embarrassed of my body when I met new people and was frustrated at myself for getting to a stage where I had lost all control.

Fast forward to 2023 and just turning 38, I decided that I wanted a change. Not just any change, but a huge enough change that the commitment I set for myself to be in the "best shape of my life" will not only propel me to do better for my own health and fitness, but also improve all other areas of my personal life like work and relationships. They say abs are made in the kitchen, but to me, they are first made in our minds.

What have others said about your transformation?

I have fans privately messaged me on my socials saying that I look extremely good and even asked me for tips on how to get started on their own weight loss journey. Just like when I was churning out light-hearted comedy content on my YouTube channel and directing uplifting social commentary short films, I love the fact that I can touch, inspire and motivate people that watch my work. Thus, there's no greater joy to me than impacting the lives of people all around me in a positive way.

You do work in front and behind the camera. What are some of the challenges?

Where do I even start? There are so many difficulties in the media industry that I have faced over the past few years and still face. Let me just say that the pandemic was probably some of the toughest years that I, as well as many others, have had to face.

Jonathan decided to transform his body after putting on weight during the pandemic.
Jonathan decided to transform his body after putting on weight during the pandemic. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Being a self-employed freelancer made things even worse. When there were clients pulling out of projects on top of very few jobs coming in during the pandemic, I felt the pressure to make ends meet even more than before. I am quite resilient and positive, so I tried my best to manoeuvre through the tough times to keep my production house, Lacuna Films, afloat. Eventually, I got some breakthroughs in 2022 and 2023 with new projects.

Now, with TikTok being the go-to platform for the younger generation and a whole new wave of talented new content creators, I am not too eager to walk down the same road of fighting for numbers on social media, chasing fame and popularity. I have been there and done that, so for now, I just want to ride off into that midlife sunset with grace and style.

You used to have a popular YouTube channel. What was that like?

I remember a time when I could not even go to the nearby 7-11 store without being mugged for photos. I reckon this was the biggest accomplishment in my life and it felt good to grow something organically from zero subscribers in 2013, to the peak of my YouTube career in 2017 with 300,000+ followers and more than 100,000,000 views across all my social media platforms. It opened a lot of doors for me into the media arena, securing acting gigs in multiple TVC advertisements, being casted for television and movie roles, to having sponsorship deals and being invited to some of the biggest events around the island.

My fondest memory of the high life was signing a female fan's inner thigh during a YouTube fan festival and meeting a fan all the way from Canada. Life was good and the perks were insane, until 2016 when I had a falling out with Sylvia from Night Owl Cinematics (NOC).

Truth be told, the falling out was the darkest point in my YouTube life. Subsequently, my YouTube channel took a huge hit and I could never ever recover from this setback. Looking back at the past, I truly regretted not being able to move past this and continue to strive to make consistent content for all my avid supporters.

Why did you stop building your YouTube channel?

During 2017, the year right after the NOC break up, the frequency of client jobs went on a decline and became few and far between. I guess my reluctance to shed light on the situation and just keeping mum about it affected my passion to continue making content.

Also, the Cheokboard Studios team members I had at that time all went on to do other things besides YouTube, and may I say some of them did very well. I am very proud of them and being able to give them a platform through Cheokboard Studios and watching them grow has always been something that I keep close to my heart.

So, from 2019 onwards I started Lacuna Films, my production house and started to do more narrative short films, joining local and overseas film competitions and winning multiple awards. This gave me a good enough portfolio to be able to clinch some bigger projects down the road. All these things attributed to my growth as a producer and director, and now an executive producer. I enjoy what I do, I am passionate about it and will continue in the industry for many years to come. Because, if you love what you do, then you will never have to work a single day of your life.

Jonathan once ran a popular YouTube channel.
Jonathan once ran a popular YouTube channel. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

You are going back to the corporate life and taking a full-time job for a second time. Why?

I first applied for a full-time job in 2019 when the freelancing life was rather volatile financially. However, I left in early 2020 to pursue my dreams of making a full-fledged feature film. Unfortunately, COVID-19 struck and there I was back to square one, as a freelancer with no projects to do.

Fast forward three years, I now have an older, more mature mindset of wanting stability in my life. My goals for the upcoming few years is to really grind hard, save money and look for a place of my own that I can call home. By this I mean a HDB flat that I will probably spend the rest of my life paying for. I still have hopes of maybe directing a movie or opening a small café or restaurant in the future, but for now they are on the backburner.

My more immediate concerns and goals are on the wealth accumulation phase, becoming financially free and to start investing into financial instruments that can potentially give me a passive income when I get into my golden years.

I recently took up a National Council on Strength and Fitness (NCSF) personal training course with my SkillsFuture credits as I look for other forms of revenue streams to supplement my current income. Since interacting with people has always been a strong suit of mine, part-time personal training is something that I am looking at doing on the side, besides the occasional video production projects that I have ongoing through my company, Lacuna Films.

When you were younger, did you experience any incidents that made you feel insecure about yourself?

I am not going to sit here and lie about how sheltered my life has been. We Singaporeans are so fortunate in so many aspects and I think I am guilty of not being toughened by hardships. Although there have not been any particular incidents or adversities that greatly affected my life in general, there are many things that I have regretted in life and wished I could travel back in time to change things.

I am quite the sensitive human being, am led heavily by my emotions, and thus letting my feelings get the better of me. Over the years, this has caused me to lose certain friendships, gone through failed business ventures and mishandled tough situations. Even though I am not perfect, I still am trying to learn from my past mistakes and grow to be a better person day by day. I think looking back at the past is mostly irrelevant and trying to constantly improve myself for the future is the best course of action.

When did you feel the least confident about yourself?

Actually, now! Maybe it is a mid-life crisis sort of situation but I do think that I struggle with planning, namely long-term planning. I am quite the ‘live in the moment, take one day at a time’, happy-go-lucky kind of guy, but I now realise that I need to take my life more seriously.

Singapore is a tough, tough place to live in – it’s a country with such high costs of living; with property and rental prices skyrocketing, and a Japanese saloon car that can cost in excess of $100,000. It really was hard to work and survive as a self-employed freelancer. For me to overcome it by looking for a more permanent position was probably the right thing to do.

When I started out in 2013, we were the pioneer batch of creators on the platform. The minimum entry into the Top 100 YouTube list was only 5,000 subscribers then, thus we did well and thrived. The scene today is extremely saturated and wanting to stand out from the crowd among the hundreds and thousands of online content creators is going to be an uphill, or rather, up-mountain task.

If I could go back in time a decade ago and choose between the "Arts" or a "9-5", I would probably choose the latter. Don't say Kor Kor did not warn you! Better have a plan B and plan C.

Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Jonathan Cheok. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)
Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Jonathan Cheok. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)