From Making Van Damme Films to Living One in Northern Thailand – Part 2

The following is a part 2 of a multiple part series written by Andrew Dearnley about how he has decided to quit his film making career to pursue a life of training Muay Thai in the hills of Northern Thailand. Enjoy!

My Weight Loss Journey and Subsequent Lifestyle Changes

My journey into Muay Thai may have started with self defence as motivation but it is not what has kept me coming back and investing my time. The benefits have been much more far reaching.

Before I decided to make some life changes.

Before I decided to make some life changes.

Before finding Muay Thai I was by no means unhappy, but I was well aware that I was making poor choices with regards my health and my diet. It just didn’t seem to be very high on my priority list. Comfort came first, comfort food, comfortable clothing, comfortable living. The problem with comfort is that it doesn’t allow for growth. Lethargy breeds lethargy.

It was extremely difficult to break my bad habits but I found the only approach that worked for me was equally extreme changes. When I made the decision to try and lose weight and improve my fitness I had to treat it as a switch. I set a date, I planned, I bought the relevant gym kit, and then decided after some gentle exercise breaking myself in that the following Monday would be ‘the start’. That Monday morning before work reflected the beginning of a strict diet and self directed exercise program that saw me drop 30Kg’s over the next 6 months.

I didn’t enlist any personal trainers or join any classes, it was a personal decision to lose the weight and I felt it was on me to do the work. In truth I think it largely stemmed from embarrassment and not wanting to be the under performer in the group.

Having come from a very traditional, competitive school system, there has always been a lot of shame associated with poor physical performance. I think this experience in my formative years is one of the reasons I had put off doing anything about my health for so long and let it get out of hand. To put it into context I went to the oldest school in England. Established in 427AD… Guy Fawkes went to my school, so I’m not exaggerating when I say it was like Hogwarts.

I’d start my day by getting on my motorbike and riding to the gym, doing an hour and half work out before then riding to work, showering and changing. So I’d have got dressed 4 times by 9am. It wasn’t the smartest plan but it kick started my daily metabolism and combined with a black coffee for breakfast and a can of tuna for lunch the weight started to fall off. Needless to say I didn’t build any muscle or feel any better for a long time. I just felt damn hungry.

I dropped from 120Kg’s to about 98Kg’s and at this point I realised my goal wasn’t to just shrink away and I needed to modify my plan.

I started training in the evenings after work 5-6 days a week. My diet had to change to match the needs of the much more demanding training schedule. Listening to Dave Aspray through Joe Rogan’s podcast was a massive eye opener to the world of nutrition and it made me realise starvation was not the key to this game.

Getting down to 90kg's was a challenge to say the least.

Getting down to 90kg’s was a challenge to say the least.

Looking back I really wish I had found something as specific and sport focused as ‘Fuel the Fighter. Trying to piece together podcasts on calcium and kale into a day to day diet was hard going and I ended up focusing on details rather than learning basic nutrition and portion control. I tried to eat a fairly sensible lean diet, all be it with way too much chocolate, starting the day with porridge and then avoiding carbs after that. I didn’t beat myself up too much if my cheat day was 2 days long or if I had a heavy night on the booze. As a result the drop from 98Kg’s to 90Kg’s was a hell of a lot slower.

Time spent between the gym and work completely filled my schedule, throw in some surgeries every now and then trying to fix my smashed hand and I had fallen off the social radar completely. I had gone off the reservation, grown a beard, sold my motorbike and invested in myself. There was something quite nice about that. I didn’t realise at the time but it had allowed me to disappear and come back a re-invented person.

There seemed to be a lot more doors opened for this new person I had become. During a period of 6 months I was approached by Storm model agency, stopped in the street by a casting agent who asked me to walk the Maison Martin Margiela catwalk at Paris fashion week and then I was head hunted by a new company offering me a job with increased salary and exposure in the film industry.

When the modelling work was offered I paid the scales way too much attention and looked to my diet to try and drop weight. I had great results trying the ‘Paleo diet’ and also the ‘Bulletproof diet’ but with so little carbs on the menu my workouts became less and less productive. I lost inflammation but my mood dropped and the weights I could push dropped just as quickly.

I jumped back into the London social scene with this new found confidence and exploited it. I don’t say that lightly, I found myself out all the time in exclusive Mayfair night clubs, drinking way too much and sleeping with any model, cabaret singer, artist or rich girl who had a thing for beards. Nights out became more extreme, becoming weekends on the gear from Friday until Sunday with no stopping and no sleep. Waking up at home to a bedroom or bed full of people became normal.

Eventually clubs didn’t seem interesting anymore, so the next stop was raves, fetish events and sex clubs. Getting dressed up and fucked up with friends then raving till 10 in the morning with circus performers, drag queens, gimps, transgender’s and fire breathers. Needless to say it takes a lot to shock me now. But… you can get used to anything. You can get bored of anything. I had pushed it pretty extreme and come away unsatisfied.

Throughout the debauchery I was still training, although ineffectively because my recovery time was so hampered by alcohol and MDMA. I was able to lose weight but struggled massively with building any muscle. By the time I was below 90Kg’s I varied day to day between 87 and 90Kgs seemingly dependant on nothing but the will of the gods.

Ladies loved the beard.

Ladies loved the beard.

Feeling on top of the world dancing in a cage at 6am dressed as a werewolf was so much fun and probably great cardio, but it’s a distraction. It enabled all my selfish whimsical, egotistical nonsense to take precedence. True confidence comes from getting your arse kicked, from being too tired to do anything about it, but still getting up. That confidence lasts more than a pill or a pint and doesn’t fade away with the last song of the night. That confidence is cast in iron and sanctioned by your piers not you’re dealer.

I was burning the candle at both ends and having done it I can honestly say the party scene is a hell of a lot of fun, but it’s a black hole. It gives you nothing and no one back. Invest carefully.

With a little distance from the club rat I was I can see the relationships founded in the bottom of a vodka bottle have disappeared. Weekends come and my phone only blows up with work calls. Listening to podcasts I hear a lot of young fighters talk about the sacrifices they have made and the social lives they have had to neglect in pursuit of training. I have a hell of a lot of respect for their dedication but it’s not my story. I’ve done the opposite and my journey seems more split into sections like hoping from one train carriage to the next. The part of my life chasing a good time was fun, but hollow and has proven a distraction. Now I can move on knowing I’m not missing anything.

Although now too old to be competitive as a competition fighter I don’t regret my decisions. My Muay Thai journey is different and the more I consider this the more I realise I am not in the pursuit of wins but rather a better knowledge of self. I have set the goal of training and fighting in Thailand but I strongly suspect the result will be transformative of both body and attitude. I hope to gain a better understanding of what makes me happy and how I want to spend my time on this planet. It’s not an office job and it’s not a drunken haze. Maybe it’s connecting with myself and looking internally. Maybe this is the opportunity to find out.

The focus offered by the remote location suits how I handle challenges perfectly. No distractions. Work hard to excel. I feel I have played out the London life and systematically experienced or removed any hurdles that could prevent me from dedicating myself to this experience. 2 weeks until I had in my notice at work. 3 months until the journey begins. Now that I have made this decision I can’t imagine anything else.

Back to Part 1 – Go to Part 3

You can follow Andrews’s progress as he prepares for moving to Thailand to fight at:


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Sean Fagan
Sean "Muay Thai Guy" Fagan owns & operates the largest online Muay Thai community and the #1 training resource for nak muay of all levels.

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