THE INC. LIFE

Cereal Killers: Southeast Asian Entrepreneurs And Their Diet Revelations

The way you eat not only reflects your journey as a person but as an entrepreneur as well

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BY Lian Kyla Dyogi - 15 May 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

There is no shortage of advice (from both your doctor and the Internet) saying that a healthy diet will make you more productive and effective at work. Neither is there a shortage of examples of entrepreneurs who try to make time for health and fitness. And then there are the entrepreneurs known for their “strange” eating habits: Steve Jobs with his fruitarian diet, Mark Zuckerberg’s eat-only-things-I-kill-myself diet, and Warren Buffet’s “five cans of coke a day—both original and cherry,” as Marla Tabaka writes in this Inc.com article.

While we haven’t uncovered any strange eating habits of Southeast Asian founders, it’s also interesting to see how different diets work for different people. Here’s a peek into some of their eating habits:

Hunger Strikes Back

For Eugene Tan, the co-founder of Malaysian roadside assistance start-up Carput, his “eating habits during office hours are usually with my teammates—usually something quick. I balance it out with my wife or mom’s home-cooked meals.”

While Tan’s diet is all about balance, Patch Dulay, founder of Filipino crowdfunding platform, the Spark Project, says he wishes he ate better. “I wish I could eat less fast food and find the time to cook my own food. But because I’m always on the go, I can’t seem to find the time for healthier options.”

Food is a stress reliever for Dulay. When asked what his eating habits were and what he meant when he said his “diet was terrible,” Dulay reveals, “I’m not a breakfast person. So my first meal of the day is usually lunch. I don’t eat every three hours. So when hunger strikes, I eat a lot.”

Healthier Options

It’s a different story for Roslyn Teng, co-founder of healthy snack subscription service Made Real. A vegetarian for six years with a “strong preference for bean-based protein and leafy greens,” Teng says, “I usually have a heavy meal in the morning and a lighter meal in the evening. I snack in between on Made Real nut mixes/granolas especially when I’m in the office.”

The road to a happy relationship with food wasn’t easy. “Having struggled personally with eating disorders in my teenage years, I have come far in my relationship with food. As I had experimented with various diets at the detriment of my personal health, I learnt how to have a positive relationship with food—the hard way. I think entrepreneurship is often glorified as an all-or-nothing game, where human necessities like eating can easily be sacrificed for work. I believe that this shouldn’t be the case—we should always prioritize our health and focus on the long term. We can do this by being mindful of our eating,” shares Teng.

Similar to Teng, Zad Ngor, co-founder of Vietnamese start-up Perkfec, which aims to help companies nurture meaningful workplace relationships, started a vegetarian diet eight years ago and says it makes him feel stronger and more energetic, alongside exercising and getting adequate sleep. His diet consists of vegetables, beans, mushrooms, and tofu with eggs and milk.

“It all started the day I went to Taiwan and stayed in a temple in a mountain. I came to a realization that I value life and I love animals. I didn’t want animals to suffer and be killed for food,” says Ngor.

It wasn’t an easy transition—meat was tempting and his friends and relatives mocked his decision. “I’ve had people telling me I’m weak because I don’t eat meat,” shares Ngor, adding that “during my military service or travels, I would starve on certain occasions because vegetarian food wasn’t always available.” He says the things he learned on this journey—such as the perseverance he developed—spilled over to his journey as an entrepreneur.

Eating habits, and their results, vary—as do the entrepreneurs who choose to eat in such ways. While it’s always best to eat healthier, don’t fret if you’re not there yet. The keys are awareness and an understanding of how your environment shapes you. To take a page from Teng and Ngor’s story, it’s a process. And as with all things entrepreneurial, experiment, iterate, and try, until you find the lifestyle that works for you.