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Dutch YouTuber Thomas Van der Vlugt shared what it took to become shredded enough for Men’s Health Netherlands to take notice.
This story originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Men’s Health Netherlands.
Six months ago, Dutch YouTuber Thomas Van der Vlugt walked into the office of Men’s Health Netherlands on a Monday morning just before noon, still rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.
The night before, he’d had a good time—beer, cigarettes, the whole shebang. He wasn’t just honoring our colleagues with his presence, either. He had a question: “Can I be on the cover of Men’s Health in six months?” With that, he took off his sweater and patted his beer belly. “You can try,” they said, with a laugh.
Van der Vlugt’s goal was to give Stefan Jurriens and Giel de Winter— his colleagues at StukTV, the Dutch YouTube channel where he works—the surprise of their lives.
In the weeks that followed, Van der Vlugt got to work with a personal trainer, Bernard Reichling of Project IJzersterk, a Dutch gym. If he was going to succeed, he’d have exactly 152 days to get completely shredded. And, well, he did just that.
When Van der Vlugt took off his shirt at the location of the Men’s Health photo shoot under the watchful eye of coach Reichling six months later, those who’d seen him before were amazed.
Nothing was left of the beer belly—just six rock-hard blocks and an impressive amount of new muscle mass. Oh, and in the midst of all that training, he’d also learned how to fly a helicopter and wrote a book about his transformation, The Ten Commandments of Thomas, just for kicks.
That said, we were more interested in Van der Vlugt’s sins than his virtues: What happened to the boozing, smoking, McDonald’s-eating guy we’d seen only a few months before? And will he ever be resurrected? We asked him to walk us through his transformation—sin by sin—and how he overcame them.
No—the reason was that it seemed impossible and therefore I had to try. I’d always thought I had no ability to get fit. I’d been at the gym for years, 2 to 3 times a week, and never got any results. Now I know that you can’t party and drink a lot and be fit. It’s an illusion. The personal trainers I worked with before knew that too, but I wasn’t prepared to listen. This time, I was. I couldn’t get fit just for fun—I did everything differently. I turned my whole life upside down. Sometimes that was hard, yes. There are temptations everywhere: Try ordering a non-alcoholic beer in a crowded pub. There’s always someone who says, ‘Dude, just drink beer’. If you are not a top athlete, people have little respect for those kinds of choices. And when it came to me, they didn’t understand it at all. I was always the one you could call for a party. I’d be in.
I am a different Thomas—Thomas 2.0 I call him. I don’t smoke anymore. I drink a lot less.
I once emptied a beer into the toilet and filled it with water, so people thought I was drinking beer. You start doing really crazy things. Also in front of [my YouTube co-hosts] Stefan and Giel—they weren’t allowed to know anything. I see them every day because of we’re always shooting together. Sometimes I’d wear several shirts over each other so they wouldn’t notice I had lost weight. And I never changed my clothes in front of them again. Sometimes I’d lie that I didn’t have another shirt with me for a new take, and often I would just change in the restroom. I didn’t even take off my shirt when I went to Majorca with them for four days, and I hid all the creatine and protein powder from them—and the scale I had taken there. Giel himself trained every day in the gym there. I’d join him, but I ran on the treadmill until he left. Then I’d start my lifting.”
“Tough one. I am very satisfied, but you start to drive yourself crazy. It’s hard to look in mirrors because it’s tempting to obsess about it. You suddenly wonder if your chest could be bigger and if your six-pack shows enough. Ridiculous stuff. If you compare my body now to where I started, it doesn’t make any sense at all. That layer of beer over my six-pack is just gone and it’s not coming back. I am a different Thomas—Thomas 2.0 I call him. I don’t smoke anymore, I drink a lot less, and have so much more energy.
What I’ve done in the past six months I couldn’t have done before because I’d have been in bed broke at least three days a week. Everything is different now—it takes some getting used to. I was in a swimming pool recently and I suddenly noticed that I was the fittest person there. It felt strange. People seemed to look at me differently, like, “Ah, fitboy.”
I’ve achieved what I aimed for. My goals are elsewhere now. I would sooner do a triathlon or a marathon or something. Or kite across the North Sea, or something crazy like that. I have to do something extreme or I won’t keep that motivation.”
“Well, I’m going to delete that calorie counter from my cellphone now, that’s for sure. I was on 1700-1800 calories a day for a while, which really made me a different person. It’s bizarre how much influence food has on your mood and your hormones. If I ate chocolate now, I’d explode with energy. I ate almost no sugar for months. Especially lots of protein. And lots of vegetables, I could eat an endless amount of that. It drove Stefan and Giel crazy, because all those fibers made me fart all day. [laughs]
I spent almost half an hour every day in the grocery store trying to find healthy combinations that would fall within the calorie budget. That became a mission for me: preparing something as tasty as possible. I cooked every day—it became my moment to relax. You have to do something if you’re not allowed to eat anything.
“When I look at some of your covers I do think, ‘Jesus, they’re big!’ I’m still small. On the other hand, I’m not a full-time athlete either, but I’ve lived that way. I did what I could. Sometimes I trained thirteen times a week—six strength training sessions and seven cardio. I gave it my all, never skipped a workout.
It’s bad to deny yourself everything. If you don’t feel good about yourself, it shows in the photos.
Oddly enough, you do become insecure when the moment of the shoot is approaching. At one point I went crazy. Bernard said: “You are ready for the cover.” Then I suggested that we go the extra mile. In the end I’m glad about that, but it wasn’t necessary. I also started comparing myself more and more with other fit men, which made me really tired. Some men are so fit. Especially when they are athletic and muscular. I love that. Do you know Ross Edgley? He once swam around England. That body of his is absolutely nothing. Almost anyone can get big, but to have such endurance at the same time is really unique. I hope that I can be an inspiration myself, that I can show that you can become a completely different person.
I’m sure [my co-hosts] Stefan and Giel don’t know what they see either. There is just another person here. Stefan probably won’t understand, he’ll be going crazy. I think Giel will also be impressed, he’s been training fanatically for years. He’s going to ask me if he can have my training schedule!”
“Yes. I really tried. I did occasionally go a bit overboard with the alcohol. Then I immediately lay awake all night, because I felt that I had flushed four months of hard work down the toilet. Not drinking was the hardest part. The moment the terraces opened again after the lockdown and I couldn’t order a beer was a real disappointment. I couldn’t stand it. I then agreed with Bernard that I would exercise more so that I could still have the occasional beer. That worked fine for me. In terms of food, I could usually manage reasonably well. If you know you are going to have a barbecue in the evening, you just make sure you eat a little less in the morning and afternoon or you run a little longer the next day.
There have also been times when I really resented dieting. The last week before the shoot normal life suddenly resumed. There were parties everywhere, the restaurants were opening again… I thought I was going crazy. Of course, I received messages from everyone asking if I would like to go to the pub with them. After the shoot I’m going to go crazy. I’ve planned a party right away. And I’m going to eat cheese. Cheese croissants, cheese fondue, cheese boards. One time I couldn’t hold back and ordered a cheese board in a hotel in Switzerland. After that I was just a little confused. It was so delicious. I didn’t really regret it, because I did really enjoy it. And I think it’s bad to deny yourself everything. If you don’t feel good about yourself, it shows in the photos.”
“No, I was incredibly irritable at times. Especially when I was only allowed to eat 1800 calories—then I was really not enjoyable. My colleagues and girlfriend took the brunt of it. That relationship didn’t survive either. Not only because I was irritable, there was more to it than that, but she also realized that I was no longer the same person as before and many things had changed. I had very difficult moments, when I was really sick with fatigue. I often wondered if it was not all too much. And then you’re not allowed to reward yourself with a beer either. You’re really at your absolute minimum.
And I’m really not easily angered. I find it a waste of energy. But then I did get angry sometimes. For example, when the deadline for the book came closer and closer. I was on the verge of withdrawing the whole book. In principle, everything was completely under control, but the smallest things could make me incredibly busy—and sometimes angry. I am someone who wants to do everything extremely well. If someone doesn’t share that attitude, I can get irritated. Especially if I haven’t eaten!”
“No, it’s not going to. I’ve started to like sports more, I know how to handle nutrition better and how to make smart choices. Oh, and I’m going to drink more wine instead of beer. I’ve amassed quite a collection of wine. I think I’m going to do it more often like I did on my birthday, which fell right in the middle of this process. Then I went to the butcher and got really good meat and good wine from the vintner. You enjoy it more and you don’t overdo it. I had a great birthday without exceeding my calories. I don’t think I will ever look like my before picture again. In any case, that’s not the goal.
I continue to exercise. I got a home gym from my friends at First Energy when the gyms closed, and I’m keeping the bench press anyway. I also enjoy running, so I’ll keep that up, too. I think I’ll do more other sports besides that. I really missed that. Kiting, for example. And I did a trailrun a while ago, I thought that was cool. Fortunately, I’ve learned enough to keep it up myself, so that’s the idea. I’m not the Thomas I was then. I’m a different person.”