• Share

Getting A Grip on Calories: On the Road to Poor Health, Coke Leader Decides to Change. Does He Ever.

By:  Dianna O'Neill May 6, 2013
Martin Jansen

Martin Jansen onstage at a recent Ambassador program kickoff ceremony in Yunnan Province, China.

It’s 7:30 a.m. when a trim and intense Dutch expat slips into the gym at the InterContinental Shanghai Expo Hotel, located near the heart of China’s most populous city. He crosses the wide room, exchanging quiet hellos with his fellow regulars, before taking his place on the treadmill.

Over the next half hour, Martin Jansen will run three miles (5k) at an average speed of six miles (10k) per hour. He’s fast. After his run, he hits the weight machines, working his upper and lower body in interval training for another 30 minutes. Throughout the workout and afterward in the locker room, Jansen is intently focused and prepping for the day ahead – thinking about how to grow Coca-Cola's business in China and motivate his team to shape the future of Brand Coca-Cola in the world’s biggest market-to-be.

Martin Jansen

Martin Jansen, newly-trim following an intensive weight loss effort.

Jansen isn’t a customer, investor or analyst. He’s CEO of Coca-Cola China Industries Ltd. (CCCIL), BIG (Bottling Investments Group) Region Director for China-Singapore-Malaysia, and this is one of his favorite times to think about business.

“It’s a perfect time. My head is clear. I’m focused and energized,” he says.

What Jansen isn’t thinking about is the jaw-dropping achievement represented by his seemingly ordinary workout.

Only two years ago, this gym is the last place he’d be. Jansen was obese. A one-time teenage soccer standout in his native Holland, he’d grown sedentary in adulthood and at 5’8 he weighed 267 pounds (121 kg). He paid little attention to his diet. He ate what he wanted. He also traveled frequently for work, eating irregularly and big portions.

Unchecked Eating Habits

“I would eat everything” he recounts. “Sometimes I’d eat fruit in the morning with yogurt, eggs, sausage and bread. For lunch it might be potatoes, meat, chicken, whatever, but big portions. And I’d eat the same at night. In between, I’d eat cookies and chocolates because I have a sweet tooth. I always had dessert. I also drank Coca-Cola. Still do.”

Jansen knew it wasn’t healthy, but he felt fine and simply didn’t see himself as heavy. He’d been with our system 15 years, working hard and moving up, so his career – not his lifestyle choices – came first.

He shrugs. “I just got fatter and fatter. That’s basically what happened.”

Martin Jansen before

Jansen at a conference in 2009, before he adopted healthier lifestyle habits.

Jansen could have gone on this way, but as it turned out, his success at Coca-Cola helped play a role in putting him on the road to healthier habits. In 2009 he went for an executive physical. The results returned a litany of dangerous obesity markers: high blood pressure, high cholesterol and borderline diabetes. He went on blood pressure medication, but did little else. It wasn’t until a senior colleague made an offhand remark about his appearance, “Life must be good in China,” the man wryly teased, that the epiphany came.

“That was exactly what I needed,” he chuckles. “I’d had the physical. But that comment made me think. It made me realize I wanted to change.’”

What happened next reflects Jansen’s driven, goals-oriented personality. Or his “stubbornness”, as he calls it.

Tackling Calorie Imbalance

Jansen took two weeks off and enrolled in Chiva-Som, a health and fitness complex in Thailand. He exercised four hours a day. He followed a low-calorie diet and talked to trainers and nutritionists about the best foods for his age and exercise level. By the end of the two weeks he’d lost 17 pounds (8 kg). He also gained a permanent appreciation of the role calories play in obesity.

“All the food on their menu and the buffets had a calorie amount on it. I mean everything. The main course fish has so many calories, and steak had such-and-such many calories. It also listed protein, carbs and fat, so I developed a good feel for calories and nutrition per portion. It’s not an exact science, but I have a much better understanding of calories and nutrition and I adjusted my diet so I can make better choices. I don't eat less, but I more precisely and thoughtfully. That two weeks really changed my life."

Over the next year, Martin stuck with his plan and continued shedding weight. While at Chiva-Som, he tried several exercises – running, cycling, swimming and weightlifting – looking for something he enjoyed so it would be easier to maintain when he got home. As a result, going to the gym has never become a burden, as he puts it, nor has adjusting his diet. Jansen hasn’t eliminated any foods either, including chocolate, sweets, or Coca-Cola.

Rather, he monitors his calorie intake, upping his exercise on days he eats more, or deliberately eating less on days when he can’t exercise. And he controls his portions better while reducing carbs and fat.

All told, he’s gone from 267 pounds (121 kg) in June 2011, to 187 pounds (85 kg) in July 2012. Most impressively, he’s kept to that range, plus or minus six pounds (three kg) up to today.

Inspiring His Team

His colleagues at BIG have watched the transformation with amazement. Tongue-in-cheek, they gave him a "Shaper of the year Award", for literally re-shaping himself. More than a few also notice Jansen stays trim while pointedly drinking Coca-Cola at the office.

Martin Jansen

BIG China gave Jansen a ‘Shaper of the Year’ award to recognize his dramatic weight loss and the example it set for his team.

“I drink it every day for a morning break. I don’t announce it and say ‘Wow, look at me I’m drinking a Coke,’ but my team sees it. And I’ve been honest about the calories. When people say, ‘You lost so many kilos, but you’re drinking Coke.’ I tell them ‘Yes, but my Coke’s only 86 calories, a 200 milliliter serving, and it fits my diet. 86 calories is nothing; I can burn that in 15 minutes at the gym.’ I truly enjoy Coca-Cola. If you’re at our meetings, there’s always Coca-Cola on the table.”

Not surprisingly, Jansen’s dramatic change made an impression across his group. Several members of his nine-member leadership team have either started exercising or are doing it more, and they’re also tracking their collective weight loss. Since last year, they’ve dropped almost 220 pounds (100 kg) as a group. One colleague insists he’s not stopping until he surpasses Jansen’s total weight loss. “I’m really proud of them,” Jansen says.

These days, Jansen goes the gym at least five days each week including weekends, when he’ll sometimes add a relaxing swim and sauna to change up his routine. When traveling, he deliberately packs running shoes so there’s no excuse to skip exercise.

If this all sounds impossibly simple, well, Jansen doesn’t go quite that far. He acknowledges there’s a multitude of factors involved in weight loss. He counsels people to find the right exercise routines and diet modifications, not deprivations, that work for them. He also recommends a personal trainer in the beginning to boost initial motivation and teach proper techniques. The most important factor, and what he continually comes back to, is finding exercise you genuinely like so you can persist, even if you miss an occasional workout or succumb to a midnight pasta craving.

Soccer team

Martin, bottom center, with the Dutch National 35+ and older soccer team.

“It all starts between the ears,” he says with a smile. “That’s where you make your decisions. If the decision is I need excuses not to go to the gym, you’ll come up with excuses not to go to gym. If the decision is I want to eat healthy, to achieve something, you’re most likely going to prove to yourself you’ll be able to do it.”

Losing 80 pounds (36 kg) in a year opens up a lot of possibilities. Jansen’s proudest accomplishment was a soccer game that took place in Shanghai last fall. He took the field for the Dutch National 35 and older team in a matchup against Scotland. Jansen was the oldest player at 53. He’d come a long way to be on that field again. As the national anthem played he was proud, even before his team won 3 – 1.