West Hollywood Aquatics member Charles Chen became a celebrity chef after losing 100 pounds
Charles Chen hit rock bottom at age 15.
Nearly 20 years ago, he numbed his emotions with unhealthy food—chicken nuggets, French fries, and ice cream from McDonald’s were among his most common choices—which led to his weight ballooning to 260 pounds. Chen was about 100 pounds overweight and lethargic at an age when he remembers his friends playing outside a lot.
When a doctor told Chen he was pre-diabetic and might die early if he didn’t change his lifestyle, Chen was taken aback. The moment served as a wake-up call. Chen realized he needed to change the food he ate to change his future.
“I quickly decided to take control of my health and happiness,” Chen says. “I began doing the things that bring me joy. I started cooking in the kitchen and being mindful of the ingredients I was putting into my body. I always knew there was a better way, and I knew if I could transform my own life, I could eventually help inspire others to do the same.”
Chen has lost 100 pounds, leading to his becoming a celebrity chef and wellness entrepreneur who has appeared on the Food Network’s “Chopped,” in addition to other shows and podcasts on which he discussed his backstory and provided healthy recipes.
But healthy eating was just part of his turnaround.
Chen, 34, swum as a child and picked the sport back up as an adult.
“I always felt a sense of calm being in the water, so to get into Masters swimming was very therapeutic and a full circle,” he says.
The key to his transformation, he says, was consistency. That carries over to his swimming. Chen chooses to show up at a workout even on the days he doesn’t feel like it. Swimming with West Hollywood Aquatics has also kept him accountable. Being part of a club reminds him to show up not only for himself but also for his teammates.
He says his belief in creating space for stillness throughout the day reengaged his love for the sport because there are no distractions. Swimming forced him to be fully present and very aware.
“Every lap becomes repetitive, and you clear your mind,” he says. “No matter what is going on in my life, I just remind myself to keep swimming.
“One lap at a time, and everything becomes less overwhelming. I swim for my mental health, and the physical benefits are just an added bonus. I gain a sense of calm and ease when I swim.”
Chen says swimming and spirituality sit at the top of his priority list. Swimming brings him back into balance, and he sees both intertwining.
Being in the water is meditative for him, and the breath work that comes with swimming calms down his nervous system.
“It brings me back to my higher self,” he says. “I always feel better when I get out of the pool no matter how early some practices are. I remind myself of why I started.”
Chen adds that he particularly enjoys Masters swimming because it offers a great way to track his progress and provide something to look forward to beyond his normal life.
He says he always feels inspired by the dedication, discipline, and camaraderie of his Masters teammates, who make swimming more enjoyable.
"[Masters swimming is] a reminder of that we are all in this together, which is very humbling and uniting,” he says. “Whenever I see an older swimmer who’s been super consistent, it reminds me to continue to keep swimming."
- Health and Nutrition