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How fitness lifted ‘Ms. Bodycon 8.0’ out of depression

By MYLENE MENDOZA-DAYRIT, The Philippine STAR Published Dec 12, 2023 5:00 am

Diagnosed at the tender age of eight with depression, Julia Sucgang-Bonoan turned to sports to help her manage her condition. She excelled in many sports in the process but saw herse lf spiraling into worse depression when she was in the final years of college. It was then that she got immersed in fitness. 

Since then she has used her experience and her new stock of knowledge (with her multiple fitness certifications) to continue her fitness journey and help others transform into their best selves. Julia has recently added a new platform for her fitness advocacy. She was just crowned Ms. Bodycon 8.0, an annual search for “fitspirations” among members of Gold’s Gym, UFC Gym and the Fitness Institute. 

A transformation coach since 2017, she is an advocate of overall fitness (physical and mental). In college, she was a former double-varsity player for Ateneo de Manila University’s women’s football and track and field teams. She is a competitive athlete, motivational speaker, and mental health advocate, as well as a content creator, commercial model and entertainer. She was already featured by GMA and CNN in their fitness shows or segments. 

We caught up with her after the BodyCon 8.0 held at Victoria Sports Tower last Oct. 22.

THE PHILIPPINE STAR: How did you get into fitness? 

JULIA SUCGANG-BONOAN: While fitness is an individual endeavor, for the most part, people are capable of influencing the people around them. I was fortunate enough to have a father who was active in sports. He was a varsity athlete for the football and track and field teams of his school. After graduating, he would regularly go to the gym, play pick-up football games, and eventually get into triathlon racing. He introduced me to sports at an early age by exposing me to a handful of sports. This has led me to be active in sports, and later fitness, throughout my whole life. I even followed in his footsteps by being a part of the football and track and field teams as a double-varsity athlete at his alma mater. I can confidently say that my father had a big influence on me and my career as a fitness coach. 

Diagnosed with depression at the tender age of eight, Julia Sucgang-Bonoan managed both her physical and mental health through good nutrition and exercise.
The three main benefits I get are having a sound mind, a strong body, and being more capable of being of service to my family and others as a Christian and coach. 

What was your first fitness goal then? How does that compare with your fitness goal now?

I started playing sports at seven (playing golf, basketball, running, and swimming) but began playing sports more frequently when I became a double-varsity player when I was 13 years old to 21 (representing the football and futsal teams of my high school and the UAAP football and track & field teams of my university). Having shown symptoms of Major Depressive Disorder at eight years old, sports were initially my way to somewhat escape from my mental battles. What pushed me to take my fitness journey more seriously was when my depression got worse and I became suicidal during my latter years in college. Upon graduating, I signed up at Gold’s Gym with the intention to restart my fitness journey —no longer wanting to escape from my mental battles but to overcome them by building a healthy mind-body connection. 

At the Spartan Trifecta Weekend event: Julia joined the Spartan race in Pampanga with husband Enzo Bonoan, a BodyCon 4.0 titleholder. Julia finished fourth in the Female Elite Category and 10th overall.

What inspired you to join BodyCon? 

I joined BodyCon 5.0 in 2020 when I was already three years into being an online fitness and nutrition coach. I was very passionate about sharing the benefits of practicing overall fitness—creating a lifestyle that improves both our physical and mental health. Having had Major Depressive Disorder or MDD since eight, I joined back then to hopefully inspire people who suffer from mental battles to live their best lives through overall fitness. Despite BodyCon 5.0 being canceled due to the pandemic, my advocacy continued. Without hesitation, I joined BodyCon 8.0 as soon as it opened up. This time around, I had already become a wife, and a breastfeeding, hands-on mom to my 13-month-old, all while still pursuing my passion as an online fitness and nutrition coach. Now, as a first-time parent, I see how our health tends to take a backseat and how “being a mom” tends to be accepted as an excuse not to practice self-care and self-love. Joining BodyCon 8.0 meant defying the odds and showing what is possible as a breastfeeding mom with postpartum depression who aims towards overall fitness. 

They say that it is not normal to retain your competition physique during the rest of the year, but I hardly see you out of shape. Why? 

My goal from the get-go was to build a healthy and sustainable lifestyle especially now that I’m a breastfeeding and hands-on mom. I am also a breast milk donor so there are premature babies and other recipients of my milk who rely on me. I treat exercise, rest and proper nutrition as non-negotiables—that way I am able to be fit all year round. 

Please share the three benefits of having proper nutrition and regular exercise.

The three main benefits I get are having a sound mind, a strong body, and being more capable of being of service to my family and others as a Christian and coach. 

You even took a certification with the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). How committed are you to fitness? What is your advocacy? 

I am currently a NASM-certified virtual coach and fitness coach, and in the process of finishing my NASM Women Specialization certification. I am very much committed to not only helping more people reach their fitness goals in a fun, healthy, and sustainable way through the knowledge I’ve gained in my years of practice as a coach but also to inspire others to attain their best selves through my own example. I wish to promote and live out my advocacy, which is prioritizing self-care through overall physical and mental fitness.