It's one thing to have a flat tummy. And another to have sculpted, six-pack abs.
At 39, celebrity mum Jaime Teo defies what science tells us: That our bodies get physically weaker as we age, especially after hitting 30. That our muscle mass starts declining. That fat starts accumulating. That waist lines start expanding.
There's no trace of flab on her 1.66m, 48kg to 50kg frame. Her limbs are toned, her stomach taut. During our three-hour photoshoot, she prances around with the energy of an 18-year-old.
Hundreds of photos are taken of Jaime in different swimsuits. Clearly, she knows her best angles and milks them, smiling relentlessly. While she looks picture-perfect in almost every shot, what catches everyone's attention is her six-pack abs. Unabashedly defined. Gloriously real.
Then she impresses by demonstrating her favourite high-intensity exercise moves with ease. Burpees, mountain climbers, jump squats, you name it. No sweat. Jaime even performs a jaw-dropping headstand split - balancing on her arms and head while doing a split - to our writer's request.
Looking at her Instagram account (@jmeteo), which is peppered with videos of her home workouts, it seems as though she has been doing this forever, with a fitness coach by her side. But get this: Jaime started exercising only in early 2014 - not too long ago. Her master trainer? YouTube.
"Seriously! I picked up all the moves by googling and watching YouTube videos," says Jaime. "YouTube is my best teacher."
"However, I don't recommend anyone to follow in my footsteps. What has worked for me may not work for others. Self-awareness is very important."
Jaime would know. After being crowned Miss Singapore Universe in 2001, Jaime spent the next seven years in the limelight. Behind the scenes, she was struggling with her body weight.
Shape: Tell us about your weight loss battle. How bad was it?
Jaime: I was plump as a kid, and only became skinny in secondary school. Like any other girl going through puberty, I was conscious of my body. I would do 200 to 300 leg lifts before going to bed at night. But things got worse after I joined and won the Miss Singapore Universe pageant at 24.
There was this constant pressure to be thin. Everyone around would comment that my face was too chubby, especially for television. When I was in Taiwan for my girl group stint in 2002, I went from 48kg to 43kg by exercising every day and restricting my diet. I looked really unhealthy then.
I was also bulimic. Whenever I ate, I felt judged by all the girls around me. I was so food-deprived that I would buy a lot of tidbits back to my hotel room, binge on them and make myself throw up. I was even admitted to the hospital for severe gastric pain and had to be put on a drip.
This continued for the next five years even after I was back in Singapore, acting and hosting at Mediacorp. I didn't know what to eat, and how much to eat. In my quest to lose weight, I tried all sorts of diets, and even slimming pills, which gave me heart palpitations. My weight kept yo-yoing; my body was screwed up. This lasted nearly a decade. I only recovered after I was out of the limelight.
S: How did you recover?
J: At 31, I decided to give up trying to be slim. I stopped obsessing over my diet. I started listening to my body. I let myself eat chocolates, ice cream and other food I craved. When I stopped putting junk food on the pedestal and seeing it as a treat, I no longer craved it. Over time, I learnt to be sated instead of stuffed. I found that I could eat half a slice of cake instead of the whole slice, and be satisfied. Now that I've mastered portion control, I don't think twice about eating what I like.
S: What are your favourite foods?
J: I like anything that's fried or covered with batter, especially fried chicken! I also like bread, rice and chips. I eat almost anything, but in moderation. The only thing I avoid is sugary drinks, and that includes coconut water and isotonic drinks. I have them only once in a while, because the more I drink, the more I'll crave them.
S: As the co-founder of Twelve Cupcakes, are you able to share a healthier cupcake recipe?
J: I get asked this a lot. Honestly, I think cupcakes should be enjoyed the way they are. Here's my healthy version of eating a cupcake: Share it with someone. Eat just half or a quarter of it. Don't polish off the whole cupcake on your own. Savour every bite, and you'll learn to be sated with less.
S: Pray tell, how did you get your six-pack?
J: I didn't set out to achieve that - it just happened. I guess my abs are a by-product of my active lifestyle. I'm at the age where I'm no longer obsessed with how I look.
S: On a scale of one to 10, how confident are you of your body now?
J: 10. I'm very happy with my body and what it can do for me.
S: So how did you get started in fitness?
J: In early 2014, I bought a zumba instructional DVD for my mum, who commented that the workout was tough. I decided to try it myself. I ended up loving zumba so much that I became a certified instructor. And then I went on to try other dance workouts like Sh'bam [a Les Mills programme] because I like dancing.
One day, I saw myself dancing in a video and realised how terrible I looked. Then I decided to try other types of exercise, like stretching and gymnastics. That's when I taught myself to do splits, handstands and those arm-balancing moves you see on my Instagram account.
S: Doing those moves must be pretty tough.
J: It is. It still hurts to do them, but I like challenges. Strength and flexibility will improve with practice. I enjoy mastering my body, and being able to do what I tell myself to.
S: What's your fitness routine like now?
J: I actually don't like routines, because they make exercising sound like a drag. I try to work out every day, no matter how little time I have. I usually play squash, badminton or rock-climb once or twice a week, and do a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout five days a week. As I'm taking part in the 10km Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore 2016 in December, I'm running twice a week now, and doing HIIT on alternate days.
S: What's your goal for the 10km race?
J: I hope to do it in one hour, though I haven't ran for the longest time!
S: How confident are you of achieving that?
J: I think it's possible, with consistent training. Running has never been a problem for me. During my school days, I was always nominated - or rather, sabotaged! - to represent my class in long-distance races, as I had a record of winning. Back then, 3km was considered long-distance! [Laughs] Now's the time to focus on my aerobic fitness, which I have neglected in my pursuit of anaerobic fitness. Anaerobic exercises build strength, speed and power, very much like my HIIT sessions.
S: Many of your Instagram followers have been asking you for workout advice.
J: I know. I don't usually reply to those questions as I'm not fitness-qualified. I don't want to prescribe workouts or give tips because everyone is built differently and has a different level of fitness. There's a chance of injury if an exercise is not done properly. That's why I'm undergoing a course by the American Council on Exercise to become a certified personal trainer. After I pass the exam - hopefully by the end of October - I'd be in a better position to advise others.
S: Any plans to become a personal trainer after that?
J: Not at the moment, but I'm open to it. I enjoy working out with people.
S: Who are your workout buddies?
J: I love a good game of badminton with [local personalities] Jade Seah, Sheila Sim and Olinda Cho. We have fun together. I enjoy making Jade do my HIIT workouts. She's crazy-competitive like me. It's so satisfying to see her sweat buckets!
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