Singapore teacher overcomes bulimia to rock chiselled abs

SINGAPORE - If you look at Melissa Wee today, you would never guess that she once struggled with her weight.

She looks like the very epitome of fitness - rockin' fabulously chiselled abs, rippling biceps and well-developed thighs. She has since appeared twice in The Straits Times' Hot Bod section to share her secrets to her drool-worthy body, and walked the runway of several bodybuilding championships.

But she did not always have six-pack abs. In fact, she revealed in a blog post that she has struggled with her weight for most of her life and been overweight for more than half of her 29 years.

"Being overweight in an Asian society where everyone is petite and slim made me feel discriminated against," she shared on bodybuilding motivation site bodibuilding.com.

She endured the ridicule of teachers and the snide remarks made by seniors. "On the surface, I seemed jovial and bubbly, but an array of feelings was brewing inside. I was lost in the darkness of my own circumstance," she said.

Her obsession with her weight led her to release her frustrations through acts of bulimia. She said she would go through episodes of binging and purging to let out feelings of anger, depression, stress and anxiety.

Her weight quickly plummeted by 18kg. "Food became my best friend and worst enemy. The only time I felt in control was when I binged and purged on food. I felt disgusted with myself and hated what I saw in the mirror," she said.

The turning point in her life came when she was hospitalised due to the side effects of bulimia. At her lowest, she weighed a mere 44.5kg, the 1.57m tall beauty said.

While she did recover with the help of family and friends, her ordeal with her weight obsession was not over. She soon fell victim to bingeing again. However, this time she began packing on the pounds, ballooning up to 71.7kg in no time.

While she didn't want to start purging again, she couldn't stand being depressed and in agony about her weight. That was when she decided to take matters into her own hands - she signed up at a gym and began her fitness journey.

Uphill battle

Uphill battle

When she first started going to the gym, Wee's body fat level was 36 per cent. Like all beginners, she felt conscious about her appearance at the gym and experienced agonising muscle aches from subjecting her body to strenuous workouts.

However, she stuck at it and did not lose hope. "I took it one day at a time and made sure I worked out. There were times I wanted to give up. I felt disgusted with myself and cried out to God for strength," she said.

After some time, she noticed that her body was responding to the workouts, becoming leaner and more toned. This encouraged her to work out even harder. Soon, the pounds melted away and her clothes hung loose on her body.

Exercising became a habit for her and no longer a chore. From hating it, she came to love it. She also learnt to be strict with herself about her dietary habits. From eating all sorts of unhealthy foods, she started cooking and preparing her own meals.

She kept a log of what she ate everyday and how much she ate. "I cook my own meals and take them out with me. If I do eat out, I'll opt for a seafood salad without dressing or just lemon juice and virgin olive oil. I am very particular about what I eat as I put on weight easily. I eat every three to four hours and consume almost 2,000 calories a day," she told ST.

One tip she has for others is to use a smartphone to record daily dietary intakes - which is what she did.  "Recording my food in an app on my iPhone helped me keep track calories and made a huge difference. I started to see changes in my body quickly. My body fat lowered, and for the first time in my life I saw my abs. I was ecstatic. All I ever wanted was a flat stomach to replace the three layers of fat I carried all my life," she said.

Ten years on, you would never guess that she was ever overweight - she now boasts an six-pack that any bodybuilder would be proud of.

She even participated in an international fitness beauty pageant last year, coming in sixth place overall.

Her fitness secrets

Her fitness secrets

Today, Wee works out five to seven days a week. She wrote on bodybuilding.com that she usually spends five days focused on weight training and two on cardio.

She described her training style as a mix of powerlifting - a strength sport that consists of three attempts at maximal weight on three lifts - and bodybuilding exercises. "I incorporate powerlifting methods to build mass and size. Bodybuilding methods are for conditioning and stimulating more muscle fibers," she explained.

As for her diet, Wee follows the cyclical ketogenic diet, which means she cycles periods of low carbs, high protein and high fat diets with periods of high carbs, high protein and low fat meals. Every four days, she loads up on carbohydrates.

Her food choices consist of chicken, beef, oily fish such as salmon and cod, eggs and leafy vegetables. But she admits to having days where she allows herself indulgences. "I have a cheat day once a week where I eat whatever I want," she said.

She highlighted that she tries not to exceed her maximum daily caloric intake by 300 calories on her cheat day, to help her keep on track with her fitness goals.

She also shared on her blog about her constant struggle with an urge to binge eat, and shared some tips on how to combat it.

1. Write a journal

If you suffer from excessive eating, try to keep a journal somewhere convenient like your phone. When you feel like binge eating, write your feelings down - it will help you let out your emotions and find out the root cause of your food cravings.

In addition, once you win the battle of not eating that cookie or potato chip, write down that feeling of accomplishment. If you lose that battle, write down the feeling of disgust. It will help you not brush aside the incident and serve as a reminder of your goals.

2. Don't hide behind baggy clothes

Again, hiding behind baggy clothes is a form of escapism. Wearing tight fitting clothes will remind you why it's better not to touch that cookie.

3. Avoid temptation

Clear your fridge out of junk food and your favourite bingeing foods.

4. Stop dieting

Dieting only serves to trigger food cravings and the urge to eat. Instead of dieting, focus on eatng in moderation and eating healthy foods. Don't ban certain foods as this can make you crave them more.

5. Listen to your body

Learn to distinguish between physical and emotional hunger. If you just ate and are not experiencing the signs of hunger, you probably do not need to eat so soon again. Give yourself time for the cravings to pass. Instead, drink a glass of water or calorie free soda.

Excerpt from Wee's blog at www.melissasarahlee.com:

People who don't know me well think that I always look the way I do, with muscles, with abs and as I quote someone who said this to me 'born with gorgeous glutes'. The truth is I wasn't always like that.

Everyone starts somewhere. Everyone comes from a humble beginning. For more than half my life, I was overweight. My insecurities and sense of worthlessness took root when I turned 13.

I was brought up in an elite all girls' school, top 5 in the country. There was a significant amount of stress upon my shoulders as my environment was very competitive. Being overweight and in an Asian society where everyone is petite and slim, I often felt discriminated. It was a 'sin' to be overweight in my school. The teachers who led the Trim & Fit (TAF) club were a cruel bunch. They often ridicule the students and put them down in front of everyone. It was emotionally torturing and over the years, I felt my self esteem crumble bit by bit. To aggravate matters, a group of seniors in enjoyed passing snide remarks about me whenever they saw me. They mocked me mercilessly, using the crudest language on me. Till today, I can see hear those words that spewed from their mouths.

On the surface I seemed jovial and bubbly but an array of feelings was brewing inside. I was lost in the darkness of my own circumstance. Criticizing echoes left me awake at night as I pondered about my meaning in life. I felt worthless, lost and dejected. I just wanted to be accepted. Then, I discovered bulimia. I was obsessed with food & my weight. It controlled my life for many years. It shattered my self worth. I was always depressed and miserable back then. In a way, I discovered that bulimia pave a way for me to release the unhappiness in myself. I sought episodes of binging and purging to let out feelings of anger, depression, stress or anxiety.

Those years, I didn't know who I was anymore. I was losing myself physically and emotionally. My weight plummeted by 40lbs and food became my best friend and worst enemy. The only time I felt that I was in control was when I could binge and purge my food. Most days I felt disgusted by myself and hated what I saw in the mirror. The only blame I cast is on myself for wanting the happiness I felt I didn't deserve.

Eating disorders are VERY real. It's not just a physical thing but more of a psychological & emotional mind fuck. It's really tough to explain to someone who has never experience it. It's a mental illness. Nobody wakes up saying 'I want to have an ED'.

The turning point came when I was hospitalized because of the side effects of bulimia. Even then I didn't fully recover. It took a lot of love from my family & friends on my road to recovery. Every time I looked into the mirror, I saw someone hideous & fat. I'm really grateful that Jesus has turned my life around and I've found new meaning in life. He saved me.

On my journey to recovery, I gradually put on another 20-25lbs. So YES it is possible to be fat, then skinny, then FAT again. There is really no short cut to getting fit. Fitness is a choice and I'm so glad that Jesus brought it into my life. Jesus saved me and gave me more than I could ever imagined or ask for.

If you knew me 20 years ago, you would know that I am someone who has a really short attention span and would never keep to a single interest for long. I would be into something for a while & then something else catches my eye and I'm done with the former. Fitness is something that has been a part of me for the past 10 years. And I know that it isn't just by my own efforts that I am what I am today. I may not be the best, but I am better than I was 10 years ago.

Go to www.melissasarahwee.com for more fitness tips or to leave words of support.

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