Strong is the new sexy and fitness is the new party. With society leaning towards health and fitness, Yahoo’s #Fitspo of the Week series is dedicated to all inspirational men and women in Singapore leading active lifestyles. Know of any who deserve to be featured? Hit me up on CherylTay.sg and on Facebook,Twitter and Instagram (cheryltaysg).
Name: Tyen Ying Fong (IG: @tyenstagram)
Occupation: SMU Business Student / Freelance personal trainer / Musician
Diet: Mostly whole foods
Training: Strength training and HIIT 5 to 6 times a week
You grew up as a skinny kid who didn't like to eat. How did your health suffer?
I was always underweight as a child because I was a very picky eater who didn’t like food. I never liked eating foods like rice or milk. I was the unhealthiest when I was diagnosed with clinical depression at 17 where I ate extremely little and weighed 40kg.
How did you recover from that?
I never played any sports as a kid and was never good at any either. I disliked any competitive game (especially those that included running) and always hid in the toilet during PE in school.
But exercise changed my life when I was 18 after I finished my IB exams. I started going to the gym, running, eating healthier and taking care of my body. My appetite also improved and I got my weight to a healthy range. More importantly, I had so much more energy and that led to a positive outlook on life.
Although I had my insecurities (as all of us do), going to the gym wasn’t so much about improving my physique or looking better. To put it simply, I was seeking a means of getting stronger. I was tired of being weak. I feel strong when lift heavy weights and invincible when I break personal records. I can now deadlift 100kg!
When did you feel the least confident about yourself?
I remember not being very confident when I was in my early teens when my parents separated. I was close to my father and we bonded over our love for music and theatre. It affected me as I felt like I had lost a friend, and so I kept to myself and didn’t feel very confident trusting people or expressing myself to others.
What did you do to boost your confidence?
My confidence is still a work in progress. Various aspects of my life besides fitness - including theatre studies at the School Of The Arts for six years and singing in a local music duo called Tyen&Vishaalb- have helped me come out of my shell. Performing allows me to express myself and be a different person on stage.
You recently won the NABBA Muscle War 2016 Bikini Champion title and are also taking part in NutriGirl. What are your objectives in competing?
I remember attending a physique and bodybuilding competition last year and being fascinated with what I saw. I saw the fittest-looking men and women I’ve ever seen and I remember telling myself I’d never be able to have the same determination and confidence needed to step on stage.
However, the thought of competing crossed my mind several times since then. 2015 was filled with many changes for me in terms of school, work and relationships. It was only until four months ago that I decided that I needed to challenge myself in order to grow. I’ve come so far in terms of my physique and my confidence and I want to see how much more my body can change in the process.
It was my first time posing on stage in a bikini and it was both nerve wrecking but exciting! But I hope that participating in such competitions will broaden my exposure to the fitness industry and to connect with like-minded people to share our health and fitness journeys. I hope that sharing my story would hopefully inspire other girls who are depressed or on the verge of eating disorders.
Are you satisfied with your body now?
I feel at peace with my body. I feel very connected with my different muscles. In the process of competition prep, you spend quite a lot of time by yourself (ie. late night meal prepping or early morning runs), but you really start to reflect and appreciate your body because of the hard work and time invested into it.
What kind of comments do you get about your body?
Besides a few people telling me that I’m too muscular, most comments have been positive ones. I’m always happy when I get messages on social media from other young women telling me that my story and workout tips inspire them to workout and get healthy.
What are some misconceptions of fitness in today's society?
There are so many misconceptions about fitness in terms of nutrition and exercise! I constantly get emails from girls with questions like “How much weight should I lift if I don’t want to look bulky?” or “How much cardio should I do to lose weight?”
I feel that a lot of the focus in fitness nowadays is on aesthetics instead of health and strength. More people should focus on being stronger, functional, and well-nourished beings, and the aesthetic element should follow after.
Who is your fitness inspiration?
My Jewish grandmother! At 72, my grandmother is one of the most sprightliest and energetic people I know! She works out 3 to 4 times a week and always looks fabulous.
Why should people make an effort to lead an active lifestyle?
I think it all comes down to being grateful for our health. There are many people who are much less fortunate than us - those who can’t run or even afford a meal. Most of us have been given the basic resources to be healthy and functional individuals.
You don’t need a gym membership to exercise because running and crunches are free, and it is possible to eat healthy on a budget. Health really is the foundation of a happy lifestyle, so prioritise it and invest in yourself!
I want people reading this interview and hearing my story (especially young girls like myself) to know that there is no limit to strength. Despite the challenges you come across, they exist to make you stronger. The strength you gain is not only physical, but mental. Stay strong and keep fighting!