Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Novia Liew

·9-min read
Novia Liew is a Barre instructor.
Novia Liew is a Barre instructor. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Life goes beyond the digits on the scale and your body is capable of so much more! Yahoo’s #Fitspo of the Week series is dedicated to inspirational men and women in Singapore leading healthy and active lifestyles. Have someone to recommend? Hit Cheryl up on Instagram or Facebook!

Name: Novia Liew (@noviahehehoho)

Age: 25

Height: 1.55m

Weight: 50kg

Occupation: Barre Instructor

Status: Attached

Food: I eat whatever I like, in small portions (most of the time at least haha). Luckily, I don't love greasy/deep fried/creamy food. I eat a lot of fish, croissants, cakes, and I can't live without bread.

Exercise: Barre every day, spin class 1-2 times a week, boxing class once a week, swimming/running/tennis/my own HIIT (high-intensity interval training) workout on weekends.

Q: You were actively involved in a lot of sports from a young age.

A: I started taking swimming classes when I was six, got my gold certificate when I was nine, and participated in swimming events on Sports Day every year in primary school. My CCA (co-curricular activity) was bowling because I was following my sister's footsteps, but I represented the school for inter-school swimming competitions too in P5 and P6. I started bowling when I was nine, represented my school in competitions every year since, until I was 16.

I was more involved in running. I used to live opposite Bedok Reservoir, so every weekend I would go for a run with my elder sister and dad. My motivation used to be the roti prata treat after the run (one round around the reservoir is 4.3km). In secondary school, I started being a little more weight conscious. I would come home after school every day, dump my bag and head over to run one round. On days I feel a bit more ambitious, I would hit the gym after the run.

Novia Liew was very active growing up, and took part in sports such as swimming, bowling and cross-country running.
Novia Liew was very active growing up, and took part in sports such as swimming, bowling and cross-country running. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

In upper secondary, I met my best friends and one of them loved long-distance running too. She convinced us to participate in the inter-class cross-country run on Sports Day. The four of us trained super hard (we're very competitive hahaha) and eventually won first place for our class. This re-ignited my love for running - not as a means to weight loss, but for the sport itself. I continued this in junior college and in university at NUS, where I ran competitively for the cross-country team.

Another thing I did was ballet. I started this with my best friends too, in Secondary 3, because we wanted to earn the National Youth Achievement Award gold together. One of the requirements is committing to a new activity consistently over 12 months. We picked ballet, fell in love with it and stayed on till JC2. We were striving for the intermediate ballet certificate, but I had to drop out in JC2 because of a shin splint injury and also needed to focus on A Levels.

That’s a lot of sports! What memorable experiences did you have?

Just to name a few. Running is by far my favourite - the most memorable will HAVE to be the Sports Day cross-country run with my besties. It was so much fun and a small win that felt massive at that time. I clocked my first personal best timing and that gave me confidence to really go competitive in running.

In JC, once there was a 1-1 Venti Starbucks offer during the Christmas season. My team got very excited and we all went to get it right before track training, with extra whipped cream and all that goodness. We obviously didn't think it through. Unsurprisingly, half of us puked it out during our 800m interval training and the coach was disappointed and furious at us. Whenever we talk about it now, it's just so hilarious. 

We are all very competitive yes, but I realise the things we remember most are really the fun and spontaneous moments with our friends while we're at it. Lastly, my first half-marathon with my boyfriend in 1 hour 55 minutes - the longest distance I've run thus far.

Any regrets?

I never really wanted to join bowling, but my dad insisted on it. As a kid you trust your parents' judgment and I followed through until I was 16 before I finally decided it's not my passion at all. I don't know if I would say I regret the journey, because I made great friends through bowling. But definitely if I could turn back time, I would've insisted on netball or swimming.

I've tried a lot of sports and am surely a "jack of all trades, master of none" – which I really don't mind. I've come to love doing sports as a recreational thing and have let go of the competitive edge to just enjoy the good fun.

Novia continued to take part in many recreational sports during her university days.
Novia continued to take part in many recreational sports during her university days. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

In university, you learnt to let go of being competitive and started to enjoy sports more.

I am competitive by nature, but I am also very adventurous. In NUS, there was so much to try and four years was not enough for all of it. Naturally, I can't want to try new things and be good at it all. I was putting a lot of attention in my studies and it was quite draining to train and stress out about making into the competitive teams.

That’s when I started to let go of the goal to compete and simply joined recreational teams instead to just have fun after a long day of lectures. I played things like netball, handball, frisbee, tennis. A little healthy competition is always good within the game – the difference is I don't hold onto any stress or upset emotions about my performance once the game is over.

There is no pre-game anxiety, no worry about potential let-downs; just me, my friends, and the game. It was refreshing and very, very enjoyable. I always thought I can only say I play a sport if I'm good at it, but it's not true. You can say you play a sport because you love it. Being good at it is just something that comes along the way.

You still lead a very active lifestyle.

Being active keeps me energetic and in a good mood. It sets the momentum for the rest of my day. Being an instructor, it is particularly fulfilling to inspire my clients with good energy and confidence. These come in very naturally after a good workout. My fitness goal is to maintain my current fitness level, and eventually train up in endurance to complete a marathon in the next two years.

When you were younger, did you experience any incidents that made you feel insecure about yourself?

Most girls would have experienced some body image struggles at some point. For me, it was when I was in secondary school. Coming from a girls' school, there was more talk about being skinny and fashion trends – who would look good in them and who wouldn't.

I became increasingly conscious and at some point developed an eating disorder. I worked out a lot and ate very little. It was never difficult to lose weight – the bigger struggle was in feeling content with my body and not compare myself to other "ideals".

I realised I was hurting my growth when my period stopped for more than a year. I tore away from friends who made me feel less about myself and made a new group of friends (now my best friends). Once I got over the need to be skinny, I just focused on what I loved doing and became ok with whatever weight it led my body to. I started to love exercise again for the right reasons and loving my food as well.

Novia Liew overcome a period of time when she had an eating disorder, and is now confident of her self-image.
Novia Liew overcome a period of time when she had an eating disorder, and is now confident of her self-image. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

When did you feel the least confident about yourself?

In secondary school, I felt uncomfortable in my body, I had bad skin and I was never happy with my hair. I was lucky to be around friends who didn't care about how I looked and loved me for my personality. The confidence first came from being good in my sport and studies. Then, because my friends never judged me, I felt safe to experiment on different hairstyles, fashion styles (some worked, most didn't haha).

Bit by bit I figured out what worked for me and my confidence level grew alongside. My best friends played a big role in my growth. They always took care of my insecurities, telling me my hairstyle was "cute" when I cut it then, but five years later they'd say, "Thank God you changed it, it was so bad".

Are you satisfied with your body now?

There's of course room for improvement. Sometimes I may look in the mirror and whine about something I don't love. But generally, yes - I am satisfied and don't feel the pressing need to change anything.

Have you ever received any comments about your body?

In recent years, I've received kind affirmations from people around me about my body. It is human nature to compare oneself with others and yearn for an image that's closer to one's 'body goals'. It humbles me to know that I can inspire others and I feel empowered to be able to tell them, "I can help you reach your goals". If someone tells me they love my arms, my friend, I will get you a pair of those too, just join me at the Barre.

If you could change anything about yourself, would you?

I wish I could say no to this question haha, but yes I would love to do something about my height. I wouldn't mind better skin too! That is not to say I don't embrace my tiny frame, it has its perks. As for the occasional breakouts... well I guess it gives me the excuse to pamper myself with skin care.

Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Novia Liew (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)
Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Novia Liew (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)
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