Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Yau Jia Xuan

Yau Jia Xuan is a manager in a statutory board.
Yau Jia Xuan is a manager in a statutory board. (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: Yau Jia Xuan (@jiaxuanyau)

Age: 25

Height: 1.65m

Weight: 54kg

Occupation: Manager in a statutory board

Status: Attached

Food: My relationship with food has come a long way. While I did not follow any fad diets, I did not see food as a source of energy or fuel, and I did not know how to eat for nutrition. There are times where I was craving chocolate but did not allow myself to have it. By midnight, my cravings for chocolate got so bad that I remember stuffing myself with a whole bar of chocolate. It felt terrible after. It took years of following the right people on social media and consuming the right content, before I slowly worked my way towards having a healthy relationship with food.

Currently, I don’t follow any specific diet as I find it to be unsustainable in the long run. My mindset has also shifted and I now see food as fuel. I am doing intuitive eating – which is basically ignoring the rhetoric of diet culture and listening to your bodily cues on hunger. The goal is really to break free of negative and toxic practices of binging and to build a healthier relationship with food.

It was definitely challenging at the start, as it felt wrong to eat when I am hungry, simply because I was too used to dieting. Right now, it feels amazing to eat when I feel hungry and I am also able to stop eating when I feel full. I try to eat in balance, incorporating protein, vegetables, healthy fats and carbohydrates in each meal. I do also go out for drinks every once in a while with friends and I would enjoy myself to the fullest.

I also practice intermittent fasting (IF) where I fast for 16 hours, and eat within an 8-hour window. I find this works best for me because I do not have a big appetite for breakfast to begin with. IF may work for some people and not for others, depending on a multitude of factors. Hence, it is important to do sufficient research before embarking on IF.

Exercise: Currently, my regime consists of a mix of strength training, spin, HIIT (high-intensity interval training) and yoga. Within the week, 2 days are for strength training, 1 day for cardio (spin or HIIT) and 1 day for yoga. Occasionally, I would go for a 7-10km hike on weekends.

Jia Xuan practises intuitive eating – which is basically ignoring the rhetoric of diet culture and listening to one's bodily cues on hunger.
Jia Xuan practises intuitive eating – which is basically ignoring the rhetoric of diet culture and listening to one's bodily cues on hunger. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

Q: When you were younger, were you active in sports?

A: Nope, not really. I played the occasional badminton with my family, but did not engage in much sports or fitness activities. In fact, I was pretty lazy when I was younger and did not take part in any fitness activities voluntarily.

What sports did you get into as you got older?

I got into indoor rhythmic cycling as I got older. I love that I am able to ride along by following the rhythm of the music, relying on a combination of fast-paced cycling and heavy hills to get a good workout in.

What made you start working out?

I started working out after going through a breakup in 2016 and felt a need to channel all the negative energy somewhere. I then signed a gym membership with Fitness First and started going 3 to 4 times a week. Initially, I didn’t know what I was doing and felt intimidated by the free weights and machine section.

Then I went on YouTube and looked up videos on how to perform a squat, chest press etc. I also came up with a workout plan so that I would know what I would be doing in the gym and to not feel so lost. Thankfully, I also made a friend who was also a personal trainer at the gym. He was very generous with his knowledge and shared a lot of tips and cues with me.

This was also the period where fitness influencers were getting increasingly popular and there was abundance in free resources and content available on the Internet and Instagram. These fitness influencers would upload content regularly, and it ranges from follow-along videos to demos for specific exercises. All these made working out in the gym slightly less intimidating and I began to gain more confidence as time went by.

After Jia Xuan started working out in 2016, she followed fitness influencers content to get fitter.
After Jia Xuan started working out in 2016, she followed fitness influencers content to get fitter. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

When did you go for your first group fitness class?

I attended my first group fitness class at F45 because I wanted to introduce something different into my exercise routine. I got to know that F45 was running a 2-week trial promotion and I asked my friend along. I remembered waking up early for an 8.30am class, which was something I have never done before. The post-workout endorphins were amazing, though I felt sore for the next few days.

How has your fitness regime evolved?

In the past, I did a combination of HIIT classes, strength training and attended spin classes. It has now evolved into a routine where I incorporate yoga and go for long hikes. I picked up yoga during Circuit Breaker last year when I was looking to introduce mindful movement into my routine.

Initially I only followed YouTube videos and found that I love how my body feels after a yoga session. I have recently started attending yoga classes and I appreciate that I am able to receive instant feedback from the instructor. I have also made it a point to go for long hikes and be in nature as I find it very calming and nourishing for the soul. My favorite trail in Singapore is the Railway Corridor – lots of lush greenery!

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

When I was younger, I always compared myself to other girls who look skinnier and generally have a more petite size. As I am slightly taller than most local girls and have some curves, I felt pretty insecure as I didn’t look like everyone else. I think as teenagers growing up, we feel a need to conform to what is considered "normal" and to me, looking skinny and petite was the way to go.

Jia Xuan incorporates yoga into her fitness regimen.
Jia Xuan incorporates yoga into her fitness regimen. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)

When did you feel the least confident about yourself?

This is tough to admit, but I think I felt the least confident after my first breakup. That happened in 2016-2017 and I was least confident because I felt the need to be in a romantic relationship with someone else in order to love myself. Thus, the breakup really impacted my confidence as a person.

Also, the rise of social media fitness accounts made it easier to compare my body with those of fitness influencers. I know that I was not obese and I was still in the healthy range in terms of BMI, but the breakup made me feel insecure about myself and I was constantly comparing myself with other girls. I felt a need for my body to look a certain way in order to be liked by someone else.

It eventually took a toll on my mental health as I would stand in front of the mirror and pick at different parts of my body that I was not happy with. I would also step on a weighing scale almost daily to ensure that my weight is within a certain range of kilograms that I set for myself, just to ensure that I am “on track”. I then realised it was a very harmful way of living and since then, I have been better at not focusing on the numbers on the scale.

Then I started hitting the gym and really dedicated my time to discovering a fitness routine that works for me. I also focused on how my body felt after working out, instead of the aesthetics part of it, and that is when I found true joy in working out. After 3 to 4 months, I saw physical changes to my body and my friends and family also complimented that I looked more toned.

Are you satisfied with your body now?

To be honest, there are good and bad days. On good days I feel confident and at peace with my body. On other days, I wear oversized tees so that I don’t feel so conscious of my body. However, I am working on this and it has gotten better over the years.

I also am mindful to not follow social media trends regarding body image. I remember there used to be a 'skinny thigh gap trend' and now it has evolved into having thick legs or a bum. With social media, it is easy to get swept up in comparing yourself to people online and that can be quite unhealthy. The way I handle and manage myself is to remind myself that as long as I am healthy, nothing else matters.

Right now, I am really satisfied with my body because I think of it as a temple that it’s mine to take care and nourish forever. My perception of myself has also shifted immensely as I witnessed my strength grow since I first lifted weights in the gym. It has led me to believe that with the right mindset, we can all set out what we want to achieve in lift. Ever since I started working out, it has had positive spillover effects in my life where I view “hardships” as something to overcome and not to be fazed by it.

Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Yau Jia Xuan.
Singapore #Fitspo of the Week: Yau Jia Xuan. (PHOTO: Cheryl Tay)