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The Other F Word: TAF Club, Fat Shaming and Tackling the "Obesity Crisis" in Singapore

I'm a fitness professional and perceived as a paragon of health, but I still struggle with body image

I'm a fitness professional and perceived as a paragon of health, but I still struggle with body image

Over the last 6 months, reports on the "obesity crisis" have been mounting both in Singapore and overseas. "Obesity" has become a dirty word, and most of the articles covering this issue emphasize the negative impacts that excess weight has on our health. As a nutrition coach and personal trainer who is seen as a paragon of health, I'd like to share something with you about what I've experienced personally growing up, as well as what I've learned from it.

If you live in Singapore or have friends or children who've attended local schools within the past 20 years, you may have heard of a weight loss program implemented in schools called the Trim and Fit programme ( TAF Club).

The programme started in 1992; it was an annual school health screening exercise where children aged 9-18 were tested for vision, growth and development based on height and weight, hearing, a basic medical check-up by the doctor, a basic spinal test and immunisation. If you failed to meet "healthy" guidelines, you became a member of TAF whether you liked it or not. Just 4 years after TAF had been implemented,  I was first placed in TAF club based on my BMI ( a value based on weight [in kg] over your height squared [in centimetres] ). Later, when I entered secondary school at age 13, I was once again classified as overweight. I was officially in the "TAF club", with the target aim of reducing BMI.

The school had all of us in TAF skip recess-- the only 30-minute break time for meals-- and replace it with exercise. Now, it makes perfect sense to increase our activity level in the hope that our excess weight would be reduced. But you have no idea HOW it was carried out, in my school at leastFirst off, the area where all of us "TAF girls" had to exercise was right in front of the school canteen-- in front of hundreds of other school mates. What this meant is that we couldn't hide the shame of belonging to TAF. Everyone automatically knew. Even worse, we had to face the embarrassment of exercising in front of an audience of our "normal" peers.

It didn't help that the teacher in charge was somewhat of a tyrant who was overweight herself due to a thyroid disorder. She screamed and yelled at us at the top of her lungs in the hope of motivating us while reprimanding us for being "lazy and fat", which had the opposite impact it was intended to have. Sometimes she would call us names and say that we weren't allowed to eat during recesses because we were "fat." 

At the time, I didn't understand how this experience impacted me, since it felt normal to be categorized with the other TAF girls. Now, I realize, that it affected me in many ways, including:

  • being fearful whenever I stepped on the weighing scale again and worrying that, if my BMI goes above 24, I would be labelled as "fat" again, and exposed to ridicule. It didn't help at all that TAF, if read backwards, spells "FAT". How "apt" for trying to motivate or inspire us to get more fit;
  • not enjoying exercising and feeling ashamed of exercising in a group. I didn't enjoy my time in TAF or the activities they made us do one bit.
  • living in fear after TAF, feeling condemned, stigmatized and labelled as if my body shape was my fault. It impacted my confidence profoundly, and made me believe that I would never be able to lose weight or excel in sports. Hanging around with the fit and lean girls made me self-conscious of the way I looked, and I would try my best to make my pinafore belt looser. 

    Things did not improve initially in junior college- in fact, they got worse as my body developed and my perceptions changed. I wanted to be active but I was scared of my body and concerned that I'd be too slow to join my friends. In that first year, I still bordered on being overweight, but by the second year, thanks to increased running during PE and an added workload, I dropped 10 lbs. in two months. My school teachers were concerned with my health, because my weight loss was really fast and significant. I didn't think it was a bad thing-- in fact, I enjoyed the "skirt" hanging loose on my hips. My mind was subconsciously fixed on aesthetics. Later on, I found a studio that ran fitness classes to improve
TAF Club Days

TAF Club Days

I was later fortunate to find a studio that ran fun-filled classes working on improving cardiovascular health, core strength, co-ordination and flexibility through dance and fitness routine. It felt great that the emphasis was on enjoying ourselves and the instructors were all very encouraging. For the first time in my life, I felt so free as I was able to connect my limbs and body to move to what my heart felt and mind thought. My fitness and confidence level improved while my weight continued to decrease.

A couple of years later, after my chemotherapy for Hodgkin's Lymphoma ended, I found a new sanctuary with the bar and weightlifting. I fell in love with the bar not for the aesthetics initially but more of a way of connecting with the inner strength I knew existed within me pre-cancer days. 

So, why does our culture put so much stake on "looking good," and why does the media have a tendency to showcase women's bodies in photos without their heads? Isn't it finally time that we pay more attention to the real issues fuelling this "obesity crisis" and focus on improving lifestyle habits rather than emphasizing aesthetics?

A recent Harvard Public Health article, "The Scarlet F" highlighted findings that "weight stigma may be as harmful to the body in itself as poor diet and physical inactivity." It listed the negative impacts of weight stigma to be as rampant and as powerful as racial stigmatisation. Women who experience this type of weight prejudice may also be at a higher risk of bullying, depression, suicide, eating disorders, and other harmful addictions. Weight stigma can also impair their prospects in education, careers, romantic relationships, and physical activity.

These experiences add unnecessary stressors on their already burdened lifestyle and the environment they are in, leading to even more unhealthy weight gain. A 10-year study on the impact of such stigmatisation and the chronic stress it puts on the body shows that it also leads to changes in all the other body defence systems ( particularly the HPA axis dysfunction). 

Among women, weight stigmatisation and fat shaming are now more common than racial discrimination, according to Rebecca Puhl and her colleagues at the Rudd Centre of Food Policy and Obesity at the University of Connecticut.

It's in our human nature to want to belong to a safe and nurturing environment, ESPECIALLY for women. Women and girls are predispositioned and culturally conditioned to combat environmental stressors in a "tend and befriend" way rather than in "fight or flight" mode -- both responses being the body's natural mechanism against any perceived threats. What this means is that for women, instead of constantly putting them in an environment where they feel unsafe, threatened and have perceived themselves as fighting alone, they actually do better in an atmosphere of protection of their kind and befriending in social groups where they feel welcomed.

This also means that, as fitness professionals and coaches, we should not be training women in the same manner that men are trained or force them to do exercises that do not feel comfortable or safe to them. Condescending tones, yelling, or scare tactics are generally not appropriate in group classes or private sessions with women who are focused on weight loss.

By using encouraging, self-esteem boosting modes of training, we help to reduce the hyper-loaded activity on their hypothalamus-pituitary-axis, which can have a positive impact in significantly reducing any inflammation, improving mental and emotional well-being and thereby reducing weight in a healthy and sustainable way.

So what can we do to tackle the "obesity crisis"?

1.    The traditional FOOD PYRAMID we've relied on for so long is outdated. As of 2014, Singapore's Health Promotion Board has ditched this model and replaced it with MyHealthyPlate, which emphasizes consumption of vegetables and fruits. Harvard School of Public Health's "Healthy Eating Pyramid" focuses on both exercise and diet control instead of just the eating plate alone. This sets a right framework and mindset shift towards a healthier living, and should be implemented widely.

2.    Shifting the emphasis from weight loss, numbers on the scale, and body mass index (BMI) to monitoring health biomarkers such as blood lipid levels, insulin levels, cholesterol, liver fat, aerobic fitness and mental wellness will offer a clearer picture on overall health and steer us away from the overemphasis on aesthetics. "Focusing on healthy habits rather than numbers on a scale may be more effective for both weight and health in the long run..Too much emphasis on weight loss, sets people up for failure and increases their risk of shame. " - says,  Erica Kenney,  a researcher with the Harvard Chan School’s Prevention Research Center on Nutrition and Physical Activity. Placing someone, especially at a young age, as overweight or obese based on mainly BMI, just may lead them to eating disorders and depression as they move into adulthood, leading to further weight gain and other health issues.

3.    Media and advertising are powerful forces in influencing the perspectives and emotions of people. Publishers should shift to adopting a more realistic choice of words and pictures when publishing articles related to weight and fitness, instead of constantly using images of skinny white women or headless bodies. More can be done from the media to promote body positivity, including popular celebrities, leaders and social media stars/influencers. An emphasis on body positivity  may lead to less weight gain or eating disorders since we tend to eat less when our psychological health is intact.

4.      There are other supportive measures which can be made at the government and corporate level. Offering accessible, reasonably priced locally farmed veggies and fruits at the supermarkets and restaurants would be a big win in Singapore. Currently, it's really difficult to access this kind of produce. Incentivising hawker stands and school cafeterias to prepare their menus according to the healthy eating pyramid would also be helpful. We could also tax sweets and sodas just like we do alcohol and cigarettes, and the tax collected could be used mainly to support measures related to obesity prevention at schools, workplaces and households. Some cities in the US and the U.K. have already begun implementing this, and though there is an ongoing debate and yet any conclusive data to prove its effectiveness, "taxing" on such beverages may perhaps change our mindset into thinking how these items are NOT necessities. 

5.   At the individual level, for myself, at least, I have adopted the following practices and incorporate them to the best of my ability, because I have learn to accept my body is beautiful at any age or size, be it 0 to 8, and shift my focus towards health and strength: 

  •  Mindfulness: It can't be said enough but being more mindful in an ever-noisy world helps to keep me grounded and centered, making my health a top priority. 
  • Being "selfish" with my environmental exposure: This may sound narcissistic from a girl with an Asian upbringing, and no, I am not out on a mission to take everything in sight, but rather, I am selective of my environment.  It can be a very empowering and uplifting feeling too (and if you want to read more on how to be "selfish",  read " To Move Out of Self-Sabotage, Get Selfish: Here's How" from Aimee).
  • Being empathetic to myself and to others: This includes taking time to understand and accept the changes to my body is going through at age 33, what my emotions and thoughts are telling me, and not wallowing in self-pity or negative self-talk or hatred upon myself. And above all, not blaming myself for my weight or dress size!

Although we have a long way to go, Singapore IS making some positive steps in the right direction. For one, the TAF program was removed and replaced with a Holistic Health Framework (HHF) in 2007. The club is now called "ActiveKids" for students who are overweight, but is open to all who want to participate. I am hopeful that more positive lasting changes to combat rising weight-related health challenges are right around the bend.




April 2016

June 2017

June 2017

Perceived Weight, Not Obesity, Increases Risk for Major Depression Among Adolescents

Health Consequences of Weight Stigma: Implications for Obesity Prevention and Treatment

Perceived Weight Discrimination and 10-year Risk of Allostatic Load among US Adults

Biobehavioral responses to stress in females: tend-and-befriend, not fight-or-flight.

Childhood Obesity - Issues of Weight Bias

Social media and Obesity

Psychological consequences of obesity: Weight bias and body image in overweight and obese youth

Soda Taxes Can Protect Health in Asia

Can a sugar tax stop obesity?

A soda tax - will it change anything?

Obesity Stigma: Important Considerations for Public Health

Obesity - can we stop the epidemic

The Trim and Fit Program in Singapore

Mar 2017 -



“I Want To Recover From My Eating Disorder and Look Hot While Doing It”

Of the coaching enquiries I’ve received over the past year, some of the most common ones read something like this:

“I’ve recovered from anorexia through an in-patient program, but now I’m overexercising. I’d like to raise my self-esteem, make peace with my body, and look really fit and lean. Can you help?”

or this…

“I’ve been binge eating for years and am finally ready to stop this bad habit, but I also want to reduce my body fat and weight.”

or this…

“I’ve been in and out of treatment for an eating disorder for many years, and nothing seems to work. Every time I start to get better, I gain weight. Can you help me overcome it while being able to maintain my current weight?”

Most months, I’ll receive a few requests along these lines, all from smart and determined women in their teens, twenties, and thirties. Their accounts are often similar, mirroring the traits and experiences of those who deal with eating disorders in other parts of the world, which include numerous failed treatment attempts, low self-esteem, pervasive perfectionism, and few social supports. Some of these women were raised in enmeshed or narcissistic families, where self-worth is gained through external achievement and little autonomy or emotional expression is allowed.  A majority deal with anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, psychosomatic illness or other kinds of addictions in addition to an eating disorder. Some are in tumultuous relationships or are otherwise experiencing instability in their lives, and others have a history of trauma.

I know this story all too well because the narrative is also part of my own, one that I’ve gently held onto in order to alchemize it. I know the shame of having a nurse hover over you as you sit on the toilet because she’s got to make sure that you don’t throw up. I know what 800 calories a day does to mood and metabolism, what it’s like to try on a hundred outfits and still hate what you see in the mirror, and how empty if feels to live for the approval of others. 

It’s been many years since I’ve contended with an active eating disorder or addiction and since that time I’ve realized that we’re having the wrong conversation. Eating disorders are not about vomiting or starving or compulsive calorie-burning gym sessions. They’re not about reaching an ideal weight.

Eating disorders are about refusing to actually be IN our bodies. They’re about rejecting our true selves. They’re about seeking worth externally, and then battling with that external illusion in an attempt to regain control. They’re about swallowing big lies- that we don’t matter unless someone else recognizes our significance, and that a woman’s value is hinged on the way she looks. And, they’re about attempting to cope with emotional pain stored in the body- pain that is all too often “unspeakable.”

In Asia, we’re in the midst of a process addiction and eating disorders crisis, exhibited by the rapid rise in the number of people seeking treatment for gambling, sex and video game addiction, binge eating disorder, and anorexia. Due to the shame-based cultural underpinnings and the pervasive sociological concept of having “face” (mianzi) and protecting a family’s reputation at all costs, eating disorders and addictions are woefully underreported in this neck of the woods. To complicate things, careers serving this population aren’t generally desired due to the nature of the work, the low pay in comparison to glitzy financial service jobs, and a high rate of burnout. This ensures that many, many people who need treatment aren’t getting any because they’re too afraid to ask for it and even if they did, options are severely lacking. It’s estimated that 80 percent of people receiving treatment for eating disorders will relapse, and 20 percent of people with serious eating disorders will die from their condition. That’s what I’d call a serious public health crisis. ED recovery is hard work, and women on the path are true warriors. A quote I recently came across summarizes things quite accurately:

“Alcohol and other drug recovery is like dealing with a tiger in a cage. Recovery from eating disorders is like taking that tiger out of the cage three times a day and then taking it for a walk.”

When you couple this global health emergency with the fact that the societal perception of a person’s value has become increasingly commodified, it’s no wonder more women are saying, “I want to recover from my eating disorder and look hot while doing it!” Since today’s version of “hot” apparently equates to being impossibly lean and thin, the goal of solid recovery is in direct opposition with the wish to chisel a Fitspo body.

I should know- while competing as a bodybuilder in 2014, I noticed that as soon as I hit a low body fat percentage during my third competition prep, several eating disorder-related thoughts and obsessions began to resurface. Because I’d been on the recovery path for many years and had a great coach, I was able to view these thoughts objectively and avoid a relapse, but I now recognize the fine line I was walking in pushing body, mind and soul to complete exhaustion. In some ways, sports are an incredible option to overcome an eating disorder or other addiction; I’ve met a lot of other bodybuilders, powerlifters, and distance runners who became athletes on their journey of recovery.

One of the best ways to beat a bad habit, compulsion or addiction is to replace it with a healthier behavior. However, if the addiction or disorder is still active and the person’s secondary goal is focused on the external (to look a certain way) rather than the internal (to self-partner and generate positive inner energy), I can nearly guarantee that the person will not reach a higher level of self-esteem, make peace with her body, or find reprieve from her disorder- quite the opposite.

So, what can you do if you want to develop a better relationship with yourself, with food… and still look a certain way?

First, a focus on the true roots of the eating disorder and a method for releasing some of the internal pain is paramount and best done with a licensed counsellor or psychologist, as this is beyond the realm of coaching. Somatic psychotherapy and EMDR can both be helpful on this journey.

Second, reprogramming your inner messaging system to raise self-esteem, transforming your emotional hooks or vulnerabilities into strengths, and replacing negative behaviors with positive ones are all vital and require long-term commitment. A qualified coach can be highly beneficial here.

Third, relearning all you can about nutrition, food and exercise will provide knowledge, newfound self-respect and a sense of control. I personally find that intuitive eating approaches don’t work all that well for a lot of women with eating disorders due to an impaired interoception response (missed cues for hunger and satiation) and difficulty accessing their emotional barometer, particularly around something triggering like a food buffet. Add to that, ripping away control can actually backfire. Acquiring knowledge about how to eat in a healthy manner reinstills some of that control.

Fourth, cultivating an environment that supports your journey is important, which usually means severely limiting or deleting social media applications like Instagram and refusing to flip through fashion magazines, at least until you feel a comfortable level of confidence within yourself.

Fifth, returning to your body is essential- practices like yoga, mindfulness or prayer, journaling, and an exercise program can be incorporated as a part of your week to turn your focus away from the impossible ideal and toward learning how to love and appreciate yourself as you are.

By coaxing your body toward alignment and honoring your emotions, you’ll begin to feel deeply that you’d rather be friends with yourself than fight against the true you in your quest for the “perfect” body.

Over time, you might just find that you already have the body you’ve always dreamed of, because it supports and houses the authentic spirit of you.

Recovery is a lifelong journey and an unparalleled gift.

If you’re on the path to overcome an eating disorder or an addiction, that means you’re also on a path of self-realization and heightened awareness, which will give you the tools and vitality to build a life you can appreciate in the body you’ve been given while maintaining your integrity and cultivating peace of mind. Recovery lights up the BEING inside the BODY. Now, that’s hot.

I'd love to hear from you- is holding onto the ideal of the "perfect body" keeping you sad and sick? If you're in recovery from an eating disorder, what's helped you stay on track? Leave your comments below. And, if this helps you or may help someone you know, share it! 




Exposure therapy at work? Or, a good friend who coaxed a belly pic and smile out of me? A bit of both... Week 25, 12kg's gained so far, and today was a good day. 

Exposure therapy at work? Or, a good friend who coaxed a belly pic and smile out of me? A bit of both... Week 25, 12kg's gained so far, and today was a good day. 

As I type this, I’m now 25 weeks into marching alongside my scary monster, a once-imagined situation that I’d framed in my mind as “the most frightening thing in the world.” I’m not talking about public speaking or spiders or failure or the dark. I’m referring to a condition that many millions of women welcome and yearn for: pregnancy. Please don’t misread this- I’m elated to become a mom, and I consider my good fortune at conceiving naturally at this point in my life nothing short of a miracle. However, the concept of being pregnant has always terrified me. Whenever my husband and I discussed our options for potentially starting a family, including fertility treatment, I usually came to the somewhat illogical conclusion that I’d been dealt my hand of cards- which included a history of depression and less than fabulous hormonal wiring- for good reason, and one of those reasons was that I simply wasn’t meant to be a parent. As I mentioned in my last blog post, that line of thinking was never a huge deal for me, and I knew that I could be fulfilled as a person with or without children.

Since week 8, my “scary monster of pregnancy” has been all too real, beginning with a solid two months of morning sickness that rekindled some of my worst hangover memories and made me question my own inner strength. Regularly hugging the toilet bowl at 3am was hard; harder still was feeling like I was constantly letting people down because I couldn’t get out of bed some days, or worrying that my own physical and mental state might be causing harm to my baby. While the millions of pregnancy blogs all seem to view the second trimester as a golden and bliss-filled time, around week 14 I slammed into a steel wall of what appears to be antenatal depression, marked by persistent insomnia, obsessive thinking, and extreme irritability. Although an estimated 20 percent of pregnant women contend with antenatal depression, I didn’t even know it was a “thing” until I began investigating what the heck was going on with me- we only seem to talk about the postnatal kind. To compound matters, I became unable to look at myself in the mirror without feeling repulsed, which unfortunately continues to this day- quite an interesting conundrum for someone who regularly preaches self-love and works with women on their own journeys through body dysmorphia.

Yep. All the feels in the world for this. 

Yep. All the feels in the world for this. 

But, it’s not only my own head that’s been doing me in. The public commentary is also surprising.

“You’re pregnant!” some random guy exclaimed to me at the gym last week, as if I hadn’t noticed.  “Shouldn’t you be sitting down? Can’t exercise like that hurt the baby?” He openly and persistently doubted the expertise of both me and my doctor.

“A 10kg weight gain at this point in your pregnancy is a bit high. We’ll monitor it and do a test for diabetes later on,” the nurse said to me during a routine check. This is definitely not something a health fanatic wants to hear.

And, let’s not forget the various folks who decided to take a guess on the baby’s gender, based entirely on an old wives tale that a woman who’s become ugly must be having a boy…. or a girl... depending on your cultural lens. Yes, a few people actually said this to me.

In the parallel pink cloud universe that seems to have a particularly strong presence in Singapore, pregnancy is touted as a lady’s time to magically float and glow from one high tea luncheon to another- in luxurious silk kaftans, of course. “Cherish every moment!” they say. “Enjoy your pregnancy!” I don’t think it serves anyone to pretend that we all blossom beautifully in our ripening when the reality is often anything but. 

Thankfully, I tend to hang around some seriously awesome and refreshingly honest women who, rather than shaming me for expressing this unpopular narrative, were willing to open up about their own conflicted pregnancy experiences, doubts and fears, or at least just listen to mine without judgement.

As a coach and behavioral health professional and with their moral support, I can confidently (albeit very self-consciously) admit that after seven years of feeling mentally rock solid the majority of the time, I am no longer at that place since becoming pregnant, thanks in part to some pretty major hormonal shifts. What was beyond a doubt some of the happiest news of my life has also morphed into an anxiety-riddled roller coaster ride, and I’ve not yet figured out a way to quell the resulting cognitive cacophany. From a recovery perspective, I recognize this as an “emotional relapse.” In other words, I’m not thinking about drinking or restricting food again to deal with an uncomfortable state of being, but some of my emotions and behaviors are in line with what led me into addiction in the first place. No matter how long someone has abstained from their destructive behavior(s) of choice, whether it’s binge eating, pill popping or excessive drinking, most people in recovery will experience emotional relapses at various points in their lives, particularly during high stress situations or periods of great change. The signs of an emotional relapse include:

  • Anxiety
  • Intolerance
  • Rigidity and inflexibility
  • Isolating oneself
  • Insomnia
  • Rejecting intimacy and love
  • Poor eating habits
  • Shame and blame
  • Black and white thinking
  • Mood swings
  • Ruminating and living in the past
  • Refusing to seek help

Whether simply the side effects of a rough pregnancy or something more, I know that for myself and the people I work with, this potent psychological cocktail is nothing to mess around with. So, as I prepare for the third trimester, I’m assessing what I’ve been doing to support myself through this emotional relapse and life challenge. Here’s how I’m getting through my first big emotional relapse in nearly a decade while tackling antenatal depression head on:                                          

And, once in a while radical self-care means sitting on a beach when you're supposed to be at a conference.

And, once in a while radical self-care means sitting on a beach when you're supposed to be at a conference.

  • I’m not hiding. As hard as it’s been to be honest about my own experience of pregnancy in the face of so many myths and expectations, I’ve committed to speaking my truth. When I’m not ok, I say so. When I’m feeling really down, I do my very best to reach out to someone I trust. And, although it’s exceptionally tough for a person who works in the behavioral health sector to admit to their own weaknesses and rough patches, the fact of the matter is that coaches, counsellors, psychologists and other “helping” professionals can be particularly prone to depression, anxiety and addiction-related issues. The related sensitivity and experience is what brings so many of us into the field in the first place. Consider this- nearly 50% of practicing NHS psychologists in the UK currently have depression. We’re all human, bottom line.
  • I’m practicing RADICAL self-care. Radical self-care means saying “no” to anything and everything that totally stresses me out. It means making a pampering date with myself at least a few times a week, whether for a manicure, massage, physiotherapy or shopping for new bras. It means journaling and drawing and curling up with a good novel instead of focusing on an achievement-based “to do” list. It means forgiving myself for engaging in harsh self-talk and negative thoughts, instead of identifying with them. And, it means staying away from people who may be toxic for me at this time.
  • I’m fighting the urge to isolate by keeping the lines of communication open and asking for help when I need it. I knew the importance of being honest with my obstetric doctor about my personal history, and as a result I’ve been seeing a therapist every few weeks who specializes in pregnancy and fertility-related issues, including anxiety and antenatal depression. I also have a small yet strong support network of friends who I can trust and I’ve been making it a point to reach out to some of them, whether it’s just a text, a brunch, or a tea date at my place.

  • I’m making exercise and good nutrition a top priority. While I actually don’t feel like working out or eating much, I’ve been getting in at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week and I also eat between 2,200 and 2,400 calories daily consisting of healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and lean proteins. Despite the urge, I’m not bingeing on junk food because I know that the sugar crash won’t help my mood. When the cravings come, I’ve got some good snacks on hand, like sliced banana drizzled with honey and nut butter. Having a workout buddy I can lean on- usually my husband or Roz- has helped immensely during this time.
  • I’m taking a long sabbatical from social media. Uploading this blog will be the first time I’ve logged onto social media in over two weeks, and after it’s been published I’ll unplug again until the end of October. I’ve been using HootSuite to pre-upload posts for Tangram Wellness, and have it set up so that I’m not able to view anyone else’s feeds- it’s a fantastic tool! Social media can easily bring up a slew of negative emotions for people, as well as serving as a crutch or addiction when the going gets tough, which only compounds the problem. I advise many of my clients to curb their social media use, particularly if they find themselves comparing their own experience to that of others, and I’m taking my own advice here.

    I share this blog post in part for every woman who has experienced a less than stellar pregnancy, and for the millions in recovery who will go through an emotional relapse at some point in their lives. As the saying goes, "we are only as sick as our secrets." We free ourselves and others when we each speak our truth as women, as parents, as individuals in recovery, and as helping professionals. 

Thanks for reading! If you feel like this post would help someone you know, please share it. If you have a question or comment, leave it below or email me directly at

- Aimee



Beating Exercise Addiction & Overtraining for a New "Personal Best"


Old habits don’t have to die hard! As you age, evolving your exercise habits to keep in tune with your body's changing requirements is vital for optimal health. 

Being fit and healthy doesn’t always have to mean slogging it out at the gym or running endless miles. As we go through life our body’s requirements and physiology alter. Therefore, you shouldn’t be afraid to shake up your exercise routines a little to support this. Forcing your body to keep up with its 20 or 30 year old self can be punishing and could in time have massive negative consequences to your overall health.

I’ve exercised for as long as I can remember…literally! One of my first memories is running around our local park behind my dad, trying to get a PB (personal best) which resulted in an ice cream on the way home. As a competitive swimmer I trained before and after school, 4 hours daily. Falling asleep in lessons and stinking of chlorine was pretty normal to me. This escalated to triathlons, marathons and then I made exercise my career. No escape!

I’m not complaining though- I adore exercise! I love the energy and buzz it gives me, the way it clears my mind, keeps me focused and basically makes me feel alive. At that stage of my life I was constantly pumped high on endorphins and always wanting a new challenge. 

I was addicted to exercise and felt sluggish and awful if I had a few days off.

This was all fine for a time. I was young and my body could keep up. I was in my late 20’s and nothing could stop me! However, as I got older, gradually this heavy exercise regime started to take its toll on my body. My muscles constantly ached, and I remember being terribly moody at times as I was so, so tired, my sleep was awful and I constantly experienced bouts of insomnia. I was doing so much exercise that it was difficult to maintain enough nutrition to support it. I wasn’t eating enough to fuel my habit and so my weight and body fat dropped to unhealthy levels. Without knowing it, I was jeopardizing the one thing I’ve always thought my fit and healthy body would provide me with…my fertility.

I was diagnosed with Exercise Induced Amenorrhea. 

This basically means my periods stopped and I was no longer ovulating. With excessive exercise and not enough nutrition to support it, my reproductive system was left with no energy to function properly. It went into a dormant state and stopped producing oestrogen, which is the hormone required for ovulation. Without oestrogen being produced, I had little chance of conceiving.

I’ve always prided myself on being healthy. I’m never sick, I eat a good "clean" diet and exercise regularly. But, can being "too healthy" or exercising too much at certain points of our lives can be detrimental? That's the question I've had to answer for myself and my future.

Since this diagnosis, I’ve had to work on turning my life around, changing up my diet and exercise routines and listening to what my body needs on a daily basis. I’ve had to learn to relax more. My adrenal glands have been worn down by the constant secretions of adrenaline! I’ve had to reset my goals and mindset. I desperately want children and so I need to give my body a rest and provide my reproductive system with the energy it requires to function again as normal. This means throwing out the long distance runs, the high intensity sprints and everything I’ve focused on for so long as those endorphins were causing me exhaustion. 

In some respects this transition has been really difficult. It involves changing a lifetime of exercise habits which I’ve more than enjoyed. Running along the river as the sun rises I would honestly say is one of my favorite moments! But, by focusing on what I really want from life right now, I have managed to change my exercise habits to benefit myself in my present moment. 

Instead of running endless miles to exhaustion, I now practice yoga 2-3 times a week, and I’ve found that I actually love it!

My body doesn’t ache all over anymore which is a strange yet amazing feeling and it really helps calm my mind too. I use bodyweight and light resistance work to maintain my overall body strength and place particular focus on my core muscles.

Strengthening the core muscles, particularly the muscles of the inner core unit, is so important at this stage of my life as I am hoping to conceive. The more work I do now to strengthen these muscles, the less chance I will suffer from Diastasis Recti (should I be lucky enough to fall pregnant). It will also help my abdominals recover far quicker postpartum and reduces my chances of suffering from lower back pain or pelvic floor dysfunction. These chronic conditions are widespread yet often overlooked consequences of Diastasis Recti in new mums. 

As a Pre- and Post-natal Exercise Specialist with Tangram Wellness, I’m helping prenatal, postnatal and women on the fertility journey become more aware of the importance of specific core strengthening techniques which must be included in their present exercise routines. I see so many new mums who have snapped back into old exercise habits too fast, in a bid to lose their baby weight. This usually results in a protruding mummy pooch, a weak and very sore lower back and quite often, stress incontinence. This doesn’t have to be the case- don’t be scared to change your old exercise habits!

It's so easy to get addicted to endless exercise, push your body too much and never change up your routine. I’m urging you though to get more in tune with your body. Are you training with focus or simply pushing yourself to exhaustion each time? Overtraining is a common yet unnecessary problem. Take time to make sure that you recognize its signs and adjust your exercise accordingly before it effects your physical and emotional health.

The most common signs of overtraining are as follows:
 Increased fatigue
 Increased muscle soreness
 Recurrent injuries or illness
 Insomnia
 Lack of motivation
 Moodiness
 Loss of menstruation

It's been really challenging for me not to go running as it’s my passion, but I’ve realized it’s a worthy sacrifice. I’m so glad I’ve finally listened to my body and recognized my symptoms of overtraining and exhaustion. I’m optimistic that my body will thank me for making these changes soon.


Are you also on a fertility journey, and wondering how exercise fits into the equation? Have you ever ventured into the waters of overtraining or exercise addiction, and if so, how did you make the shift? Do you have questions on overtraining? Leave your thoughts in the comments section- we always love to hear from you. Anna Kwan runs several post-natal classes a week, and will be launching a pre-natal class soon. She also works with mothers one-on-one. Email her at for a consultation or to book in.



Q&A With Tangram's New Metabolic Personal Trainer & Mat Pilates Instructor, Yan Huang!

As Tangram expands, demand for our women-focused integrative fitness offerings have quickly increased over the past year, and we're happy to welcome Yuyan (Yan) Huang on board! Yan will be serving as a metabolic personal trainer and mat pilates instructor, providing tailored fitness services to women across central Singapore. Yan's answered a few questions to help you get to know her better. 

You've been involved in the fitness & wellness world for 8 years now. What changes have you seen in Singapore? What's one thing that works…. and one thing that doesn't?

Over the last 8 years in the world of fitness and wellness, I have noticed how people are definitely starting to value the importance of a healthy and active lifestyle as a way of balancing the high strung and stressful life in Singapore.  There is also a lot of conflicting information out there regarding what's healthy or not, and what's the best method to lose weight/get stronger/lose bodyfat. Many people are confused!

I've noticed a rise in injuries as a result of sudden engagement in various fitness activities that people just aren't ready for, and also how people's health changes with the current quality of their life, food and sleep. 

The one thing that works will be what works for YOU as an individual which is in line with your goals, not the goals of others! The one thing that doesn't work...  If I have to say what doesn't work, it would be sticking to one modality of training without looking at your lifestyle and physical, emotional and mental self as a whole. 

You focus on the relationship between nutrition, exercise and hormones. Why the emphasis on hormones?

I love this question! This revelation of looking at your fitness or health goals from the hormonal point of view came at a turning point in my life right after my fitness competition in 2011. Like most people, I started out thinking that to lose weight or fat, it's all just about caloric deficit and exercising more. I did that and lost the weight, but I did not gain the strength nor manage to lose the typical female "trouble spot" areas. 

I'm a person who has always wanted to get to the root of the problem and seek a solution. So, that's when I got into bodybuilding- to learn how the competitors get so lean. I did get lean for sure however, no one in Singapore talks about life after competition openly or how to maintain the lifestyle and leanness. 

That is when I found out about the impact our hormones have on the human body through Dr. Jade Teta and Jill Coleman at the Metabolic Effect. It opened my mind to how we have been misled for many years thinking that weight loss is equivalent to fat loss.

From this viewpoint, I noticed the relationship between hormones and weight when I was teaching youths- how their stressful lifestyle was causing them to weight gain around the midsection. Meanwhile, my female friends and family were talking about their fat gain around their midsection, arms, mid-back and thighs. If stress levels and hormones aren't in balance, our bodies will tell that story.

What's the biggest challenge you've overcome and how did you do so?

Learning to embrace the big failures - having to close my horology showroom in 2013. The shop was a culmination of almost 8 years of my heart and energy. Like many entrepreneurs, lots of sacrifices were put into the business. Having to make the decision to let go and close the company was a huge challenge for me.

How I overcame it: through lots of reading, meditation, and the power of mind -- realizing that no success in life comes without falling -- because it is through the bitter moments and the challenges that we grow and develop to be best version we can be. And, once you see the bigger picture and break through it, you will be so grateful that you did. 

There is always something better ahead. That's how I followed my heart and entered the health and wellness industry as a professional.

Favorite exercise - and why!

Romanian deadlift! It's a compound technical exercise that works both the physiological and neurological aspects; the bigger muscles and smaller stabilizing muscles groups and breathing are all utilized. 

It also exposes the areas where we may be weaker, such as the inner TVA unit, the muscles around the shoulder blades, the mobility and strength of our wrists and fingers, right down to our ankles and feet. 

It is very empowering and yet metabolic boosting exercise when performed well, and it's effective in developing the hamstring and glutes and works the posterior chain, which helps with posture.

Tell us about your approach to fitness.

How I look at fitness has definitely evolved from when I first started.
My approach to fitness is now targeted more from the lifestyle point of view. Aiming at long-term sustainability towards maintaining strength, grace and a healthy body fat percentage. 
By lifestyle, I mean looking at the physical, emotional, spiritual and mental aspects, delving deep within into the why and the purpose of why people do what they do, why they eat what they eat.

You have some experience on the bodybuilding stage. What did you learn from that experience?
One major takeaway I learned is this -- the mind is a very powerful gift we all have been blessed with. Anything is possible if you truly put your heart, body, mind and soul into it. I say this because in my lifetime, I would never have thought of myself wearing a two-piece bikini and walking on stage. I was never that kind of girl so this was definitely a mental breakthrough. 

All I had in mind that day was -- I wanted to debunk the myth that weightlifting causes bulk in ladies and more importantly it is possible to get really lean through pure nutrition and training.

But I also learned that most people just want to know what works for them to get healthier, leaner, stronger and feel really good and confident about who they are. They don't necessarily want to be standing on stage.

Favorite food?
I love anything that is packed with natural wellness and colours without excess additives, salt and sugar. But an all-time favourite, surprisingly is a good ol' simple baked Portobello mushrooms with melted cheese, salmon with fresh herbs and sweet Japanese potatoes. 

If you could give one piece of advice to a client that's been on the yo-yo diet rollercoaster, what would that be? 

Ditch the "eat less, exercise more" model. It is not sustainable, and more importantly, it wrecks your entire hormonal system which makes you gain more weight and fat. It makes maintaining one's weight or losing fat a lot harder later on! 
Treat your hormones right, love your body entirely, and she will love you back in return. It will show, without a doubt.

As always, thanks for reading! To learn more about Yan's background, experience and qualifications, visit her profile here. book personal training or pilates sessions with Yan, contact us via email or call + 65 9725-0583. Have a question on hormones and fat loss for Yan? Leave it in the comments section! 



Why We Self-Sabotage… and How to Stop

Artist: Tigran Tsitoghdzyan

Artist: Tigran Tsitoghdzyan

Self-sabotage is perhaps the most common factor leading to the derailment of a person’s goals, and yet, we generally fail to see this core issue at the center of our disappointment. A personal trainer might think, “oh well, she just didn’t want it bad enough” while a yo-yo dieter may say to herself, “I’m big boned and diabetic- might as well give up on being fit.” A woman with a binge drinking disorder might think, “it’s been a stressful day at work. I need to take the edge off,” while her partner may silently mutter, “if she wants to kill herself, that’s her business.” By taking the messes we make in our lives at face value, we're able to avoid the sharp yet temporary pain that comes with deeper investigation. Unfortunately, this perpetuates further sabotage; we eventually find ourselves neck deep in our own unsettling muck. 

So, what exactly is self-sabotage? 

Self-sabotage is the act of confirming the worst beliefs you have about yourself, beliefs that are often imposed on you by an external source at a time when you were not yet prepared to think independently. Self-sabotage is rooted in a legacy of self-hatred passed down through generations, like an ancient poison recipe, or a customary curse. It’s the echo of an elementary school teacher who screams, “what are you, stupid?” because that is what her great aunt taught her about herself. It’s the memory of a narcissistic mother who defined you as “nothing,” or the imprint of a schoolyard bully who, after punching you into the lawn, goes home to a father who does the same to him. What’s most compelling about self-sabotage is that even though it can decimate our lives, it has absolutely nothing to do with us. In fact, its seeds may have been planted hundreds of years before we were born.

Why do we self-sabotage?

We sabotage ourselves because we take what we perceive to be “wrong” with us so personally. We believe deep down that our “failures” are what define us and that we’re destined to be less than what we once hoped we’d become. Whether it’s regaining all the weight back, picking up the bottle after swearing off alcohol yet again, allowing that bully at work to undermine our success, or failing to ask for what we need and desire, our self-sabotage is a message to the world about how we see ourselves: Less than. Unworthy. Undeserving of help. Unable to have a voice in our own lives. Beyond redemption.

We sabotage ourselves because self-imposed isolation seems like the safest path. We act out the traumas of our distant past as if we’re still small, unprotected, disempowered. Whether it’s wrapping our bodies with a flesh-coat of extra kilograms to repel and dissuade, or numbing ourselves with booze in our bedrooms to avoid meeting the day, or tucking our inborn talents within the darkest parts of us to avoid potential criticism, our self-sabotage lets others know that we’re off limits: Undesirable. Untouchable. Repulsive. Undeserving of love. Unable to steer our own ship. Beyond protection.

We sabotage ourselves because we have no other means to cope with discomfort. We internalize our stress and we refuse to accept that unpleasant emotions are a natural part of each person’s existence. Whether it’s compulsively running on the treadmill for two hours every night after work, drinking to blackout after a fight with a lover, or mindlessly bingeing on chips in an effort to stop ruminating, our self-sabotage announces that we prefer “numb” as our default setting, that we’re not interested in intimacy or vulnerability or growth. We strive to be robotic. Unfeeling. Detached. Perfect. Undeserving of closeness. Unwilling to celebrate our common bond. Beyond humanity.

Artist: Andre Gelpe, Christine au Mirior, 1976

Artist: Andre Gelpe, Christine au Mirior, 1976

Self-Sabotage can manifest as:

  • Overeating
  • Undereating or restricting food
  • Abusing alcohol or drugs
  • Ruining solid, healthy relationships
  • Remaining in toxic relationships
  • Attracting people with personality disorders
  • Gravitating toward violent, abusive people
  • Neglecting your mental health needs
  • Failing to see a doctor for physical health concerns
  • Quitting a fitness or weight loss plan
  • Spending too much money
  • Staying in a job you hate
  • Trying to copy someone else's path
  • Doing what seems easy over what seems right
  • Saying “yes” when you mean “no”
  • People pleasing
  • Ignoring messages from your body
  • Ignoring callings from your soul
  • Refusing help, even though you may need it
  • Numbing out in any way possible
  • Neglecting your gifts and talents
  • Downplaying your abilities
  • Not asking for what you need
  • Not asking for what you want
  • Self-harm, cutting
  • Harming others, emotionally or physically
  • Getting into legal trouble
  • Cheating on your spouse
  • Signing up to a race and not accomplishing it
  • Overcommitting
  • Setting yourself up for failure
  • Constantly putting others needs before one's own

How can we stop self-sabotaging?

Artists: Vogue Italia by Paolo Roversi, September 2011

Artists: Vogue Italia by Paolo Roversi, September 2011

Remember what I’d written on accepting beliefs about ourselves that aren’t really our own? In order to overcome self-sabotage, we have to take our power back- power that we’d handed over to external forces a long time ago. Taking our power back means owning every decision we make, and developing a deeper consciousness about our actions. We can no longer place the blame for our behavior or perceived failings on someone else. We must commit to being responsible for what happens in our lives.

The beginning of a journey to return to our truest selves can often seem daunting, if not impossible. We’re no longer sure what we want, or how to measure our progress, or if we’re telling the truth to ourselves. At this point, it’s helpful to enlist a group or individual who can reliably act as both mirror and guide, providing you with a way to strengthen your awareness. Consciousness, like anything else, is a muscle that must be trained. If we don’t know how to do the training, how can we expect to see results? Refusing to self-sabotage means ASKING FOR HELP where you need it.

When we’re ready to stop self-sabotaging, we’re ready to accept the natural process of things, not as big chunks of achievement that we take on with all our might, but as small and reasonable steps toward change that allow us to build and learn as we grow. We no longer say, “even though I haven’t moved from the couch in a month, I’m going to run a marathon this April.” Instead we say, “I’m signing up for the 5km at the end of the year and I’m going to find someone qualified to help me with my training.” We no longer think about writing the next great novel in the span of a week. We focus instead on producing a steady and comfortable word count each day.

Leaving self-sabotage behind means abandoning our rigidity. We don't insist on having things exactly as we think they should be, and we honor the beauty inherent in a world that unfolds unpredictably with the ebbs and flows of seasons. The perfectionism we once held dear is seen merely as an obstacle to our creativity, an unwelcome roadblock in our yearning for exploration. We are open to the full experience of life- the beautiful and the cringeworthy, the depressing and the divine. We seek to see in color now, rather than in black and white. We commit to self-partnering in the moment, no longer looking to dead relics for our identity and worth.

How have you self-sabotaged in your life? What do you attribute to pulling you out of it? Leave your thoughts in the comments section- I'd love to hear from you. If you think this post would help someone else on the journey, please share it. 





Friends in Singapore, I'll be leading a Body Image workshop with Primetime next Tuesday evening. It's a fantastic opportunity to learn, network, get to know yourself a bit better, begin improving your body image, and perhaps assist your daughters in doing the same. If you can make it, please join!

If you are unable to be a part of the evening, here are five quick tips to help yourself and each other beat the body image blues:

1. RETHINK COMPLIMENTS. Instead of complimenting someone on their physical appearance like we always do, acknowledge a positive attribute that's beyond skin deep. Like, "hey Adrienne, you're a truly awesome extrovert because you respect all sides of the coin," or "Roz, the weight room is a hundred times more sparkly and motivating when you're in it" or "Katheryn, if anyone ever teaches me how to do one of those wild & zany yoga headstands it's going to have to be you." Get it?

2. GET SPORTY. Studies suggest that girls and women involved in sports, as well as exercisers generally, have more favorable body image then those who are largely sedentary. So, get active and find out what your body is actually capable of.

3. MAKE A PACT AGAINST SELF-DEPRECATION. I know it's an easy way to bond and for many, it's also a habit, but your body really does hear what you're saying about yourself and it responds accordingly. Seriously. 

4. SPIRITUAL PRACTICE- GET INTO IT. Be it yoga, journalling, prayer, meditation, daily gratitude lists, communal worship, or getting up with the sunrise to contemplate life in solitude, learning how to base your life on wisdom, inner guidance and the larger picture will pull you further away from the stuff that doesn't really matter at the end of the day, whether that's zits, a roll of fat, wrinkles or anything else. 

5. LIMIT YOUR TIME ON SOCIAL MEDIA. I know- it's sort of ironic for me to post this on the blog- but the longer we spend on social media, the worse we tend to feel about our bodies and ourselves as a whole. Free yourself from the constant comparison trap that social media tends to encourage by being pointed and specific about your social media use.

Ok, I've got MUCH, MUCH more for you next Tuesday so hope to see you there but if not, perhaps this short list might be of use or make you smile. If you think someone might benefit from this workshop or list, please share.

Details and registration for the event are HERE-->



10 Characteristics of Truly Strong Women


You've probably seen the meme, "Strong is the New Sexy," usually accompanying a photo of a muscled female in a skimpy outfit. As a competitive bodybuilder and coach who is deeply entrenched in the world of wellness, it can be tough to break free from the idea that strength has anything to do with the way a person looks. In reality, true strength has nothing to do with washboard abs, deadlift PRs or yoga inversions.

Here are 10 characteristics I've observed of truly strong women:

1. Strong women do not let rejection deter them. They push through criticism until they reach their desired destination. Their self-worth isn't hinged on the judgments of others.
2. Strong women honor their inherent creativity as a divine gift. However dark or painful, they dig deep into themselves, mining the unique contributions they have to offer up to the world.
3. Strong women recognize that not everyone has good intentions. They put their intuition to work, they ask the right questions, and they keep both eyes open. They are sharp, quick-witted and discerning.
4. Strong women are able to tell the truth about their past because they've committed to learning from it while guiding others. They view the past as WISDOM instead of shame.
5. Strong women set an example for their children instead of employing, "do as I say, not as I do." They accept their babies as watchful, intelligent and autonomous beings.
6. Strong women aren't afraid to ask for help when they need it. They won't hesitate to reach out to a friend, counsellor or a coach.
7. Strong women respect and take care of their bodies. Their bodies are their homes. They don't flood their homes with booze and drugs and other garbage.
8. Strong women say what they mean and mean what they say without apology. They are experts at conveying the word, "No."
9. Strong women rise from the ashes of their former selves. They are built from the fires of hardship and struggle. They earn every bit of their strength.
10. Strong women carve out their earthly successes by helping other women succeed. They see their life-force as plentiful. Strong women help their friends surpass them with humility, not envy.The big picture is clear to them.

Our strength isn't built in a gym- it's built from the trials and tests we encounter in our lives.

How would you define true strength? What are some characteristics of strong women that you've observed?




Q: How Do I Get Back Into Fitness Again?

Have you ever struggled to get back into your fitness routine after a long break? Maybe you haven't worked out in a few years and are ready to commit to taking care of your body again. If this resonates with you, then you'll definitely want to check out the video below, where I answer a question from Lisa, who asks:

"I want to start exercising again after a super long hiatus. However, I've become so unfit that I can feel my glutes and calves ache after walking up a flight of stairs. I have a gym membership which I never use. However, I feel self-conscious when I go to the gym. How should I start again? Should I start off with bodyweight exercises? 

Have a question on fitness, nutrition or habit change? Ask away, and I'll answer it via video or blog post!


© Tangram Fitness 2013