S'pore woman bodybuilder was once obese, then bulimic
She went all the way to the US to take on the locals and beat all but one of them.
Miss Melissa Sarah Wee, 30, won second prize in the women's physique category at the Central California Championships, a bodybuilding competition, two weeks ago.
But the Singaporean's journey to fulfilling a cherished dream was anything but smooth.
Looking at the freelance personal trainer's impressive physique, it's hard to believe that she was once at either end of the weight spectrum.
In her teens, she was first chubby, then underweight, then obese again.
She was bullied for her weight and then suffered from bulimia nervosa, an eating disorder that involves binge eating and then purging or vomiting out the food.
At her lowest weight, she was only 44kg at a height of 1.56m.
After she recovered from bulimia, she became overweight again, tipping the scales at 74kg when she turned 18.
Chubby in primary school, Miss Wee was then bullied for being overweight in lower secondary.
She was in an elite all-girls school and was constantly ridiculed about her weight by a group of seniors. Teachers would also shame her in front of the school by announcing her weight, she said.
"It was very hurtful as I was only 13 or 14 then," Miss Wee told The New Paper yesterday.
She turned to bulimia as it gave her a sense of control over her diet. She obsessed over food and her weight, and underwent episodes of bingeing.
"I had ulcers around my mouth all the time. My knuckles were also scraped as I kept forcing my hand down my throat to make myself vomit," she said.
Despite the physical signs, she managed to hide her condition from her family until her mum overheard her vomiting in the toilet after a buffet dinner one day.
Her mother, Madam Lilian Lee, 55, said: "I suspected something was wrong, but I was still shocked when it was confirmed."
Miss Wee said: "After that, she asked my maid to follow me around the house all the time, and stand outside the toilet whenever I was using it."
The first turning point came when she was hospitalised for a week from the side effects of bulimia.
She managed to overcome this hurdle through the support of family and friends and from talking to her church counsellor.
But Miss Wee continued obsessing over her weight and soon returned to bingeing. She started gaining weight and tipped the scales at 74kg.
It was only after her younger sister made an innocent comment about cellulite dimples on her thigh that it struck her that she was "letting herself go".
Miss Wee asked her mother to sign her up for a gym membership and started attending group fitness classes.
It was tough in the beginning.
"I cut down on a lot of unhealthy snacking and sugary food," she said. "I also became more conscious of my food choices and started to eat healthier, such as making my own oats for breakfast."
She began training with the aim of getting a flat stomach. As time passed, exercising became a habit and she grew to love it.
She looked up to American bodybuilder Dana Linn Bailey and aspired to compete in the same category as her - the physique category in the Central California Championships - one day.
Since that dream began in 2010, she had been training both mentally and physically for this competition.
"It gives me a sense of satisfaction to finally compete there," Miss Wee said.
"The reception I got was very heartwarming as I did not expect to be so well-received there. People would actually recognise me and come up to take photos."
Madam Lee is proud of her daughter, saying: "I'm glad her hard work and determination has paid off."
Miss Wee has a huge following on social media. From about 100 followers on her Instagram account (@melissasarahwee) in 2012, she now has more than 50,000 followers.
She started a Facebook fanpage last year and has over 18,000 likes.
Miss Wee is now comfortable with how she looks.
Her US win has spurred her on to try more competitions. She is also thinking of moving to Los Angeles to explore possibilities of a fitness and bodybuilding career, or working in an eating disorder clinic to help young girls using her personal experiences.
But she remains fiercely patriotic, saying: "I will never give up my citizenship here. My heart will always belong to Singapore."
'TWO SIDES OF SAME COIN'
By MELODY NG
Bulimia and anorexia are "really two sides of the same coin", says Dr Lim Boon Leng, a psychiatrist at Dr BL Lim Centre For Psychological Wellness.
Though anorexia may seem physically more dangerous as it involves depriving oneself of food, bulimia can also cause a myriad of physical problems, he said.
They include "electrolyte imbalance, cardiovascular problems like irregular rhythm, digestive issues and throat and mouth problems".
Dr Lim believes the profiles of patients with the disorders are "very much the same" as it is the same illness being presented differently and at different times. Most patients develop bulimia after an anorexia episode.
However, the need for hospitalisation is often lower in bulimia. Medication like anti-depressants can help curb the urge of bingeing and purging, unlike in anorexia.
"Psychotherapy is an important component of treatment in both (disorders)," he said.
Dr Lim said a common reason for bulimia is the way the media portrays and idealises a slim physique.
He warns parents to be wary if their children start getting secretive about their meals.
Want a body like hers?
PHOTO: MELISSA SARAH WEE
"People would actually recognise me and come up to take photos."
- Miss Melissa Sarah Wee (above) on the warm reception she got in California
Miss Melissa Wee tells you how she does it.
These are Miss Wee's top five exercises.
- Leg lifts (for back and legs)
- Pull-ups (for back and arms)
- Squats (for legs and core muscles)
- Weight hip thrusts (for glutes)
- Bench presses (for chest and arms)
- Miss Wee is on the cyclical ketogenic diet (not recommended for beginners).
- She alternates periods of low carbohydrates, high protein and high fat with periods of high carbohydrates, high protein and low fats.
- She stresses that different diets work for different people and there is no perfect regimen to follow.
- Stick to one diet and follow a regular workout schedule.
- Trust the process. Though you might not see results immediately, you have to believe that you will begin to see a difference in your body.
- Be patient. There is no quick fix when it comes to working out but it will be worth it in the end.
WARNING SIGNS OF BULIMIA
- Repeated episodes of binge eating and purging
- Feeling out of control during a binge and eating beyond the point of comfortable fullness
- Purging after a binge (typically by self-induced vomiting, or abusing laxatives, diet pills and/or diuretics)
- Frequent dieting
- Extreme concern with body weight and shape
- Damaged teeth and gums
- Swollen salivary glands in the cheeks
- Sores in the throat and mouth
Source: Health Promotion Board