Bodybuilding champion Doreen Yeo shares how she overcame her frail physique after a car accident. By Poon Chian Hui
Ms Doreen Yeo was involved in a car accident at 14, which tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her knee and left her with slipped discs in her spine. Despite the injuries preventing her from performing important exercises like heavy squats and deadlifts, she has persisted in pursuing her passion for bodybuilding. Photo: Alicia Chan / The Straits Times
About Doreen Yeo
When her weight plummeted to around 40kg while she was at university, she took her first step into the gym, hoping to gain a healthy weight.
She took an unexpected liking to bodybuilding. But her friends and colleagues discouraged her from pursuing it seriously.
Still, she went ahead, with her mother’s support.
“I like bodybuilding because it is like an art – it takes a lot of precise training and nutrition to sculpt a beautiful physique,” said Ms Yeo.
She also found another source of support in her husband, a freelance personal trainer.
“I was lucky to have met my husband, who was my pillar of strength throughout my fitness journey,” she said.
Ms Yeo has won several bodybuilding titles. She came out tops in the 2013 Shawn Rhoden Physique competition and the 2014 South-east Asian Bodybuilding Championships.
Today, she is a freelance personal trainer and contest prep coach.
She and her 30-year-old husband have no children.
Q: Have you always been fit?
A: I was never a fit or active person growing up. I stayed away from all kinds of sports and adventurous co-curricular activities, especially outdoor ones. Instead, I signed up to be a librarian.
But disaster struck when I was involved in a car accident at 14. I endured several operations for my torn anterior cruciate ligament in the knee and slipped discs in the spine. It was the saddest part of my life as I had to postpone my O-level examinations by a year.
Q: What led you to bodybuilding?
A: At the National University of Singapore, I enrolled in rock climbing. A year later, I was overwhelmed by the school workload and stopped training. I ate little and lost so much weight that I looked anorexic.
My injuries also started bothering me again. The doctor advised me to train at the gym to gain muscle mass and put on some weight. When I made my first trip to the gym at school, it was love at first sight.
Q: How challenging was it to go from skinny to muscular?
A: It was extremely difficult for me to achieve my current physique. My injuries prevent me from doing important exercises like heavy squats and deadlifts. On the bright side, I was forced to lift weights with the right techniques so I don’t aggravate them.
Q: Do you face other challenges being a female bodybuilder?
A: I got a lot of rude stares, especially when I started putting on bulk in my shoulders and arms. I used to get lots of discouraging comments from friends and colleagues as it is not “normal” for a girl to look muscular. After I won two gold medals in bodybuilding competitions, people became more supportive.
Q: What is your diet like?
A: I adopt the paleolithic diet, which involves the consumption of natural food. I avoid food items that are processed or genetically modified.
My typical breakfast is four to six egg whites with spinach and avocado. Lunch could be a meat-based dish with vegetables and seeds. An example is salmon with lettuce and pumpkin seeds. Dinner is similar.
In between meals, I usually take a drink with branch-chained amino acids or a protein shake.
Q: What are your indulgences?
A: Every weekend, I indulge in Indian food, such as fish tikka, tandoori chicken and naan bread.
Q: What do you do to relax?
A: My husband and I are both freelance personal trainers. So, when we have free time, we go to the movies. I’m a big fan of Indian movies as they are full of adventure, songs, dances and colours.
Q: What are the three most important things in your life?
A: My faith, my family and my health.
Q: And what are the least important things?
A: Negative remarks, gossip and negative people – those who zap the energy out of you.
Q: What’s your favourite part of your body?
A: Definitely my legs. It surprised a lot of gym-goers and bodybuilders when I tell them that I don’t do squats due to my slipped discs.
Q: What is the most extreme thing you have done in the name of fitness?
A: During my preparation for the South-east Asian bodybuilding championships last June, I ate only plain chicken breast meat and broccoli every day for six months, with almost zero carbohydrates. It was tough because I had to train at a very high intensity while in a calorie-deficit state.
Q: What do your family and friends say about your fitness regimen?
A: My mother was very receptive about me going to the gym because I was thin and frail. She was happy to see me putting on healthy weight. My friends and colleagues were very discouraging. But my mother gave me all the support I needed.
Q: How extensive is your collection of sports-related paraphernalia at home?
A: I am a shoe freak. Given that I love training my legs so much, I have different shoes for different workout purposes. I have a few running shoes and cross trainers, and other shoes for weight lifting and power lifting. Recently, I’ve been buying bodybuilding shoes from overseas.
Q: Do you think you are sexy?
A: Yes. Strangely, I’ve been “hit on” by both men and women before.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2015, with the headline ‘Fighting pain, critics to become a champ ‘.