'I struggled with an eating disorder for 3 years': TV host Janet Hsieh

SINGAPORE - It was noon, barely a few hours since we'd both crossed the finishing line of a marathon.

We were at a market, after the 33-year-old TV host had gone straight from running to filming an episode of Discovery Travel & Living Channel's Fun Asia.

As I watched Janet bound from one stall to the next, I couldn't help but wonder where she got all that energy from.

"Aren't you tired?" I asked. "Not at all," said Janet, "Moving around helps me recover much faster. You don't want to go immediately from being pumped up with adrenalin to a resting state because you could end up feeling sore for days!"

That's good advice from the bona fide fitness junkie, whose varied regime reads like a list of you-name-it-she's done-it activities.

She runs, swims, surfs, cycles, plays basketball, practises yoga, lifts weights, and more.

Janet also takes part in triathlons just for the fun of it: "It suits me more than a marathon because I have a very short attention span. By the time I'm bored with one activity, it's almost time to move on to the next."

Her next goal? A decathlon.

Fast-forward to the present, and we meet again - this time in Shape Singapore's office.

The Texas-born beauty is a vision as she flaunts her sculpted arms and pins in a bathing suit.

"I love projecting this sort of sexy but healthy image that appeals to both men and women. Yes, I'm not model-skinny, but I'm athletic and definitely not afraid to show off my muscles," says Janet.

Despite the bubbly outlook, Janet confesses she wasn't always the picture of confidence and good health.

For three years, she suffered clinical depression and a binge eating disorder (defined as a cycle of uncontrolled eating and restriction). This happened shortly after she left medical school to pursue a modelling career in Taiwan.

Losing control

"I wanted to succeed immediately and I became extremely dissatisfi ed with all my photos. I'd blame myself for every bad shot," says Janet.

"I was convinced I looked fat and ugly so I tried really hard to lose weight. But the more diets I went on, the more food became an obsession - all I could think about was what I could and could not eat. I hated myself then. From my body and hair, to my weight and height."

To drop the kilos fast, Janet went as far as to limit herself to just plain water and three eggs for a whole week.

"The worst part was I knew I was heading down a bad path the whole time but I couldn't stop myself.  In the end, it was my medical background that saved me because I tried my best not to throw up and damage my organs," she says.

Things began to spin further out of control when she broke up with her then-boyfriend - "a perfect guy who looked like Richard Gere".

Says Janet: "It was romantic at first. We met in Brazil, and he followed me to Taiwan. I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world, but my self-hatred had already taken over my life. I became needy to the point where I would sink into extreme sadness when I felt he wasn't attending to my needs - which was often.

"Eventually, he felt that I was suffocating him and we broke up."

"I felt like I'd hit rock bottom then," recounts Janet. "My love life was crap, my career was going nowhere, I was physically unhealthy, and my sleep schedule was messed up because I stayed in bed during the day to avoid seeing people.

"Basically, I went from being a confident pre-med student to doubting everything I knew."

Bouncing back

To get out of the downward spiral, Janet saw a doctor and relied heavily on her journal, in which she penned cheerful notes to encourage herself. She also read inspirational stories and forced herself to meet people.

"It's not the easiest thing to do when you're suffering from depression because you feel like you're not in the right state to interact with others. But it really helps to turn your focus on other people and away from yourself," she says.

Upon recovery, a lively Janet auditioned for Fun Taiwan, a travel programme by the Discovery Travel And Living Channel, and immediately landed the job.

This time, she learnt to be less self-critical and more patient. "When I started modelling, I wanted to see immediate results. I wanted to be on magazine covers and I didn't think I had to work my way up.

"Working on Fun Taiwan was different. My only focus was to be a good host, and my failed modelling experience had taught me to slow down and take it easy."

The newfound zen continues to show. Although Janet worries about ageing, she's determined not to rely on plastic surgery or botox.

"I know that by the time I'm 60, I'm not going to look as pretty as I did when I was in my 20s," she says. And good looks are not what Janet wants to be remembered for.

"When I see photos of women who've done amazing charity work, I think to myself that's who I want to be − no touch-ups, makeup or sexy clothes."

Unwanted attention from the paparazzi and mean-spirited comments also no longer faze her.

"There's a blog that criticises everything I do. When I got upset by that, my sister said to me 'Wow, Janet, you know you've made it when you've got an entire website dedicated to hating you'.

This got me thinking. I suppose it does mean I'm famous enough that people are paying attention to me. Anyway, I can't be bothered to fight back. There are so many better things to do," Janet says with a smile. Well, that's definitely a positive way to look at things!

Get a copy of the July 2013 issue of SHAPE Singapore to read about the latest news in health, fitness, beauty and nutrition. SHAPE Singapore published by SPH Magazines is available at all newsstands now.

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