With her sculpted abs and superhero arms, it’s hard to believe that Peloton trainer Tunde Oyeneyin ever battled obesity. But the 34-year-old former makeup artist from Houston, Texas, knows what it’s like to break down crying in a fitting room.
“I was always the biggest girl in my class growing up,” Oyeneyin told TODAY.
By the time Oyeneyin was 13, she weighed 200 pounds and wore a size 18.
“I remember knowing I was this fun person, but I would never laugh too hard,” Oyeneyin revealed. “If I laughed hard, people would recognize I was in the room. I didn’t want anyone to notice me."
But she isn’t hiding anymore.
Today, Oyeneyin, who now lives in New York City, commands a room, often reaching more than 20,000 people each time she goes live on the bike. The 5-foot-7 cycling instructor, who is known for encouraging riders to push themselves to their mental and physical limits, shared her journey to health in a conversation with TODAY below.
What was your relationship like with food as a kid?
I’m the descendant of two Nigerians. Food is such a focal point in our culture. You eat when you’re celebrating and you eat when you’re mourning. My parents did the best they could in terms of what they could provide with money, but a lot of times we found ourselves at fast food restaurants.
Did you have a breaking point where you thought, 'I need to do something about my weight?'
In eighth grade, I was a bridesmaid in my aunt’s wedding and the dress she chose for us didn’t come in my size. They found me another dress, but I didn’t want to wear that one and I just fell to the floor in the bridal store dressing room crying. My mom ended up sewing together two of the dresses that didn’t fit to make one dress. That was when I knew I needed to make a change.
How did you get started?
I scrounged together $48 and got a gym membership, which was a big step for me. There’s so much shame associated with going to the gym when you’re fat. People who've never struggled with their weight don't get that. There was one machine that I knew how to use, so I did that every day. Eventually, I worked up the courage to take an aerobics class.
Did you take a spot in the back of the studio?
The very back! But I still felt like I was trapped in the room for 60 minutes. If I left, everyone would turn around. That class was a turning point. I loved the energy of working out with other people. I loved the accountability piece associated with it as well. I left that day feeling good, with strength and confidence. That’s when the weight started coming off.
Was there a number you wanted to hit on the scale?
I set out to lose 50 pounds and I did. But then I was like, “I’m still not happy. I need to lose more weight and then I’ll be happy." I was allowing the scale to dictate my self-worth and my value. Then one day, I decided to focus on what I was gaining rather than losing. During this journey I gained confidence, self-love and new friends. I gained a career!
During one of your rides at the height of the COVID-19 epidemic, you talked about overindulging in your quarantine snacks. Why is it so important for you to share your struggles?
I want people to know that even though I’m in the fitness world, I’m human too. I struggle just like everyone else. You don’t just lose weight and then just magically stay there. It’s a lifelong, forever journey.
Describe your diet in one word.
Clean. I live a very clean lifestyle. But if I'm congregating with friends, I'm the person that's like, "We're splitting 75 appetizers!" At the same time, I'm very mindful to suggest activities outside of food. If a friend got a promotion, I'll say, "Let's go on a really long walk with our dogs." Food doesn't have to be the determining factor of how people come together.
You always tell riders that 'your mind is your strongest muscle.' How does that mantra keep you on track?
Ultimately, your mind controls the way you see your entire life. Your mind controls everything. Absolutely, your quads or glutes assist you in a squat, but your mind first tells you that you are capable of pressing the weight in that squat. Once you get the hell out of your own way, watch as all the beauty starts to unfold in your life.
Does it blow your mind that you're a Peloton instructor?
Robin Arzón (head instructor at Peloton) always talks about the fact that she was allergic to working out. I didn't even know what working out was! So, did I imagine myself here? No! I was the girl that people laughed at in the locker room.
How do you feel when you look at old photos of yourself?
My soul is the same, but I express myself differently because of my confidence. I laugh loud now and I laugh with my whole heart. I didn’t do that before.
This interview was condensed for clarity. Our parent company, NBCUniversal, is an investor in Peloton.