Greetings, fam! As I’ve written before, part of why I moved to the ROK was to see if I could succeed after uprooting and hurling myself half across the planet in my 40s. I expected and was totally open to some big, ol’ positive changes in my life — I mean, who wouldn’t?
That said, probably my biggest transformation while living in South Korea has been losing loads of weight: Since landing here in August 2016, I’ve lost 40 pounds or 18 kg. Can I just say …
Amaziiiing! It feels incredible …
Friends, coworkers and family alike have been astounded by my weight loss, but, between you and me, I had a feeling I’d drop some lbs just from the diet change I’d encounter here. Buuuuut, I’m still amazed at how easily the inches fell off … and keep falling off. But enough toasting to myself — I want to share what’s worked for me. Check out my before and after photo, too!
Disclaimer: I’m no doctor, so don’t take this as medical gospel! These are just things that worked for moi. Every body is different. Keep in mind, too, that I’m small-framed (or “small-boned” as some like to say), so maybe that’s been a factor (but I still want to lose 20 or 30 pounds more, so the good fight ain’t over). Despite my initial optimism, I also thought that at my age — with the kind of slowed-down metabolism that hits all of us in our 30s and 40s — losing weight would move along as quickly as molasses from the fridge: SLOW. But here’re two tips that helped me shed pounds, as well as a bonus tip for how I stay healthy in another way …
My Diet Changed … Big-time
As I mentioned, I had an inkling that Korea’s diet would be good for me. Not that I’d eaten terribly at home — as a professional food writer, I had access to a ton of chef-crafted, farm-to-fork, all-natural eats. I just ate too much of them. Plus, I probably food-sinned at fast-food restaurants (you ever heard of In-N-Out or Whataburger?! Or, hell, Tex-Mex? These are my biggest sins.) more often than I kept track of or wanted to admit.
Then I moved to Korea, looking forward to fried chicken, BBQ and all the banchan (little plates of veggies that accompany many Korean meals) I could stuff my face with! Such guilty pleasures — how did I still lose weight?? I think one game-changer for me has been hardly ever eating processed carbs — I hardly ever did in the States, but when I moved to my tiny town far from the big city, with no car to get around, it wasn’t exactly easy to get to fast-food. Possible? Yes. Easy? No. Good for me!
So what’d I eat instead? First off, my academy has an on-site chef — a former restaurateur, no less, and she cooks up a storm! So every day, I’d be provided with a from-scratch Korean meal, featuring soup, a typically saucy protein, steamed rice, and banchan aplenty. I’d load up on the veggies — usually several kinds of kimchi and simply prepared greens — and either skipped rice or enjoyed about a half cup of it.
Plus I started cooking Korean meals at home! I fell in love with the school chef’s soups, so I sought out the recipes. Pretty soon, I was making big batches of muguk (beef and radish soup), kimchi jiggae and ddeok mandu guk (rice cake and dumpling soup) — splendid stuff! Once winter came, soups and curry were pretty much all I lived on, and the pounds really dropped. Plus I was glad to master recipes whose ingredients were easy to snap up at the corner store — bonus! (Want more recipes — check out Maangchi’s site and/or download the app called 200 Korean Menu Guide (iTunes/Android); both are life-savers!
My Physical Activity Soared …
… and I don’t mean by hitting the gym. Sure, my awesome and modern apartment complex has a great little gym, but I only joined for maybe two months … and never went with any regularity.
No, my sudden anti-couch-potato-hood stemmed from walking everywhere. I’m from Texas, where it’s hard to have any kind of life without a car, and Seoul — where I hang out most weekends — is largely navigable by subway AND by hoofing it. My weight-loss walking goal is 12,000 steps per day, and though I don’t usually reach it on weekdays, I blow well past it on weekends in Seoul, or when I’m on a weekend trip out of town.
Where more formal exercising is concerned, a few months ago, I bought a bike! It has not only upped my physical activity, but provided me with mental calm and joy aplenty. Now instead of taking the bus to my nearest train station, I bike there, which makes for a fun and super-convenient calorie burn!
For any physical regimen to really stick, you gotta love it, so I advise finding a workout you truly love — have fun with it, and don’t make doing it all about losing weight! From dancing to hiking, you can do most activities alone or connect with others who love it.
And The Other Way I’ve Stayed Healthy …
When I first moved to Korea, I was sick with respiratory ailments really frequently, due to the troublesome yellow dust and other air pollutants that spike from time to time. My system couldn’t handle it — in fact, for most of last fall, I was cooped up at home most weekends instead of exploring this wondrous country, thanks to bouts of asthmatic bronchitis and sinusitis. Blarghhh!! (And yes — that’s yet another way I probably lost some weight, because all I wanted to eat while sick was soup!)
In this aspect of my health, I know I’ve likely developed some resistance to the foul air by now. I haven’t had respiratory troubles in months (knock on wood!).
What changed in addition to possibly getting used to it? First, I started taking a powerful daily multivitamin called SimplyOne Women Triple Power, in case you want to find it; it’s on Gmarket and iHerb. I think that provided some support my body needed.
Next, when I felt an inkling of illness coming on, I would add some vitamin C to my daily intake — not much, since the SimplyOne multivitamin has a good amount. I also overloaded on fluids: tea, water and a lot of soup became my constant companions. Then, I’d neti pot at the end of each workday. A neti pot is a teapot-like container with which you stream warm, salty (purified) water through your nostrils. Finally, I’d keep an eye on the air pollution levels with an app like Air Quality: Real time AQI or Air Visual and once air pollution hits the level where I can feel it in my bronchials (around 120), my N95 mask goes on my face, no matter where I am. I used to be shy about wearing it, but eff that noise now — my health is more important!
With that 1-2-3-4 punch, I either greatly minimized the duration of my illness or prevented it from developing — win! Again: Don’t take this as medical gospel; it’s just what worked for my once-very-sensitive lungs! The biggest takeaway from this tip should be to buy N95 or N99 masks, keep one with you at all times, and watch those air pollution levels!
For my fellow Korea dwellers, I hope these tips prove insightful at least and very helpful at most. Stay healthy out there!