Losing weight in Korea


The Korean diet is SO healthy…not!

While on a bus the other day a friend and I started flipping through timehop and then through old photos on Facebook (“ohhhh my gosh BABY KATE!” was the reaction).  My birthday (coming up August 6th where I’ll go from 27 Western age to 30 Korean age) is always a time of reflection on what I’ve accomplished, what I hope to accomplish, and how I’m looking and feeling.  This is a long post with tons of photos, ten years of nostalgia, and me still trying to figure out what hair colour I can stand long-term.  

To all my friends: there will never be a birthday where I don’t want to feel young and ridiculous.  There will never be a day where pink dresses, wine through a straw, tiaras, and macarons are not of value.

When I told people I was moving to Korea most people were very excited for my new adventure and many wanted to tell me second-hand stories of friends (or friends of friends) who had done the same thing.  I was told stories of people coming back entirely fluent in Hangul, people coming back and leaving again, and people who just never came back at all.  I was told stories of people who started photos series of all the crazy “Konglish” (Korean + English) tee-shirts they had seen abroad.  I was also told many stories of people who had gone to Korea and dropped mad weight.  “The pounds just seemed to fall off” I was told.  I was skeptical, but at the same time hoped that I would also be able to enjoy the benefits of living on a Korean diet.

Keeping my weight in check has always been a struggle.  Growing up I lived in a fairly affluent neighbourhood with a variety of slim, pretty girls in Gap Kids clothes.  I was not one of those kids.  My Mom always let me have my own sense of style (which may have gone a little too far when I cut my own hair so it looked like “Jem” at 3 years old) and I enjoyed seeking out unknown designers as well as what I wasn’t aware at the time was an entirely different echelon of fashion: Tommy Hilfiger, Ralph Lauren, and Elie Tahari.  By the time I was 11 years old I was 5’8″ tall (a height that hasn’t changed to this day) and a women’s size 6-8 (a size I wish had stood the test of time).  I was unhappy not fitting in at my elementary school and had been teased most of my life for big calves and my hips that came in early (hey boobs – I’m still waiting for you!).

Let’s fast forward a few years to grade 12.  I was happy in high school – I went to a performing arts high school taking musical theatre so I got to sing, dance, and play a difference character every day.  It was rad.  I was getting exercise at school several times a week and with a gym membership my parents had got me (I was 17 and still holding onto baby weight – I think they knew what University had in store for me).

By frosh week, I was down to a weight that was heavy, but I’m a tall, muscular girl and I felt confident in my appearance.  I put on the freshman 15 in first year University and when I moved out of residence in 2nd year and got back to a gym routine many (but not all!) of the pounds fell off.  I was content enough, but still not thrilled.

 I made this face a LOT at UBC!

When I moved to Vancouver to go to UBC everything changed.  I was a residence adviser (so I lived back in res) and my cafeteria meal plan was completely different (I don’t think Sodexho/ Queen’s University has ever really heard of a proper salad regardless of the salad bar that was available).  I walked miles every day – circles around a giant, stunning campus with zillions of opportunities to walk, run, ride, dance, cheer (yes – I was a cheerleader and a sorority girl) climb, or rest enjoying a combination of mountain and sea air.  I was happy – really, really happy.  I almost immediately dropped about 25 lbs unexpectedly.  All of a sudden I was hot (this didn’t exactly last, folks!) and people wanted to pay me to take my picture (the photos are out there on Google but I’m not going to share my professional vanity shots in this particular post).  I had a great wardrobe.  It was wonderful.  My ego was enormous.

I am my Father’s daughter. I hope I still have the same smile and party attitude in x # of years…

My Mom still has a better body than I ever will – she’s a fox.

When I started working full time I was the same weight but worked out harder (leaving my house at 5:45 AM so I could get a work out in before heading to the office).  I thought because I was sitting at a computer for 8 hours a day I was all of a sudden getting fat.  Regardless, people still took photos of me mid-bite and to this day I think they’re cute.  Wouldn’t catch me doing that now, though!

Eventually I did gain weight (and a lot of it!) because of my desk job, but that was in Toronto, not Vancouver.

I can tell you – this was not a look that floored Lupul.

In Toronto I was unhappy.  I worked long hours and even after leaving the office I never really left my work behind as I had two cell phones (work and personal) and the work one never gave me any rest.  Working in hospitality management meant that sure – I got to work at 9 (well – usually earlier) to get the business, but was responsible late into the night for keeping the business happy, fed, and imbibing to increase liquor sales.  I was lonely because I didn’t have time to make real friends the first couple of years (shout out to the amazing gal pals I did end up making!) and I ate poorly not just because it was there and convenient, but because it was a crutch.

What a difference…a month makes?

I think that I thought I would drop a pile of weight like I had in Vancouver upon my arrival in Korea, and in some ways I did.  I figured I would do a lot of hiking (the only temples with climbs have been 10-15 minutes max) and that the Korean diet would do magical, wonderful things to my figure.  I have lost weight.  When I came to Korea I snacked a lot, had a lot of chocolate from Canada with me, and was trying to be cheap so that I could stretch the money I brought with me until my first paycheque.  Pasta and LotteMart red “vodka” sauce, rice bowls, and peppers were my go-to diet.  I think I probably put on about ten pounds when I first arrived as I had no gym membership and was eating like garbage.  Don’t fall into that trap!  Koreans are bringing in more and more western food and quite frankly it’s cheap.  Just don’t do it.

In chronological order from left to right… 

 The goal: my 2009 Kits Beach Body.

Since April 17th, 2015 (when I bought my scale) I’ve lost about 9 lbs.  Seeing as I joined a gym at the end of March and started using MyFitnessPal around then I think overall I’ve probably lost about 20 lbs since my heaviest.  I go to the gym 5 times a week and on a lazy day still manage to get in at least 30 minutes of cardio, plus 5 sets of abs and a target area for my weights.  On days I go hard (which are more often) I hit Eco-gym and get in 50-60 minutes of cardio plus another 30 minutes to an hour of abs and weights.  I aim to net around 1200 calories a day (ie. if I workout 700 calories you better believe I’m having some extra snacks) and aim for under 100 g of carbohydrates.  MyFitnessPal really helps to ensure I’m getting enough protein and fat to make my day effective.  I also enjoy walking and riding a bike through the Hwamyeong Eco Park.

                              January 2014                                                                                 June 2015

My best advice would be to get a calorie-counting app, go to the gym and work HARD as much as you can, and make sure to enjoy time out with your friends once a week – balance is key or you’ll lose interest and fall off the wagon.

July 2015

The pizza here is great (Pizza Maru has green tea crust – I’m not cutting that out completely).  Don’t overdo it on the soju (it puts me right to sleep) and splurge on a nice bottle of red every so often.  The best advice I’ve ever been given was to keep everything in moderation – even moderation.  My ultimate goal is to lose another 23 lbs, so I’m almost halfway there.  Leave a message in the comments if you plan on hitting the ground running on this awesome fitness journey!  I don’t think anyone can call me “the incredible shrinking woman” (that’s my sister’s title after losing something ridiculous like 140 lbs!), but I’m well on my way…

Update: I’ve actually managed to lose quite a bit of weight here by keeping my diet in check and working out hard 4-5 times a week.  I also try to keep active on weekends by heading out to places that require a lot of walking.  The number of stairs in the subways also helps!  For breakfast, I mix Cellucor protein powder (120 calories and 25g of protein!) with water in a shaker bottle (all available at iHerb – click here for 10% off your first order!).  I have a 99 calorie granola bar as a snack, go through 3 – 4 L of water every day, have a turkey sub for lunch loaded with veggies and only the tiniest bit of mayo or mustard, and for dinner I usually make some combination of a protein (one of chicken, ground beef, eggs, bacon, or cheese), squash, peppers, and salad.  On the weekends I allow myself to go out with friends and enjoy a nice meal.  Once you shift your perspective from short term restriction to a long-term habit of fueling your body, making healthy choices is a lot easier!

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