Saturday, June 8, 2013

Weight Loss in Korea

Alright, peeps, so I figured that it was about time I do a post about losing weight in Korea, seeing as I've lost a LOT of weight since moving here.

Before and After
I've gone from 87kg (191lbs) and a size 18 to 73kg (160lbs) and a size 10. This is literally the smallest I've been since middle school.

The following things about life in Korea have, in my opinion, contributed greatly to my weight loss:

1) Korean Food

The first thing that I'm sad to say is that the simple act of moving here will NOT make you lose weight. I mean, you're probably going to lose a little bit of weight, but not enough to make much of a difference. Korean food, in general, has a LOT less saturated fat than American food. However, it makes up for that by having tons of sodium in EVERYTHING (hello bloat town!). 

Also, when you're a westerner first moving to Korea the first thing you will probably turn to for comfort in this incredibly foreign land is food. I've mentioned this before in my posts about culture shock, but it's really true. Itaewon has a wealth of foreign restaurants and there's lots of Western fast food places about the city as well as super-convenient pizza places (mmmm, Pizza Maru...). Eventually you'll also find the courage to call up McDonald's delivery and, after that, things can get a little...

However, if you stick to a very Korean diet, you will see a small reduction in weight, but embracing the Korean diet will not be enough.

2) Joining a Gym

Here's some awesome news: gym memberships in Seoul are VERY affordable! A membership at a VERY nice gym (like the chain I go to, BodyStar) will cost around 70,000 won ($65) per month. At gyms of lesser quality with fewer perks the price will be even less. However, things can get a little complicated. Around any subway station there will probably be a few gyms, but the people in these gyms will most likely not speak much English. I highly recommend taking someone with Korean language proficiency with you when thinking about signing up for a gym membership. Typically you will pay for your membership in one lump payment of 6 months at a time. Gyms will be exactly as stocked as gyms back in your home country and there are very few different rules that you'll need to learn for Korean gyms:

1) Have shoes that are specifically for the gym that you do not wear outside. I highly recommend you rent a small locker to leave your shoes and toiletries in. Korean gyms are really clean and they like to keep things that way.
2) Shower shoes are not something you'll need. Like I said, they keep things clean. I've never heard of someone getting athlete's foot here.
3) If you take a class, the trainer might get more handsy with you than with the other students. It's just their way of helping you when you can't understand their directions.
4) Koreans don't wipe down the machines after using them, unlike many gyms back in the States. I think this might just be because Koreans, in general, do not sweat or have body odor as strongly as Americans. So... yeah, I just hope you're not terribly squeamish, just carry around a towel with you.

Other than that Koreans have, in general, been super fun to work out with. A lot of the people who frequent my gym know me and have commented on and supported my weight loss, even if they can't speak any English. It's a really nice little community to be a part of. Also, Korean guys get buff during their military service and many become addicted to exercising and maintaining or building on ther military muscles, which makes for a lot of gym eye candy... ^_^

Please and Thank You
As a random extra tip choose a gym that is either on your way home or really close to where you live. The fact that my gym was two bus stops away from my apartment on the same bus that I take home from work made for a lot of "uggghhhhh I'm already on the bus, the gym is right there, I might as well just freaking go."

3) Getting a Personal Trainer

Most personal trainers in your local gym will NOT speak much English. My gym has one trainer who speaks decent English, but that's it. The others, including my personal trainer...

Hello Rambo!
speak the most pigeony of pigeon English you'll encounter. When Rambo and I first started working together he could pretty much only tell me "Arm... row... *awkwardly mimes motion for me and them positions me manually*... one... two... four... three... five..." It's been almost a year now and his English has gotten a lot better, but it's sometimes still a little difficult. Thankfully we both have infinite patience for each other and manage to find humor in our constant language barriers.

Personal trainers are still pretty damn expensive. Each one-hour session with Rambo costs me 50,000 won ($44). It might have been cheaper if I had one of the more junior trainers, but Rambo was the person who signed me up for the gym and he is highly qualified (he has his degree in physical training and is a professional body-builder) so I feel safe with him.

4) The Fitness City

Seoul is an amazing city. You could walk from one side of it to the other without hitting much of a hill. However, if you don't mind the hells, or WANT the hills, there are plenty of random mountains sprouting out of the high-rise buildings that you can tackle! A walk from one side of Seoul to the other means that you will probably have to climb at least some of Namsan mountain, even it it's only the perimeter.

There's also something very uniquely Korean in every public park or public resting area... exercise equipment.

My good buddy Baon tests it out at the Han River:
There will be at least 5 pieces of exercise equipment. Some of it will make sense, like stationary bikes or pull-up bars, and some will just... not... like this one thing that looks like it should massage your back but then is just kinda awkward and painful when you try to use it. It's really interesting and a good way to get at least some fitness in. Be warned, older Koreans take these machines seriously and might shoot you and your friends nasty looks for acting a damn fool on them.

Being a walkable city also means that DAMN is it fun to walk here! One of Mr. Y and I's favorite things to do is just go to a random subway stop, choose another subway stop, and walk there. We've walked for up to 6 hours without hitting more than a slight incline. Invest in a pair of comfortable shoes and this city is yours for the taking!

5) Diet Food- Korean Style

Korea is just like any other image-obsessed society. There are diet products everywhere, though in slightly different packaging, and with the same non-results as those in America. They're packed with sugar and non-food products to make it seem like they're healthy when really you're just paying more for a placebo. There's also Korean diet waters... some of them saying that they will give you s-line (hourglass shaped body) or v-line (heart-shaped face).... soooo yeah, not the most trustworthy.

The freaking AWESOME thing about dieting in Korea is the high prevalence and ease of having your groceries just delivered to your door after ordering them online. Yes, to do this you need to have a good level of Korean language skillz, a Korean friend, or the ultimate Korean life cheat code: KSO (Korean Significant Other). As I've mentioned before Korean supermarkets, to this very day, remain my largest source of anxiety, so the option to just give Mr. Y a shopping list and have tons of fresh produce delivered to my apartment while I'm at work is like...

The BEST THING EVER for my weight loss has been

It's entirely in Korea, so that sucks a LOT, but it's worth it to have a Korean speaking friend help you figure out how to order these babies:

These are individually packaged, salt-free, antibiotic-free, smoked, pre-cooked, frozen chicken breasts. They actually taste pretty damn good, especially if you give them a quick pan-sear with a little extra-virgin olive oil, rosemary, and oregano. I have a really packed schedule, cooking is pretty much a "HA! That's funny!" thing for me, so the convenience of these little babies has really made the whole diet so much easier. I'd just bring five to work on Monday, toss them in the staff fridge, and BAM, this plus some fruit, some broccoli, and a steamed sweet potato makes for one extra healthy lunch.

There you have it. If you're willing to put in the effort losing weight in Korea can be as easy, or, as in my case, MUCH easier than it was in your home country. It's all a matter of getting started. 


  1. Great post! I, on the other hand, have gained over 20 lbs in under a year!!! My KSO obviously eats Korean food and I love it as well, so it's just so much more convenient to prepare it every day, than to try and cook western meals. Hmmm...I definitely agree with the bloating! My gosh, there's almost no escaping it. I will definitely try and manipulate our grocery list towards less of a 'korean' and more of a 'western' taste in hopes of at least getting rid of the sodium. :)

    P.S. You look fabulous in your picture! Kudos to you. :)

  2. Thank you for all the information it was really nice to read it and helpful. I love korean lifestyle and Im thinking to study a master next year. I dont know if u can help me giving me some advice about cost of lifestyle and universities. I was planning to go to korea univeristy.
    love your blog and btw awesome picture keep working on the diet

  3. You are right. Seoul is an amazing city. And Korean food is so much more than Kimchi and rice. Just so many good food here. More on that at where you can find everything about the best diet. And even if you dont have to diet anymore you can learn some interesting things. Thanks for this cool article Margaret

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