Before I left Toronto to teach ESL in Korea, many of my friends (some leaner than others) told me that I would drop weight like crazy in Korea since the diet is so healthy and full of fermented dishes. While it is true that the traditional dishes can be quite healthy, they they aren’t always, and the ones that are also tend to lack flavour. Did you know that garlic and ginger can’t even be used in traditional temple food? Bo-ring. I’m a bit of a saucy girl and I like to eat things that are full of flavour. While I have managed to lose quite a bit of weight (22 kg/ 48.5 lbs) since my heaviest time in Toronto (July of 2014, believe it or not), it has had nothing to do with the salty, greasy, sugary, delicious Korean food. In fact, I was working out pretty hard in the good ol’ 6ix, although my diet wasn’t as organized or healthy as it is now. Here’s how I’ve managed to lose the weight and keep it off while on the road.
Get up and Go
The first few times it’ll be hard to pull yourself out of bed, but if you get up and get moving I can almost guarantee that you’ll feel like you have more energy throughout the day. That’s not to say you should get up at 5 AM and be on your merry way, but I like to get up at 6:30 AM (well…actually I’d MUCH prefer to sleep) so that I can get in at least 20 minutes of cardio at the gym and 10-20 minutes of weights. This way, if someone gets in touch and wants to go out after work I don’t feel so bad about skipping a 2-a-day at the gym. If you’re in a new town, walk it! In Osaka I walked so much that the next day I could hardly pull myself out of bed. In Shanghai I brought the right shoes and walked over 10 km a day (and stopped for bao [dumplings] along the way). I LOVE to see a new city with a map in hand, and I especially like nibbling en route rather than sitting down for a big meal. Try out a spin class or study martial arts in your new country. Want to get a workout in from your hotel (or apartment)? PopSugar Fitness and Jillian Michael’s 30 Day Shred are my personal favourites. Don’t have access to weights? Grab a couple of 2L bottles of Water. They’ll do juuuuust fine.
Set an Alarm: For Sleep!
How many of you find you’re up at all hours marathon-ing that HBO show you neglected to start 7 seasons ago? How about those who fall into the vortex that is instagram? Set an alarm to go to sleep, and stick to it! It’s amazing just how much you can do if you’ve had 7.5-8 hours of sleep. Not only will your performance improve, you’ll feel less of a need for empty calories. When I’m tired I’ll definitely go for bread or pasta, but if I’m well-rested 99% of the time I’ll opt for a protein-rich salad with a sensible balsamic dressing or an egg scramble full of tasty veggies (and cheese, because balance).
ps. photo c/o Expat and the City
Cook for Yourself
You will never, ever know how much ice cream goes into that “healthy” smoothie of yours, how much butter was used to make your steak taste bomb, or how much mayo truly goes into your sandwich (or wrap!). If you’re buying packaged foods which have the nutritional information listed, how many servings are actually in that package? If you’re buying man-made food you’ll really need to scrutinize what you’ve purchased before its consumption. The best choice is just to make things yourself. I shop around the outside of the grocery store buying fresh vegetables, meat from the butcher’s department (or the actual butcher down the street from me), eggs, cheese, and the occasional bottle o’ vino. If I’m buying something canned it’s usually corn or beans which I’d have trouble buying locally or cooking at home (squash on a burner ain’t easy, folks!). Beyond that, just buy and eat real food. Your gut will be happy you did!
Protein – Veggies – Fruit
Focus on getting in enough protein to fuel your workouts and your day. It can be really tough to reach your goal, so I find personally that if I’m focusing on getting in my daily requirements of protein and vegetables while adding 1 piece of fruit a day (usually an apple or a banana) I’ll be less inclined to snack on anything packaged or with refined sugar. Eggs, roast chicken, chickpeas, almonds, cheese, steak, and even bacon routinely make it into my homemade (or even sometimes store-bought…yes- I break my own rules!) breakfast or dinner, and at lunch I really try to limit the amount of rice I consume. I’m required to eat with my students, so it’s not really an option not to eat rice when the protein and side dish portions are so tiny. I’ll often have a Cellucor protein shake in the afternoon. It’s easy because it’s just the powder (130 calories, 4 g carbohydrates, and 25 g of protein) and water. I keep a tub at school so that when I get hungry I have no excuses!
I find that the best way to lose weight is to keep yourself accountable and have others to cheer for and with whom to find motivation. Knowing the macros your body needs is essential to finding a weight-loss rhythm. I log my weight daily. Even though you’re not supposed to focus on the number on the scale I like to be able to evaluate whether my personal program is working or if I should shake things up. Ultimately, it feels really cool when you reach a milestone toward your goal and the app celebrates with you!
Don’t Take it so Seriously!
I have somewhere between 10 and 20 lbs left to lose, but am in a healthy Body Mass Index range. Being that I’m quite athletic, and the BMI is no longer used as the be all and end all of health and fitness, I’m no longer stressing about the number on the scale. This past weekend I was in Busan and felt great in my bikini, but didn’t love the way parts of my body looked. I know that there are still many areas on which I need to work, but I’m not going to give up the opportunity to socialize because of it. Keep a balance! During the week I like to focus on my personal program, and on weekends I like to sleep in. If I want Indian food for lunch I’m not going to skimp on the rice or naan, but I’ll choose 1. If I want a cookie on the weekend, I’ll have a cookie (not 7!). If it’s a rare weeknight out and I want ice cream, I’ll have ice cream. Don’t beat yourself up, just keep a good balance!
You’re working abroad – you’re not on vacation
If you’re getting 8 hours of sleep a night, an hour at the gym is 6.25% of your daily waking hours. You can make that happen. If you’re not on vacation and you work abroad there truly is no excuse not to get in that hour of physical activity. If you can’t do it all in one go, break it up! I like to go to the gym in the morning to get some pep in my step, then head out and do something active after work to let go of the day. Check out a temple, head out on a short hike, heck – go shopping if there’s nowhere else to roam. If you’re far away from home there’s always going to be something new and interesting to explore, so get out there!
Take Before and After Pictures – you’ll be glad you did!