What I learned in China about eating and exercising

By Carol Berg Sloan RD

David Sloan, who teaches English in Jinan, China, dines on soup and salad at the Hilton Beijing.

David Sloan, who teaches English in Jinan, China, dines on soup and salad at the Hilton Beijing.

My husband and I recently went to Beijing to visit our son, who is teaching English in Jinan, a city a couple hundred miles from Beijing. David has lost probably 15 pounds in the past six months. He certainly did not need to lose the weight, but he is fit and looks fabulous. After a week there, I know how he did it. Here’s what I observed:

1. Walk
I walked more in the five days we were in Beijing than I do in a month here in Long Beach and that includes my three days a week at LA Fitness on the treadmill. We walked everywhere…..down long blocks, up and down stairs and then back again. This walking burned off the calories, made us want to drink more water and guess what…we ate less and slept better. We don’t walk in the US, much less in LA. I remember a few years ago I decided to walk over to the Bixby Knolls Post Office to mail an important letter instead of jumping in the car. I wasn’t three blocks from the house when a friend drove by and asked me if I was having car trouble and needed a ride. Granted, walking is more time consuming, but, in the long run, perhaps worth it.

2. Drink water
As mentioned above, we drank lots of water and, while you must drink bottled water in Beijing, I enjoyed the fact that in many places that was the only choice. There were fewer juice-based drinks, electrolyte-enhanced beverages, diet or regular soda in huge bottles lined up as there are here. I usually go through a fast-food drive-through three to four times a week here in Long Beach while working to get a large diet Coke or Pepsi to get me through the hot afternoon. I broke that habit while on vacation and still have not reverted. Tap water is my beverage of choice during the day. And while I certainly don’t think beverages specifically are a cause for any of the chronic illnesses, including obesity, that are rampant in the US, water is thirst quenching and great for hydration.

3. Eat smaller portions
I will admit that we went to a McDonalds while visiting the Summer Palace. It was packed. Although it was disturbing to see the “Westernization” of Beijing before my very eyes, when the guys got their food, the servings of fries and chicken sandwiches were smaller. At other restaurants, it was the same– smaller plates and smaller amounts of noodles, breads, potatoes and desserts. Fresh fruit was left in our room each day along with one small truffle. This was enough. We didn’t waste any food and were satisfied.

4. Eat less meat
I know 10 years ago my husband would have asked “Where’s the beef?” but, as we have cut down on red meat for a variety of nutrition and health reasons, all cuts of meat in China were small, three-to four ounces. Soups were mostly vegetables and noodles, seasoned with meat. That was enough.

5. Enjoy soup
Research from Penn State University has shown that broth-based soups provide a feeling of fullness. It worked for me. We enjoyed the soups offered that were broth based and included noodles, vegetables and minimal meat.

Once back in the States, it was appalling to see the sizes of portions and the population. Our first meal back home (because we got in late, at 2am) was a quesadilla we shared at The Big Kahuna in Honolulu. The circumference was 24 inches, and it was stuffed with cheese and all the trimmings. We shared and ate only half. Two weeks ago, I would have finished it, but after our trip to China, we both ate until satisfied and walked back to the hotel.

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