My New Year’s resolution for 2010 was to lose weight. I made quite a bit of progress in the earlier part of 2010, but things have stalled a bit due to the move to Taiwan. A quick glance at the restaurant reviews on this blog will give an inkling as to why … as you can see, food is a national obsession in Taiwan.
Down in the deep-down South of Taiwan, where I studied for a year between 1997 to 1998, food was such an integral part of the culture that the usual greeting was “have you eaten yet” (in Taiwanese, “lim ghia baa bway”, or something thereabouts). I wasn’t sure whether this was an actual question or not, so one time I actually answered “no, I haven’t eaten lunch and I’m a bit hungry”. The person I was speaking to was so visibly uncomfortable that they almost tried to feed me then and there! As a result of all the food options, I put on heaps of weight during my year there which no amount of cycling around town seemed to shift.
Yet despite all the abundance of good food, Taiwanese women are still quite slim. Most shops only sell women’s clothing up to an equivalent of size 10, or if you are lucky size 12. So on the surface of it, it seems that Taiwanese must have either a high metabolism, a healthy diet or some special secret.
In part, the relative lack of obesity is a result of smaller portion sizes. Restaurants serve dishes around two-thirds the size of equivalent dishes in Chinese restaurants back home, and even Western-style restaurants serve smaller portions (albeit with many courses). Rice is served in smaller bowls and there are often options for brown rice mixes such as “five grain rice” (wu gu fan). At home, Taiwanese generally follow a balanced diet that includes lots of seafood, fruit, vegetables and grains, and not so much sugar and fried snack foods. Fruit is of high quality, and it is common at social gatherings to serve fruit platters instead of chips and dips. A very healthy habit which I plan to continue when I return to Australia.
But good diet and small portion sizes is only part of the story. Look deeper and you may see that Taiwanese women are all-too human and can also succumb to temptation of the many and varied eating options in Taipei. Everything here is just so convenient (fang bian), with food shops open from early morning to late at night. Young couples in particular like to stroll out for an evening snack (xiao ye), perhaps in part to get some breathing space away from the in-laws. And did I mention that the bakeries here are fabulous?
From watching advertisements on television, I can see that there is a huge industry peddling weight-loss products. The most popular seem to be weight-loss teas, marketed principally to the office workers. I suspect that it works as a detoxifier, but I am yet to try it. For those wanting to squeeze into a special outfit, there is a huge array of figure-hugging slimming undergarments. Exercise options also abound with gym chains such as ‘Curves’ opening shop. Classes aimed at women such as yoga and aerobics are also very popular. But if all else fails, then there is always acupuncture.
After my more recent trip to the Duck Nazi place, a friend at work happened to mention that she had used acupuncture for weight loss. I was interested to hear more: my Chinese Doctor in Australia, Claire, had told me that acupuncture could assist in weight-loss. However, I was still breastfeeding Austin so it was not the right time to pursue it as an option. What I didn’t at first realise was that this particular Chinese medicine clinic specialises in rapid weight-loss. My colleague, for example, lost 15kg in an amazing six weeks.
The clinic, situated on Zhongxiao East Road in a bustling department-store precinct, was at first hard to find. But once I arrived, I immediately noticed the dozen or so (mainly women) waiting for their appointment. Some of them were a bit on the plump side, but most of them would be considered within a healthy weight range in Australia. A young nurse in a 1960s style starched white nurses frock took my weight and handed me a slip of paper that helpfully pointed out my fat percentage and ideal weight (seven kilograms less than my previous goal weight). I could see that this is definitely not a hold-your-hand and make-you-feel-good about yourself type of place.
After waiting for around quarter of an hour, I was eventually shown to a small cubicle. The Chinese doctor was a no-nonsense middle-aged lady who wasted no time in telling me (after pointing out again that I had a long way to go) that her method would not only assist in losing weight, but in the right places, too. Always good to know I guess that I will end up with a perfect figure. She put in lots of needles, mainly in my stomach, and then a nurse connected it to an electric current. The doctor also added some small needles into my ear: I was to press on these for three minutes at least half an hour before each meal, and again whenever I felt hungry.
Before leaving, a nurse explained what my diet would be like while on the program: one egg, one tomato or grapefruit and a glass of low-fat milk for breakfast; a small platter of meat and vegetables for lunch; and a light dinner of vegetables and either some tofu or an egg. I worked out that I could have miso soup for dinner, which thankfully I quite like. While clearly there was no CHOCOLATE on the diet, there was also no rice, bread or in fact any other kind of fat or carbohydrate at all allowed.
Philosophically, I disagree with a diet that does not include basic grains. I figure that humans are designed to eat whole grain food, which is after all why we have so many molar teeth for grinding. And how can a diet so restrictive be sustainable? But then, the clinic insisted that I pay for ten sessions up front: a whopping NTD$5,000 (AUD$170). There was no way that I was going to ‘waste’ this money; I am way too money-conscious for that.
So I decided to give it a go. The first day was awful. Breakfast was fine, but by lunchtime I was desperately hungry and no amount of pressing on my ear lobes would assist. To make matters worse, we went on a day trip to Yangminshan and it was nearly 1.45pm in the afternoon before we stopped for lunch. I was even starting to look at Austin’s baby food longingly. But by day three I was in the routine, and didn’t have any cravings at all. And knock me down with a feather, the diet works. I reduced 2.3kg in less than a week, and had reduced 3kg in around a week and a half. Birthday cake may have slowed down progress for the current week (well, some things need to be celebrated), but as of today I am back on track. My aim is to reduce 10kg by Christmas so that I can go on a shopping spree when my Mum visits. And who knows, maybe by then I might even be able to squeeze into some off-the-rack clothing without having to resort to slimming undergarments.