I mentioned how eating disorders and the obsession to be thin is prevalent in South Korea, but I found out in class that about 25% of Koreans are actually overweight. Outside of the University areas, I do notice that some people are more shapely but I still don’t see this “overweight” population.
Everyone leads an active lifestyle here because they are encouraged, it’s the cultural norm, and there are measures in place that allow it. Most people in Seoul use the public transportation system (subway, bus, and taxi) to get around with few people owning cars. Those who drive actually take longer to get places with all of the traffic. Which means that these people have to walk.. A LOT. Before arriving, I hadn’t realized how mountainous South Korea was. No sidewalk is perfectly flat and my university is located on top of a mini mountain. To get anywhere in this city, you’re guaranteed to hike up an incline or steep stairs at least once.
There’s a river that runs next to the university and no matter what time of day it is – 5am or 8pm – there are people of all ages running, biking, working out, or playing games alongside it. There are public exercise equipment and courts outside that constantly get used. There’s a bike and walking trail and stones to cross the river. The river itself isn’t clean; in fact, it looks like any other gross river area in America, but people here still use the space and transform it into somewhere they want to be. I see elderly people lifting more weight than most college guys can even.
Like most Asian diets, Koreans eat very healthy. I have yet to see any restaurant serve processed food and the only fried food you’ll see here are street food and yangnyeom (fried) chicken – which still aren’t as heavily battered or greasy like your average KFC. Even at the grocery store, you won’t find frozen meals – just meat and ice cream in their refrigerated and frozen sections. The snack aisle is also very tiny, maybe half a normal supermarket aisle. Fruit here is expensive though, but they also sell it in bulk packages.
A typical meal consists of a small bowl of white rice and stir fried meat in sauce or a big bowl of noodles and broth. Every meal comes with a variety of sides (a few bites worth) that are meant to be shared with the table – kimchi (fermented, spicy cabbage), pickled radish, and raw onion or garlic with a dipping sauce. While the volume of food looks like a lot, the portion sizes are moderate and since the food isn’t heavy, you don’t get that bloated feeling after eating. Besides, it takes about 30+ minutes to walk back home after.