On Korean 'dieting' and why I need to have a chat with my gym.

Yesterday I attended my first boxing class at a gym in my neighborhood. It all started because Busan's been bugging me for over a year to have an "activity" that we share. Bypassing saxophone lessons, skiing and tennis, I finally decided, fine. Boxing is something that I like and has always been something that I've wanted to get more into. And there are signs for boxing gyms all over the place, even in my tiny neighborhood, so why not give it a shot?

I've also had what we might call "anger management issues" in the past, and lately I've noticed that they've been resurfacing a bit. Nothing that I can't handle -- I've never been one to flip tables, throw lamps, scream or punch holes in walls. But it's just that an old (very old) tendency to get worked up about things and not be able to just let them go has become an issue again. It's unnecessary stress, and one of the easiest ways I've found in the past of working with it has been to get my aggression out in the form of high impact physical activity. When I'm stretching out after a hard physical task, I can feel all of the built up tension slowly flowing out of my body, and for me it's just the easiest, most effective way to get rid of extra stress and relax.

Now, here comes a generalization, but I've been around it long enough to know that when Koreans diet, they generally diet hard and fast. It's important to realize that "diet" in Konglish is not just about food -- in fact, the word just means literally losing weight. In whatever way. And while I was at the gym yesterday, I noticed it printed backwards across the outside of the fifth floor windows.

"Diet" is not something that Koreans joke around about. For the most part when I've seen a coworker, friend or student say they're going to diet, the intention has been to go to extremes to remove as much weight as possible, as quickly as possible. I've seen people go on all-liquid vegetable shake diets for an entire month, when no other thing, even a tiny cup of instant coffee, ever crosses their lips. I've had three co-workers decide to lose "a little" weight by deciding that lunch just no longer mattered. I've had students say they are joining a gym program for the summer to lose weight only to come back five weeks later an obvious thirty pounds lighter.

That's all fine, and I'm not here to judge. For the most part these are short term things, and I don't think there is the psychology connected to them that implies eating disorders, in these cases (although that is another subject entirely, as is the societal pressure that may push one to decide to lose a large amount of weight in the first place) -- for the most part, it's just that most of the Koreans I've known have seen losing weight as a fast and hard, get-over-with-as-quickly-as-possible kind of thing. It might not be the healthiest possible course of action, but neither is smoking, so who am I to judge?

That having been said, despite the fact that early on last year I put on about fifteen pounds that I wouldn't necessarily miss, I don't necessarily mind them, either. And going to this gym is certainly not motivated by their presence. I accept that increasing my physical activity by this degree will inevitably result in weight loss, I'm not in the game to win it, in that particular way.

And I think someone needs to tell my 코치님 that. We spent the hour going in rounds: Round one: Five three minute sessions of straight jump roping, broken up with thirty second breaks in between. Round two was assuming the boxing stance and hopping up and down for the same duration. Round three was a straight fifteen minutes of shifting between three different activities: 1. Shoulder a  barbell and do twenty squats. 2. Drop the barbell, and do twenty leg-lift crunches. 3. Sprint back and forth across the gym three times.

It's fine. It's not what I expected. I thought we were just signing up for ordinary boxing classes, with drills and technique, but it's fine. She wants to build up our base energy before starting the actual boxing training and throwing us into the ring. I don't mind doing hard workouts, whatever form they may come in, and as long as we get to the actual boxing eventually. But what came after was a little more annoying.

At the end of our workout, she spent a good ten minutes scolding my boyfriend for only signing up for Saturday sessions and grabbing at the slight softness over his belly (he lives in Seoul, an hour and a half away, and is already a member of a gym there, he justified himself by explaining, and he's only signed up here because I wanted to and he thought it would be nice to do it together) and then turning her attention to me. I've signed up for the daily pass, so if I commit to coming every day, she can -- here, let me feel your thigh.

Busan, sensing trouble on the horizon, did his best to step in at this point. Oh, she's really strong! Her muscles are great, especially for a woman. And her endurance isn't great right now, because she hasn't worked out in over a year, but she will build it up fast -- but she's really strong! Her body is good!

She wasn't having it. With her hand on my inner thigh, she shouted, "힘!"  Oh, you have a very strong muscle base, but there is 지방 on top and, oh -- here, see on your sides here? A lot of extra 지방. Let me feel your stomach. Now, see, feel my thigh. Totally hard, right? Run your hand down my stomach -- nothing soft at all, right? If you come every day, within three months I can have you-- what do you mean you can't come every day? You have other commitments two nights a week? Well, the gym is open until midnight, so there's really no excuse.

Hold your horses, there, partner. Did I ask you to do anything whatsoever with my 지방? I like my 지방. It's mine.Your body's awesome, but I don't necessarily want mine to look like that. I know the Korean ideal involves not an inch to pinch anywhere, but I like being somewhat soft and round. Beyond not minding having fat present on my frame, believe it or not, I actually like to put a belt around my middle and for it to have something to cinch.

I understand she's just doing her job. I know most of the people who pass through the gym are probably on one of these "diet" kicks -- their main objective is to lose weight, and to lose weight fast. But I have no illusions whatsoever of "making the perfect body", nor do I have the desire. This is a hobby, an activity I'm pursuing for fun and to relieve tension. I'm not about to have someone in my face turning it into a guilt-fest, and yet another source of stress. And the second someone in that gym demands that I hop on a scale or asks about what I've been eating is the second the shit is going to turn real volatile, real fast.

So. 코치님 and I are going to have a little chat. And hopefully these guys and I can come to an understanding. Because, despite very nearly dying of a side cramp, and having extremely sore shoulders this morning, I had a good time yesterday, and I have felt very relaxed since I finished the work out. And I'm coming up on half-days at work, and would like to be able to drop in on the gym on the daily without having my progress tracked in thigh squeezes and tummy softness evaluations.


HRod said...

At the gym I got told to substitute my dinner with a salad, only dressing. Because I gained 0.2 kg of fat over a month (after losing 8 kg of fat). I did put on 0.6 kg of muscle in the same interval on top of what I had put on previously. I'm 6'1 and now easily fit into size 30 pants and I eat healthy, I will not starve myself.

HRod said...

**no dressing

I'm no Picasso said...

I've heard similar stories, with women being told to cut down to fewer than a thousand calories a day. I'm not interested in being harassed about my personal choices -- I just wanted to take a boxing class. So, if they can't get out of the diet frame of mind, I'll be asking for my money back and leaving.

HRod said...

I'm a guy!!! She basically told me to cut to 1500 calories a day and I weight 175 pounds! Complete madness.

I'm no Picasso said...

Haha I know you are. The body limits on men here are not much better than they are on women. My boyfriend is a 34 inch waist with a tad bit of softness, but not much. He works out as often as he can and plays basketball for several hours every weekend, yet he still got berated by the trainer. You'd think we were both barely able to walk from the way she broke it down.

HRod said...

I'm not even getting berated. It's all "good, good, super good, wow" and then "oh this little indicator is off according to our not-so-accurate machine, so stop eating". According to their machine I stand at 11% fat.

I don't even want to know what kind of advice the obese people receive! It must be close to "eat a leaf of salad once a month and half a carrot on national holidays".

cici nomaden said...

@HRod LOL Thank you for making my day...that comment was just priceless! And Miss INP, Here's to so many years ahead and sticking to your guns! It's hard sometimes to keep on thinking clearly when day after day your surrounding dictates so much about what constitutes beauty.

I'm no Picasso said...

Cici -- Having made it through high school being heavy and figuring out a way to barricade myself off from all of the bullshit, I kind of look at these situations as an adult and think, "Hold on a minute. You? Now? I don't think so."

It gets to you sometimes, but like you said, it's worth it to fight the good fight. The more people who speak up and call bullshit on this kind of thing, the more people will start to question their own behavior in regards to other people's bodies. At least, in a perfect world.

Admin said...

I just want to add that drills they have you doing aren't done for the sake of dieting. From what I know most Korean boxing gyms have their students doing conditioning drills before actually teaching the boxing aspect regardless of the students' goals, whether it be dieting or to become a fighter. So don't be discouraged if you're not learning boxing technique as soon as you expected

I'll also add your coach seems to be pushing you a lot more than my coach pushes hobbyists. In that regard maybe you should talk to her.

I'm no Picasso said...

Fermentation -- No, I know the drills aren't about dieting. I'm familiar with boxing and she also explained quite clearly that we would have to build up endurance for about three months before we start boxing. That wasn't the issue. The body assessment and weird promises that she can make me the perfect body and get rid of all my fat if I come every day was the part were things turned sour for me. I suddenly realized they don't make most of their money because people really want to box.

I don't mind being pushed -- I did think it was a bit much for the very first time, but that's fine. It wasn't more than I could handle. But like I said, there does seem to be an element of crash diet involved. So I would like to do away with any notion of wanting to see some kind of rapid transformation.

ThisJane said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ThisJane said...

my korean doctor told me " you might be skinny in america, but not here in korea" korean girls will eat kimchi and tofu for dinner only...you should try it.

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