Why Are Korean People So Thin? (3 Tips For Weight Loss) 

If you’ve ever been to Korea then you know how skinny the people there are. So, how do they stay so thin and fit?

Korean people are very aware of how much they consume in a day and practice portion control very well which translates to staying slim. Also, unlike the states, Korean transportation requires a lot of walking and movement so their overall activity level is much higher. Korean food also focuses on many different fibrous vegetables so you can expect the foods to be lower in calories.

In this article we’re going to be discussing what Korean people do to stay so thin and how you can implement those same healthy habits into your lifestyle as well. Here are the three major tips that can help you stay thin like many of the people that you see in Korea. 

  1. Korean People Focus On Eating Less Carbs and Healthy food 

  2. They Live Very Active Lifestyles 

  3. Fitness Is Taken Seriously In Korea

Korea has a lot of new great steps to becoming a fitness country. Let’s get into how these habits can be implemented into your life and what you can do to stay lean and mean. 

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How To Lose Weight Like Korean People 

It is said that one in two Koreans is on a diet. As such, they are sensitive to the nutritional contents and calories of the food they eat which is why the fitness industry is blooming in Korea right now. The staple of Korean diets rely on foods that are low in carbs as their culture is rich in delicious meats and green vegetables. Their philosophy to a healthy diet is to reduce the amount of oily or carb heavy foods which makes them lose weight naturally. 

Koreans are interested in eating a well balanced diet which consists of  protein, carbs and fat as we all should instead of leaning towards just carbs and fats.

A high protein diet can be difficult to achieve without supplementation. Here is a protein powder that has 26 grams of protein with only 1 gram of fat. (bulksupplements.com)

A staple of Korean food is something called Banchan which is a variety of side dishes that usually consist of fermented veggies and greens. These veggie dishes are served with almost every meal and are great for both flavor and keeping healthy.

Vegetables are really the key to dieting as they are very fibrous and expedite the fat loss process by allowing us to feel more satiated without consuming too many calories. 

The main cooking method of Korean food  is grilling, steaming, and boiling different types of meats and vegetables. Sure there are some fried foods that Korean people eat but, most of the time, Korean cooking really consists of avoiding anything too oily.

When cooking fish, they prefer to grill it with minimal amounts of oil while, when cooking their vegetables, they either steam or boil them rather than pan frying them. What about Meat dishes?  Meats are usually steamed, grilled, or boiled with the exception of Korean BBQ of course. One example of a healthy meat dish is a steamed pork called Bossam. Bossam is a dish loved by many Koreans and is made by boiling pork in water while served with a sliced radish salad made similarly to kimchi. 

These methods of cooking make the majority of Korean foods. It is only until recently that you see some new types of Korean foods that are high in fat and carbs as they are leaning towards a more western approach. If you stick to the traditional foods, however, you’ll see that there is a crazy variety of different soups, vegetable dishes, and meats. You can eat Korean food to your heart's content as so much of it is healthy and contains minimal amounts of calories. 

Eating less, however, is not enough and is actually not recommended unless you know your macronutrient ratio. Along with eating in a caloric deficit, make sure you are eating a well balanced ratio of protein, carbs and fat while building some muscle. Through the education of social media and TV shows, Koreans are encouraged to  practice a healthy meal plan by fulfilling a ratio of 50% protein, 30% carbohydrates, and 20% fat from the food pyramid group. 

Fitness is also a blooming industry in Korea and is leading more of the population to learn about proper methods of working out such as resistance training and weight lighting. All it takes are a couple of dumbbells and a couple hours in your day. Here is our pick for some adjustable dumbbells (check it out on amazon) you can purchase to get started with training in the safety of your own home.

If you want to know more about some of the equipment needed to properly train at home to get leaner or skinnier, make sure to check out our article on some of the best equipment you can get for your home gym.

So, let’s get into the in-depth details on how Koreans can stay so slim year round. 

Korean People Focus On Eating Less Carbs and Healthy Food.

Even though Koreans tend to focus on a healthy diet plan, there are so many choices of  delicious foods loaded full of fats for them to eat as well. The most important thing to start losing weight is to figure out how many calories you can eat for the day. A good way to start is multiply your weight by 12 so you can calculate a daily calorie intake. For example, if you weigh 130 pounds, your daily calories will be 130 X 12= 1560. Then you can  choose what kind of food you will eat for the day and distribute the food calories over two or three meals. 

One thing to remember, however, is that Koreans are very focused on eating less which can lead you to starve yourself. The common mistake that we can easily make is to think that we ate the right amount of calories for the day ,but when you track back the list of food that you ate for the day, you will likely eat more calories than you are permitted to. Koreans are very careful to make those mistakes and try to avoid overeating. Their expectations are focused on how to eat fewer calories than the daily amount of calories which usually leads to eating the correct amount. 

To lose 1 pound of fat, you need to cut out 3500 calories from your weekly maintenance calories. Thus, a good place to start is to put yourself in a caloric deficit of 500 calories.  Koreans implement portion control really well and substitute fatty ingredients with healthy vegetables and meats. For example, Koreans choose to eat half a bowl of rice with the soup they eat or cut out some of the fatty meats and switch over to fish or chicken. 

For meat or fish dishes, they like to simmer them using a soy based marinade. For fish, they make soy sauce based steamed fish called Sangsun Jorim which is extremely delicious and high in protein. For example, one of the most famous Korean dishes that is loved by all is a Mackerel steamed stew. One serving of 100grams of Mackerel Jorim (Steamed Stew) has only 143 calories and offers you 12.7 grams of  protein, 4.2 grams of carbs and 8.4 grams of fat. Pretty amazing macros if you ask me! 

You can find many recipes for dishes like this online and order similar kinds of fish dishes whenever you visit almost any Korean restaurant in your area. Here is our recipe for a healthy Bibimbap dish that you can make for yourself!

Ordering grilled fish in Korean restaurants is another good option because these restaurants are well equipped with commercial equipment which cooks on a charcoal grill rather than frying. Eating white meat such as fish and chicken when dieting is a better choice for food compared to red meats such as beef or pork.

Another thing that Koreans do well is their avoidance of liquid calorie drinks such as sodas and juice. When you drink juice or soft drinks, you add a lot of calories that come from carbs (sugars) and, thus, can see a lot of weight gain. What about the alcohol they drink? Although Koreans are portrayed as heavy drinkers, most of them actually limit their drinking as well. Or, at the very least, eat less in preparation for drinking. You hardly see Koreans excessively drink with a super hardy dish. They’re usually eating grilled meats without rice or just straight up drink. Moderation is always practiced in Korea! 

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They Live Very Active Lifestyles

When I go back to my hometown, I feel that Koreans don't mind taking 2-3 miles to walk around and go somewhere. If you go to a big city like Seoul or even a small local town, many people walk 10 to 15 minutes to get home after getting off from the subway station or bus stop.

Public transportation is well developed in large cities because parking is very expensive which also means that there are fewer places to take your car to. Almost everyone wears flat shoes or sneakers that are very comfortable since they know that they’re going to get their steps in. 

Street food is also a very big part of Korea’s food culture. Once again, they are expending energy and living active lifestyles by walking around and exploring new areas and food stalls. After eating these foods and walking around again, they either go to the office, the mall or the market which means calories are consumed. 

What I felt while walking there was that calories were burned quicker which made my body feel lighter and more accepting of walking. When I came back to the States, however, I traveled everywhere by car which cut my activity level to a quarter of what I had in Korea. Koreans, or really any other Asian living in an Asian country, live active lifestyles which we should implement more into our lives. 

So, what do we have to do in order to emulate this active lifestyle? Here in the States we definitely have to seek out the exercise and make sure that we’re not just sitting in the office or living sedentary lifestyles.

This means we need to take some time in our days to get the same amount of steps that people in fast paced cities do as well. Getting a reliable treadmill (check it out on blue fin fitness) is definitely the way to go here. You should aim for 8,000-10,000 steps in a day and making a habit to walk on the treadmill throughout the week will get you there.

More than just movement, however, is building muscle which we will talk about in the next section below.

Fitness Is Blooming In Korea

If you’ve checked out your social media accounts recently, you’ll start to see how many Koreans are advocating working out and healthy living. It is only until recently that Koreans have been concerned with exercising and building muscle. When I visited Korea again I realized how many new gyms have been formed and, what’s more interesting, is that people were actually lifting weights and getting deep into resistance training. 

So, “what is the importance of building muscle?” Muscle is great because it allows us to burn more calories at rest. This means that we can eat more and still stay lean and mean. Not only does it allow us to eat more calories, it also looks great when you pack it onto your body. However, many are concerned with a big bulky appearance which is you need to control how many calories you consume in a day. 

The key here is to burn fat by being in a caloric deficit and build muscle by training with resistance. For both men and women, this is how you get that awesome athletic look that just looks lean and not bulky with no definition. If you want a more in-depth guide on how you can get started with working out and burning calories, then check out our post on how you can actually get a six pack after 30.

There it is! 

In this article we learned that Koreans eat healthy foods that help control the amounts of calories they consume, they have high activity levels due to their lifestyles, and they seek out exercise that builds muscle and keeps them healthy. Make sure to implement these same habits into your lives and you’ll see a huge difference in how you look and feel. Check out our other articles on healthy asian food and exercise tips! 


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phillip Pak

Phillip Pak is a fitness expert who has been training clients for 5 years. Throughout his fitness journey, Phill has done it all when it comes to diet and nutrition. He is now the owner of Aspire Fitness Walnut where his main goal is to help those who are seeking to find the best version of themselves. He’s been through the struggle of obtaining an good physique and knows how to share it with others.