Diets, as in the: “Let me starve myself for a few weeks to lose weight” kind, has never worked for me.
Whether it was to count calories, or skipping meals or going Keto, or Paleo, none of these diet programs have come close to giving me the health benefits or proven as effective in reducing unwanted pounds than eating a balanced, healthy Korean Diet.
Korean food is what my mom used to get my Dad off hypertension and diabetes medication in his late 50’s and what I eventually used in my late 20’s to get off of thyroid medications and in my 30’s to overcome Post Partum depression after giving birth to my oldest.
A Korean diet is also what helped me to lose 5 pounds in 1 week a few years back, in my mid 40’s, when medications, dietary supplements and much of the standardized medical knowledge out there failed to make me feel like myself again.
Why A Korean Diet Works While Many American Diets Fail
Although my health, along with my weight, has gone up and down most of my life, I experienced something close to a downward health spiral at the young age of 46. Along with my fading waist line (a.k.a. belly fat), I was experiencing symptoms similar to rheumatoid arthritis, chronic fatigue, brain fog and severe migraine headaches like every other day.
Although every one else in my age group accepted this as a natural process of becoming middle aged, I wasn’t going down without a fight; I wanted to stay active and fully engaged in my kids’ lives for another 20 years or so and I knew that wouldn’t happen if I was feeling so sick all the time.
And yet, no matter what I tried, the weight around my midriff just wouldn’t go away.
Nor did my constant fatigue.
Or my irritability and brain fog.
Nor my sleep problems…
Normal Test Results, Abnormal Symptoms
Even though all my labs came back “normal” and every doctor I saw told me that there was nothing wrong with me, I knew that there was something seriously wrong. I knew that it wasn’t “all in my head” as some doctors hinted.
So this is when I decided to get to work. I educated myself by reading books written by leading clinicians and functional medicine practitioners on the topic of nutrition and autoimmune problems. My husband, an expert on sleep breathing problems, scoured the latest medical literature on these topics and filled me in on those areas that these books often missed.
Then came the final moment when I went completely gluten, dairy and sugar free and lo and behold… all the inflammation went away! And to top it off, I was 5 pounds lighter! In only one week! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing and what I realized!
All that time I starved myself and exercised till total exhaustion not to mention debilitating pain, was not as effective as the simple act of reversing my diet to eating like a Korean, again!
How You Can Get Yourself Back By Going Back ( To Our Roots)
I’m not here to tell you that eating Korean food is going to be a cure all for everyone. In fact, if you’re struggling with the same types of symptoms I had, and you haven’t seen a medical professional about it, you should.
However, if you’re like me and all the tests come back negative and the doctors tell you that there’s nothing serious going on but you know that there is, changing your diet like I did may help you. I mean, what have you got to lose except for those excess pounds?
Because back when I was feeling like the walking dead, I wouldn’t have believed you if you told me that eating like a Korean would actually help me to lose weight and to feel young again.
It was only after much trial and error that I realized that it wasn’t necessarily the Korean food alone that helped me regain my health, but going back to what I ate growing up that did it. In fact, just as the latest Paleo diet enthusiasts have guessed:
We need to eat what our ancestors ate before us so that we can eat the kinds of foods that our bodies are used to and what our genes crave to naturally thrive.
Follow this premise and you win, but go against it, and you have a serious problem.
Why A Korean Diet Is More Like Paleo Than Most Paleo Diets
Although many of us Korean-Americans probably grew up eating and enjoying Korean food, I don’t think many of us now appreciate the intrinsic benefits of food the way our Korean ancestors did 100 or even 50 years ago.
Back then, food was valued for its nutritional and even medicinal properties and not so much for how it tasted or how many calories it had. If your parents ever forced you to eat raw anchovies dipped in gochujang or choke down herbal medicines (Han Yak) as a kid, you’ll probably remember how they justified it saying that it’s “good for you” and not because it “tastes good”. For older Koreans, the motto was:
Eat well, stay well
Sadly, we Korean-Americans have forgotten this truth. In our ever growing pursuit of convenience and Fast Food, the Standard American Diet (SAD) has become ridden with highly refined sugar and unnatural preservatives.
Traditional Korean food, however, has always consisted of fresh vegetables, fish and meats and dried foods. By drying our foods, rather than adding unnatural preservatives, like kelp and other types of dried seafood products, Koreans were able to maintain the Calcium and fatty Omega 3’s that our bodies need to sustain energy and proper hormonal balance. And by using fermentation, Koreans are able to preserve the healthy microbes we need and keep the bad ones out from kimchee and sauces like daenjang and gochujang.
In fact, if you think about it, Koreans, long ago, were way ahead of the game in terms of eating whole foods even before Whole Foods became popular in America.
The food scene, as I remember it, in Korea circa 1970’s consisted of:
Daily Farmers Markets:
Compared to once a week here, everyday local farmers would bring in fresh produce directly from their farms into local neighborhoods that our Moms would then buy and prepare fresh that same day for their families’ dinner. Talk about “farm to table”!
Although meat was rare, whatever we bought came from cows that were grass fed and chickens that were free range. The fish, of course, was always wild caught in local waters and hardly ever frozen or farmed. No respectable housewife in Korea at that time would blow their bare bones grocery budget for something that was not in season and in any way, not “fresh”.
Here in America, where food was much more abundant, going into a state of ketosis involves self induced starvation. In the aftermath of the Korean War, many Koreans starved, not by choice but because they had no choice. Talk about a diet that’s au naturale….
Pro-biotics in Food and Not Supplements:
Kimchee and daenjang are Korean staples now and especially back then. Even if you had no protein or fresh veggies, you could always make a meal out of kimchee and rice (Dried foods like Gim would be an added treat). Now, kimchee and other types of these fermented vegetables and condiments are the rave in elite foodie circles. Go figure, that lower class Korean farmers were chowing down on this way before Americans claimed them as being one of the healthiest foods of 2018 for all its healthy microbial goodness.
Much of the paleo diets propose an elimination of gluten (wheat), dairy and sugar from our diets for the sake of fresh leafy or root vegetables, seasonal fruits (in small quantities), and grains. If you’ve ever enjoyed traditional style home cooked Korean meals, you’ll know that most of them don’t require any of those ingredients to make them taste good. Even then, most Korean foods satisfy the palate and even suppress appetite unlike like pasta, breads and cereal which raises your blood sugar level and makes you crave more sugar and more carbs just a few hours later.
These are the reasons why I think that keeping with our Korean ancestors diets will give us the same if not richer benefits than avoiding foods that didn’t exist 10,000 years ago. Korean food naturally can help you do that without putting harsh restrictions on your diet.
This doesn’t mean that you have to eat Korean all the time, breakfast, lunch and dinner. As long as you can avoid gluten, dairy, and sugar, and add in lots of vegetables and organic meats and grains other than wheat, you can reap the same benefits. Eating Korean food just makes this simpler and easier as many of those ingredients are not staples in Korean cooking (*Note: to avoid gluten in most soy sauce, I use Tamari instead).
Having undergone a health transformation by doing this, I now believe that forgoing our Korean diets for the sake of a more convenient Westernized diet here now in America is the reason why more and more Korean-Americans, are becoming sick and tired.
Why Being Part of The Trend is Making You Sick: The Rise of Obesity, Chronic Disease, and Autoimmune Problems in America
According to Dr. William Davis, the New York Times bestselling author of Wheat Belly, the wheat, that’s so prevalent in most American diets these days is nothing like the wheat that our American predecessors grew up eating.
Due to modern advances in hybridization not to mention the heavy use of pesticides like Roundup in our food supply, a slice of whole wheat bread has a higher glycemic index than plain old table sugar.
This is the reason why Davis, after he told all his diabetic patients to remove wheat from their diets the results were nothing short of extraordinary. When his patients avoided wheat, their blood sugar levels went back to normal—without medications. Some of his other patients no longer struggled with their “rheumatoid arthritis pain” and others came back and told him that they had “more energy” and “greater focus” not to mention better sleep quality—all from avoiding wheat.
It was not a coincidence then that I experienced these same sorts of health benefits by getting rid of wheat, and replaced it with rice and other non-gluten grains.
This is also what gave me the nudge to eliminate dairy and sugar from my diet, too.
According to Dr. Susan Blum in her book, The Immune System Recovery Plan and Tom O’Bryan in his book The Autoimmune Fix, elimination of all three of these ingredients from your diet can short circuit if not eliminate entirely many of your auto immune problems.
This is exactly what happened in my case as I saw my Baker’s Cyst resolve and the persistent numbness and tingling in my left arm go away within one week into my “Elimination Diet”. And within 30 days, my migraine headaches disappeared. And by the end of 3 months, the length they both prescribe, I was sleeping better, feeling more energetic, and much of the joint pain that had been keeping me homebound, and therefore sluggish and pain ridden, all went away!
Since then, I’ve never gone back. And to tell you the truth I hardly miss the breads, cheeses and sugary desserts.
To me, no food, no matter how tasty or convenient, is worth me becoming a statistic in the rising rate of obesity and diabetes, hypertension, and even strokes in this country. The way I look at it, the foods that we consume should give us life not take it away.
Here are my recommendations for books that I’ve found helpful in getting my health back in order:
1. Eat Dirt, Dr. Josh Axe
2. Grain Brain, David Perlmutter, MD
3. Feeling Fat, Fuzzy, or Frazzled? Richard Shames, MD
4. The Plant Paradox, Steven R. Gundry
5. Sleep, Interrupted, Steven Park, MD
If you’re suffering the way I was, my hope is that you can educate yourself to get yourself well again. Your life depends on it, if not your kids’ too.
So what’s your take on this? Do you or someone you know have similar health problems as I did? If so, would you consider trying an Elimination Diet? Let me know in the comments below.