As a nation, Korea is a pretty skinny place. Sure if you look long enough, you will spot a few "heavy" Koreans, but by and large, it's a nation of skinny people. When I first went back to Korea, that had to have been one of the first observations that I made.
I was in my early thirties and in pretty good shape. One of my first priorities was to find a gym. I spent about 3 months looking before I gave up. I went and got a couple of 10 kilo dumbbells to work out with. I was puzzled though, Koreans are a very active group of folks and it seemed odd that I just couldn't find a local gym.
I also couldn't read Korean - born in Korea, raised in the States, and completely illiterate in Korean.
So, I took some Korean courses and in a couple of months, could at least read a little. And once I learned to read a little better - guess what - there is a gym about every other block in Korea.
But beyond the gyms and active lifestyle of Koreans, I think what they eat and how they eat may play an even larger role in helping keep most Koreans slim. Don't get me wrong here, these are strictly my observations backed by zero scientific studies. Plus what do I know; it took me 6 months to figure I was walking by a gym everyday on my way to the bus stop.
Gosh, I thought growing up in the States that Koreans were a carnivorous group. Seemed like my mom fed me beef, in particular, a Korean dish called Bulgoki or "Meat grilled over fire," every other day. I loved it and I assumed that's what Koreans ate, all the time. Wrong. Actually, what I found out when I got to Korea was that the diet is nearly all vegetables. Meat, particularly beef, was a special occasion treat.
Even when Koreans would eat Bulgoki or Kalbi (grilled ribs), it was eaten as a part of a vegetable roll. You take a piece of leafy green "lettuce," put a spoonful of rice on it, top with a little hot chili paste and a slice of garlic before putting the piece of meat on it. You roll it all up and pop it into your mouth and munch away.
The key observation being that even when eating meat, it generally is done in concert with veggies, all together.
Korean diet is all about hot chili's and garlic. I believe Koreans burn calories all day long because the food they consume on a regular basis at all meals has a spicy, hot ingredient to it.
Man, it was weird, at first, watching Korean businessmen in shirt and tie eating hot soup with rice on a summer day. They'd be sweating up a storm and loving it. The English translation of what they were feeling would be described as "refreshing." They found sweating "refreshing." That's burning calories. Of course, this seemed more like a guy thing.
I don't know if Euell Gibbons knew about Korean cuisine but I'm sure he would have loved it. Aside from all the red peppers and garlic, Koreans must have the corner on the roots market. From roots to radishes to sweet potatoes, Korean food is all about fiber. And fiber is great for weight control.
By the way, recent reports claim that sweet potatoes may be the perfect food. Well, its a huge part of Korean cuisine. And so is corn, again, fiber.
And lastly, let's not forget the quintessential Korean dish - Kimchee. It's fermented cabbage made with red peppers, garlic, and touch of anchovies. Its got fiber, heat, and fish oil - wow - what a trinity of fat burning traits.
So there you have it, my unwashed and unscientific observations on why Koreans are skinny (in general).
And the key point is - could you adopt some of these observations to your diet in pursuit of your weight goals?
By the way, there are a good number of foods that can actually help you burn more calories, and that's good news.