There are huge cultural differences across countries, yet I would observe that people fundamentally are more alike than different in their needs, wants, hope and dreams as they relate to weight management. They may eat different foods in a different way, but their fundamental approach to adopting a healthy lifestyle is remarkably similar. We all eat for emotional reasons, we all graze, and we all struggle to make healthy choices in an increasingly unforgiving food and activity environment.
This was all on display during my trip last week to visit our new office in Shanghai. It was the second time I had been in the past few months. As always, jet lag in China can be brutal (I averaged about 4 hours of fitful sleep each night), but it is always an energizing experience to be there.
|Jacki's meeting in SuperBrand Center in Pudong|
Yet, following the Weight Watchers program in China is a very different and somewhat more challenging (at least initially) experience. First off, China's nutritional labeling requirements are pretty sparse, so it is not easy to find out what is in the food on grocery store shelves. Second, Chinese in the big urban cities tend to eat out very frequently, often one of the most challenging places to make well-informed choices. Just to keep things interesting, the Chinese often partake of family-style eating with a spinning wheel in which new dishes are periodically dropped into the mix.
In this context, try to imagine keeping track of your Points! A spoonful of this and a spoonful of that. These aren't foods that show up on the website of a fast food chain, perfectly portioned and precisely measured for calories, fat and fiber (let alone protein, carbs, fat and fiber). Yet, despite all of this, we have scores of members who are in fact learning how to use Points to manage their lifestyle and as their tool of choice in learning healthier habits.
How could this be? For starters, the local Weight Watchers team undertook the painstaking process to build a 20,000 food database, the majority of which are a wide variety of restaurant dishes. They worked with local chefs to make many of them and then measure it's nutritional content. China has eight distinct regional cuisines with multiple sub-cuisines including the big eight: Shandong, Sichuan, Yue, Fujian, Hunan, Anhui, and Zhejiang. Our team has developed dishes covering all of them.
|The wheel of mystery! Chinese family style|
I had my own family style experience last Wednesday night when I had dinner with the local team. Sure enough, there was a parade of dishes, few of which I recognized, making their way through the table. My Chinese colleagues talked me through how to keep score, and even my easily distracted brain was able to roughly keep track. What could have been a very intimidating experience for someone on program was actually very manageable.
I came away from the trip with a couple of themes floating through my head:
- The greatest value of tracking PointsPlus values is in the mindfulness, not necessarily the precision. For me, 75% of the battle in tracking is simply doing it. The process alone is enough to make me aware of how much I'm eating and what I'm eating. Whether the final tally is 11 vs. 13 PointsPlus values is frankly going to have less impact on my long term success on the plan. The Chinese use estimation all the time, and our members there are having weight loss success very similar to what we see in other countries.
- If you are in an environment where you are eating new and different foods all the time, you learn to loosen up. It's been periodically very easy for me to fall into a rut of eating the same meals over and over because it is a safe and easy practice. Yet, the work that is actually required to introduce new dishes onto my menu is not nearly as onerous as it seems at first blush. I really should mix it up more. If I can stay OP in family style meals 8,000 miles away, I can certainly try a new lunch order. Variety keeps it all interesting.
Should you find yourself wandering in Shanghai in need of a meetings fix, check out the website (www.weightwatchers.com.cn) and stop by. You're always welcome no matter what country you're in.