Monday, February 16, 2015

Weight Watchers in Korea

Well, it happened. The rice and chocopies and McDelivery and 찜닭 have taken their toll. I'm bigger now than I was when I got here, and while I could go to a diet center, the idea of it horrifies me. I've tried herbalife as well, and don't want to doom myself to a lifetime of expensive powedered shakes.

But I need to do something, and simply trying to eat right and move more clearly isn't enough for my lazy and indulgent self. So, after seeing it work for friends and family, I'm giving Weight Watchers a go. I could do MyFitnessPal or SparkPeople, but having tried them in the past, I want something that doesn't treat calories as equal but rather encourages me to eat healthily. Plus, I think if you've already joined Weight Watchers back home it might be hard to find information to help you continue it here, so I'd like to gather it in one place.

There are some small problems with doing Weight Watchers here. Firstly, like racial discrimination, homophobia, mental illness, sexually transmitted diseases,  and instant mac & cheese, Weight Watchers doesn't exist in South Korea.

If they DID operate in Korea, I'd probably throw money at them. As they don't, I had to figure out how to do it on my own. So I needed three things:

1. The system. 
Information about how to calculate the points you're allowed and so on is available online. However, the formula is patented and I don't want to get cease and desist letters, so let me google that for you. 

2. A way to conveniently track it. 
I fiddled around with various for-free and for-money apps from the android store and ended up with these two that I'll be using mostly:

Tracking, food database, compatible with USA,UK and Australian systems

food database based on restaurants. 
I felt better paying for the apps once than I might have paying a monthly subscription. The official Weight Watchers app does not work on Korean phones (unless you find a workaround).

3. Accountability and Support
One of the main parts of the success of the Weight Watchers program is the community support. Luckily for me, I already have a strong fitness community online, and a couple of friends in the same boat here who can help me to hold myself accountable.

So now the only thing holding me back is lack of information. I decided to make my own Korean food list, as a google doc that I can edit from my phone as I encounter foods. I'll link it here for you to reference.

I made it by learning to read nutritional information on Korean packaging and plugging it into the Weight Watchers points formula (again, available online and I won't post it here).  One problem is that fiber (식이섬유) is not required to be listed on the packaging, although they are making changes there. 

To get nutritional information about foods in Korea, you can use these resources:

Naver: click 영양/다이어트 and search with hangul.
MyFitnessPal:  and plug that information into the points formula above.
Chris Backe's article: and again, plug the info into a calculator.
My list: where I've done all the heavy lifting for you. It's a work in progress so it may take some time for me to complete it.

I hope that helps. 

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Taxes and How to save a LOT of money

So this week we're dealing with the tax nightmare that happens when the government increases taxes and then takes the difference out of one paycheck. We're looking at a chunk of about 300-400 000 won being removed before you even see your paycheck.


If you use your debit card or credit card to pay for a lot of stuff, then you have probably worked up a large deductible amount. I sat down with my co-teacher and she did it all for me on the 'calculate your tax deduction' website, sent the results of that to the school administrator, and it's cut my tax payment from 300 000 to 30 000. And that is freaking amazing.

 Be sure to click each category (medical, credit card, debit card) so that the amount you spent appears, before downloading the pdf with all your info to send to the school admin. If you've had a lot of hospital care because you're a clutz, well, this is where karma is coming back to give you a hug.

I would post a tutorial here, but my co-teacher did it so fast I didn't really see what she was doing. Ask your co-teacher or a friendly co-worker to help you. All you need is your ARC number and the NEIS ID certificate or your ID certificate from your bank.

The website is here (best accessed on the dinosaur that is Internet Explorer):

So, that's how you can cut your taxes down right now. But for future planning, there's a little more you can do. There's a tax save card that most Koreans have, which you can register for. Then, every time you pay for something with cash, you swipe the tax card or provide the number (it might be tied to your phone number...?) and logs it with the tax authorities. You can then claim on that money too. That includes paying your bills and paying your rent. The (Korean only) website is here:

Of course, if you're a smart Saffer who got a certificate of residence in SA and gave it to your school when you were hired in the first place you won't be in this situation but this might help people who are not from tax-exempt countries to at least make this a little less painful.