Chinese Diets Decoded

With swimsuit season just around the corner, super skinny Chinese girls are the objects of envy for many a laowai with dreams of a teeny-weeny yellow polka dot bikini this summer – but that doesn’t mean you should copy their diets.

Meet the Experts

Dr Greg A. Livingston, Ph.D. is a licensed Chinese Medicine physician (China, USA) with 15 years experience specializing in internal medicine.

Margaret W. Keefe, RD is a US trained registered dietician who has been working in the field of nutrition for over 30 years.

Mary Drobnak, RN, BSN has over 16 years of experience in nursing and educating people to good health practices for better health outcomes.

Intestinal Roundworm Eggs

Last year, international press picked up a story about body conscious young women who tried downing roundworm eggs to lose weight, but ended up in the hospital instead. Proponents allege that the roundworms absorb any nutrients consumed and help people lose weight without diet or exercise. Made popular by Hong Kong film Love on a Diet, the diet was also touted by petite Mandopop star He Jie who claimed she dropped kilos after dining on the parasitic ovum.

Expert opinion:

Keefe says, “Once these roundworm eggs enter the intestines they hatch and go on to cause stomach pain, diarrhoea and vomiting, the probable reasons for the advertised weight loss, and these newborn worms don’t stay in the intestines. Roundworms enter the bloodstream from the intestines and happily reside in other places, like your lungs, wreaking all kinds of physical havoc.”


Sometimes called the porcupine diet, acupuncture is one of the oldest medical procedures in the world and uses Traditional Chinese Medicine principles to help lose weight. Needles are inserted into the specific points on the body to release endorphins, helping the body shed kilos.

Expert Opinion:

Livingston says, “Modern research has shown that acupuncture can reduce appetite, improve metabolic function and induce weight loss. Combined with proper diet, exercise and lifestyle, acupuncture is a safe way to help people lose weight and improve overall health and well-being.”

Aoqili Seaweed Defat Soap

The latest diet fad promises fast results from a good scrub down. According to the packaging, the Aoqili soap’s active ingredient is seaweed, which “draws fat deposits from the user’s body while they’re showering”. Wait, there’s more! The product also promises to lower blood pressure, prevent heart attacks and manage diabetes.

Expert opinions:

Livingston says, “Seaweeds do have certain health benefits, but soaping with them isn’t going to do much. These are ridiculous claims, to say the least.”

Drobnak says, “Those of you who are looking for that magic pill or remedy to take away all your problems, wake up! It doesn’t exist. There is only one way to reduce fat: it’s called living healthy.”

Chinese Tea

Tea has been revered for its ability to help drinkers lose weight, but it wasn’t until the past century that science tried to confirm this claim. Most studies have been performed with lab rats, but celebrities in both the East and the West swear by it. The impossibly skinny Victoria Beckham practically caused a run on pu’erwhen rumours claimed she used the tea to maintain her stick figure.

Expert Opinion:

Keefe says, “There are plenty of other reasons why tea would be an excellent addition to any weight-loss program. Tea is refreshing and filling and the subtle flavours and aromas are relaxing and guilt-free. While this diet fad may not result in weight-loss, there are plenty of other health benefits to adding a cup tea to your diet.”

Ultrasonic Liposuction

Vibrate your fat away! Or so the treatment claims. Ultrasonic Liposuction is offered around the city at spas and weight loss centres, where high-pitched sound waves are transmitted via metal paddles to the body and the ultrasonic energy is purported to liquefy fat. Originally a European concept, the idea has gone bankrupt in most Western countries, but is still a popular option for Asian women looking to downsize.

Expert Opinion:

Drobnak says, “Liposuction may take out unwanted fat stored in the body in certain areas, but having it removed can cause a host of problems including infection, bruising, and puckering that will never go away and if not done correctly may puncture an organ, tissues, or blood vessel.”

This article was originally written by Jamie for the April 2011 edition of Shanghai TALK.

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