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Can You Walk Off Your Dumplings?

written by Thu Tran, MD,FACOG
on Sunday, 8th January ,2017

We just came back from a week of vacation to Los Angeles and San Francisco.  Looking back, it was truly a foodies trip since we had gone to California quite a few times and did not need to sight see so much.  Being Vietnamese, going to LA is a big treat as it has the biggest Vietnamese refugee settlements.  Wherever certain ethnic groups settle, you can bet the area will have the best and most authentic food of that particular culture.

Don’t you hate it whenever you are ready to embark on a foodie trip and your skinny and healthy friends kindly remind you to “watch your diet”?  To me, watching my diet while on vacation means I stare intensively at the dishes I order in the restaurants, marveling at how talented the chefs are, before completely consuming their dishes.  It’s similar to the technique my husband uses whenever he feels “guilty” being caught eating too many cookies!

“So what if I eat these cookies and you don’t?  You will die anyway! You will be rocking away in the nursing home for three months more than you would have otherwise, wishing you had eaten more cookies!”  It’s one of the illogical logics in life, I would tell myself.  

In LA, we drove back and forth to Little Saigon, the area known for hundreds of famous Vietnamese eateries.  I ate so many of my favorite childhood foods in just four days.  One morning, we had to wait for an hour to get a table at Din Tai Fung, the best Mandarin Chinese dumpling house in the world, rated by many including Forbes magazine.  This Chinese dumpling restaurant was inside the most fancy shopping mall in Newport Beach.  It’s the only Asian restaurant which has received a Michelin Star rating for ten consecutive years!

Once we got to our table, passing the glass encased area where chefs could be seen making dumplings, I encouraged my husband and son to order as many different dumplings as they could to make the waiting time worth it.  I was not going to wait for an hour to eat just four dumplings!  We could hardly move after the meal, after gorging on so many different kinds of shrimp, pork and vegetarian dumplings.  Should we order some vegetables, my husband and I debated with each other.  Why eat vegetables in the best dumpling house in the world, after an hour wait?  We could have steamed our own vegetables at home!

The second half of the trip was in SanFrancisco.  Our hotel on Nob Hill was fortunately, or unfortunately, only a few short blocks to Chinatown.  How can an Asian go to San Francisco and not stop by Chinatown? It would be absurd, I said to myself, as some of the Chinese restaurants there are considered the best in the country.  One even had photos of President Obama carrying out some big bags of food for his staff.

We used the same logic wherever we dined in SanFrancisco.  We might never set foot in this famous restaurant again, so we made sure to order some of the best known dishes.  We will die anyway even if we don’t eat another Palmier, the delicious Italian or French giant cookies full of sugar and butter known also as "Elephant Ears" cookies.  How can we walk in the store famous for its homemade Italian desserts just for ONE Palmier? That’s absurd for such a long walk; it would make more sense to also get that giant cransberry cookie in the shape of an American pretzel, on the shelf next to the Palmier cookies.  No worry, we told each other, we were to spend a few hours walking in Muir Woods, so we needed all that simple sugar to fuel our walks -- easy solution, get both cookies!!

One morning in SanFrancisco, we waited for an hour before being ushered into the tiny restaurant Mama’s, known to have the best breakfast in San Francisco.  It was such a cold and rainy morning, David could not stand still as his toes were freezing.  The teenager was enraged that we would be willing to stand in the rain waiting for breakfast, just because of Mama’s reputation for serving the best breakfast.  He threatened to go back to our hotel, until he realized we were not going to give in and leave the long waiting line to take him back to the hotel.  He was too shy to call Uber, so he was forced to stand in line under our umbrella.  Once we were “in,” we ordered desserts like their homemade carrot cake with cream cheese icing before our famous Eggs Benedict in various versions were brought to the table.  Maybe the one hour wait with us shuffling around made it worth it to eat these high calorie dishes.  Was it worth it the wait? Maybe, I told myself, although I jokingly announced to David how I will someday open a restaurant right across the street from Mama’s and name it “Papa’s Not Wait.”

On the way back to the East Coast, I read an article from the Harvard Health website titled “Simple math equals weight loss,” about how a strategy for weight loss should involve both exercise and cutting calories.  The article starts by reminding the readers how they need to burn 3,500 calories to lose one pound.

How can you burn 3,500 calories? By running almost 6 hours at a ten-minute/mile pace (or 6 miles an hour, or 36 miles in total at that pace)!  If you can’t run that fast, then walking briskly, according to the authors, will burn some calories too, at 100 calories per mile.  Most of us can’t run 6 hours a day, so make that at least two weeks to lose that one pound, assuming you can run 3 hours a week at that pace.  Harvard did the simple math for the brisk walkers, figuring it would take three-and-a-half weeks to lose a pound if they could walk 30 minutes, five days a week at a pace of 4 miles an hour. 

The Harvard author determined that if you eat 250 calories less per day than your norm and walk briskly 30 minutes a day, it would take just about a week to lose one pound.  What would 250 calories consist of?  Half a cup of ice cream or two regular sugared sodas!

How many calories per steamed pork dumpling? About 80 Calories.  Add another 10 calories per dumpling if you chose the pan-fried ones.  A vegetable dumpling would be 35 calories.  I have been trying to be a vegetarian for a few months but have not been quite successful yet.  It’s still difficult for me to walk into a famous dumpling house and ignore the pork and shrimp dumplings. 

So much for my two hour walk in Muir Woods after the oldest dim sum breakfast “house” in the entire United States, which helped me burn at most 600 calories, as I did not walk briskly.  I lost count of how many pan-fried dumplings I ate that morning, though I am certain I had more than ten.  So much for the one hour walk the following day in Sausalito, which burned maybe 300 calories, after my probably more than 1,000 calorie breakfast at Mama’s.  Live Strong nutritionists stated how each serving of traditional Eggs Benedict contains about 715 calories with 450 mg to 500 mg of cholesterol.  The recommended dietary intake of cholesterol for adult should be limited to 300 mg per day. 

Should I have read the Harvard article after my foodie vacation? 

On the way back to the hotel after the trip to Sausalito, we ran into the Portland Trailblazer basketball players who stayed in rooms next to us in our hotel.  My husband snapped a photo of me standing next to one of the players, a friendly young man who was so tall and lean.  I am sure he can eat much more than I do, and maybe even have some “bad” food.   His coach and nutritionists, however, probably know the simple math that Harvard was talking about, how this young man can eat a massive amount of food and burn off the calories with his intense practices and games.  Until I can play basketball the way he plays, which I never will, I better hold off on the next dumpling, or I won’t live long to keep coming back to LA and SanFrancisco for more dumplings.  I will die anyway without these dumplings, but wouldn’t it be more fun to live a little longer, just in case there are better dumplings years from now, when vegetable dumplings might be more tasty?

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