Pumping Up with Sai The Five Commandments of Eating Out

Article by Sai Gopalan

Pumping Up is a column about health, fitness, and how you can maintain it in boozy, greasy Xi’an.


I eat steamed vegetable dumplings without sauce, often pairing them with chicken and broccoli in brown sauce or steamed shrimp dumplings. If they don’t have the shrimp dumplings, pork dumplings will have to do, but don’t over indulge—they look small but your waistline may disagree.

Okay, so you’re out with colleagues at a teambuilding or your friends want to have a bite to eat and you’re tired of being a social outcast or maybe you’ve been blindsided by your significant otherwith a “fun“ night stet out with their family. This can really screw up your diet plans, as there are countless menu items that get a pan-fry treatment before being doused in copious amounts of mystery sauce that can be packed with sugar and starch. Thankfully I have your back—your local restaurant doesn’t have to be off-limits!  I’ve combined Internet research with my own experiences to best help you navigate Chinese menus and feel satisfied without ruining a week’s worth of calorie cutbacks. Here are some great things to order and suggestions for making your weekend takeout work for your diet:


In general, I go fresh instead of fried.Look for options with a lot of vegetables and a protein that isn’t fried or breaded. Try beef and broccoli, or string beans with chicken. I’d also go for fish, tofu or chicken with vegetables.


A good rule of thumb at Chinese restaurants is to eat no more than a fistful of rice and, when possible, opt for brown rice for the added fiber. A mixed vegetable dish is a good choice if it’s steamed and doesn’t include a fatty or sugary sauce.
I generally recommend avoiding anything “crispy” (code for fried), ”sweet and sour”, and anything with peanuts or peanut sauce (healthy fat, but loaded with calories).


If you’re dining in a restaurant, take advantage of the hot tea available in most Chinese restaurants. Save room for tea after your meal to cleanse the palate and send a signal to your brain that you’re done eating. Always drink water throughout the meal to balance out the sodium used in many of these restaurants.


Living in Xi’an, you can have noodles with your noodles followed with noodle water to wash it down.Though we now know processed carbs like noodles and rice are the enemy, just like your in-laws, you don’t always have to treat them like the plague. Again, portion sizes and avoiding the fried stuff are essential. I often indulge in cold noodles, as they aren’t fried and also come with a load of veggies. Also, the portion size of liang pi at most take outs isn’t bad at all, but make sure the sauce is either left out or kept to a minimum. Soup is a good option again and will help keep you full for longer.

So, Pumpsters, there we have it. Remember, if you are eating noodles or other carb dishes, make sure it’s on a workout day. Not only will your body burn off the calories quicker, but having the spike in your sugar levels is actually needed after a long workout. Food is meant to be enjoyed, and for eons, food has always been the centre of socializing with family and friends. Don’t let a healthy lifestyle turn you into a social recluse, because that is actually contradicting your aspirations for a healthy lifestyle. With our very hectic schedules we all deserve a night out and eating out doesn’t always have to mean “pigging out”. Stay warm, stay safe and stay pumping.

Saien Gopalan is a South African English teacher currently teaching at EF. He has been living in Xi’an for 2 years and enjoys his off days exploring the Xi’an nightlife and of course, going to the gym.