MALY SON. Shortly after arriving as a refugee to the United States 1985 when she was 16 with her family, Maly, now 43, noticed that her activity level had significantly decreased. The change of climate from the year-round tropical Southeast Asia to the four-season U.S. Northeast and a busy schedule that included learning English and picking up as many shifts as possible at a fast food restaurant to practice the new language and earn money gave her few opportunities to get outside and be active.
She was far away in miles and culture from her tiny hometown Tar Vinh, South Vietnam, a place in the mountains with few people surrounded by rice paddies and cut by clear rivers.
“It’s not easy when you’re not adapted to a new lifestyle and culture yet. You don’t know the bus route, where to catch the bus and where to get off,” she says. Juggling new concepts and learning about the new country, new language, new job and how to get around created stresses that were resolved by eating anything, instead of the right thing. And that walking regularly one just was step in the right direction.
After hearing a presentation from a nutrition specialist, something clicked for Maly: exercise was only half the equation for feeling better. Living a healthy lifestyle also meant rethinking some of her eating habits. “In the Vietnamese community, we eat a lot of vegetables and fish, which is great, but also a lot of rice, which can lead to diabetes and other problems.”
Although Maly wanted to continue eating a diet rooted in her culture, she found that by making a few adjustments to her diet, she could better accommodate her activity level. She began by reading nutritional information for each meal and becoming aware of calories and carbohydrates. As a result, she made a change from white rice to brown rice — and eventually cut her portion size in half.
“I had to adjust for a new lifestyle in the states, but that doesn’t mean I needed to stop eating a Vietnamese diet,” said Maly. “The changes were worth it; health has a lot to do with happiness.”
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