How do Chinese people lose weight?

In 2021, over one in seven Chinese people were overweight. In combination with this statistic, the beauty standards in China are relatively unforgiving towards extra weight. As a result, China’s demand for weight loss remedies is rising quickly. But to penetrate China’s weight loss market, the question is how do Chinese people lose weight?

Chinese people are influenced by weight loss methods on social media and the beauty standards of celebrities. Live streamers providing their own weight loss products are getting popular as well. Many local and international brands tailor their products, such as low-cal food alternatives and meal replacements to target Chinese people eager to lose weight. Additionally, Chinese traditional medicine remedies such as acupuncture and teas have found their place among modern weight loss methods. To see how Chinese people lose weight, we conducted some social listening.

How Chinese people lose weight on social media

Not afraid to waste food

A popular post on Zhihu (知乎) – a Chinese question-and-answer platform- states that the most sustainable way to lose weight is to continue to eat one’s favourite foods, but with disciplined moderation. According to the suggestion, one should only eat the dish until the point whereby cravings subside. After such a point, the post recommends that the dish should be immediately thrown away to avoid further eating, thereby highlighting how losing weight for the Chinese can take priority over concerns such as food waste.

Controlling food eaten at social gatherings

As eating out in groups is a key feature of socialising among friends in modern Chinese society, netizens on Zhihu also provide advice to Chinese people on how to lose weight without giving up the joy of eating out. Those hoping to lose weight should fill up on healthy food at home before heading out for gatherings. This would then minimise overeating during the actual meal.

Some Chinese advise eating foreign foods to lose weight

In addition, Zhihu posts also advise people to make healthy choices cuisine-wise when choosing a location to eat out. Japanese, Western, and French food are perceived as healthier compared to Chinese cuisine because they are thought to contain fewer fat ingredients. Such a mindset provides a possibility for foreign food and beverage brands to market themselves as weight-loss friendly option. Popular Beijing-born South American restaurant MOKA Bros already did it. MOKA has become a staple among young locals by serving wholesome, authentic food in a cozy, vibrant atmosphere.

china weight loss
Source: Moka Bros Instagram, a selection of restaurant dishes which cater to China’s health-conscious crowd

Meal replacement & low-cal food

Although the meal replacement concept is relatively new to Chinese, the market is rapidly growing. Euromonitor International forecasts that the market will hit 120 billion RMB by 2022. Common meal replacement products include instant smoothies, energy bars, and pre-cooked meals. These products often market to consumers who want to control weight through social media like Xiaohongshu. (Mostly female) Influencers emphasize these products’ weight loss effectiveness and health benefits. According to a report by CBNData in 2020, women were the main consumers of meal replacements due to their larger demand for weight loss.

meal replacements in CHina
Source: Wonderlab Tmall Official Store, how Wonderlab advertises its meal replacement smoothies

In addition, many companies introduced low-cal alternatives to regular food. For instance, VEpiaopiao specializes in low-cal sauces such as 0-cal salad dressing, spicy sauce, and chocolate sauce. The company replaces white sugar with sugar substitutes such as erythritol and reduces calories included to very low amount. Boohee Health, a Chinese health app that helps people monitor their calories intake and weight, also developed low-calorie snacks such as chocolate marshmallow, wafers and chips. To control weight, many Chinese consumers turn to low-calorie food alternatives and light meals like salads and small portion meals. According to a report by the Chinese Nutrition Society in 2021, 94.9% respondents consumed light meals at least once a week, and 55.7% enjoyed light food two to four times a week. The major consumer groups were white collars and college students.

low cal food in china
Source: Boohee Health Official Tmall shop, Low-cal chocolate marshmallow developed by Boohee Health
china weight loss methods
Source: VEpiaopiao Taobao store, Ingredient for its Dijon Mustard Sauce, one of its best sellers

Fitness trends

The outbreak of COVID-19 has enhanced Chinese health awareness in recent years. According to our survey on fitness habits in China, 89.2% of people think exercise is of great importance to physical and mental health. Many, especially female participants, reported “losing weight” as the main driver of fitness.

why Chinese do sports
Source: Daxue Consulting, gender comparison of the reasons for exercising

Instead of going to gyms, many young consumers prefer to use fitness apps and watch fitness videos to work out at home while saving budget. Keep and Bilibili dominate the fitness app market for young Chinese. 72% of the surveyees say they often use Keep to stay fit, while 84.9% watched Bilibili. In 2021, Keep’s monthly active users reached 13.1 million.

Moreover, young Chinese love following fitness KOLs who post videos and tips on social platforms. For instance, Will Liu, a famous singer and actor, went viral after he started livestreaming his exercise routine on Douyin (the Chinese Tiktok). On April 17, 2022, his streaming on Douyin was viewed almost 14 million times, and his most successful live session exceeded 1.1 million viewers.

china weight loss remedies: fitness
Source: Will Liu’s official Instagram Account. Liu, his mother-in-law, and his wife (from right to left).

Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) methods for weight loss

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a commonly used method for weight loss in China. For instance, acupuncture helps curb cravings, increase energy, and increase nutrient absorption. When the needles are inserted into certain vital points, they improve and restore the flow of life energy called “Qi”. According to Chinese medicine, “Qi” stagnation in certain areas of the body can cause weight gain.

Moreover, acupuncture can be used to attain a ‘V-shaped’ face. When needles are inserted into certain vital points on the face and ears, they can help get rid of fatigue and puffiness on the face. Several celebrities advertise acupuncture as a weight loss remedy on Chinese social media. For instance, Chloe Zhao, a Chinese actress and model, is known for relying on acupuncture on her face in order to achieve a slimming effect. Reactions from netizens have been mixed, with this method viewed as extreme and painful.

how-chinese-people-lose-weight
Source: QQ, celebrity Chloe Zhao gets acupuncture on her face

TCM weight loss food and beverages

TCM has a few ‘golden rules’ when it comes to weight loss. In TCM, food is divided into five elements: cold, cool, neutral, warm, and hot. Chinese people hoping to lose weight are supposed to avoid ‘cold’ and ‘damp’ foods. Such foods include those rich with refined sugars, baked foods, and dairy products.

Chinese people consider tea as a good weight loss tool. Beyond increasing body metabolism and allowing people to burn up to 10% fat, drinking about two cups a day of Oolong tea is believed to have system-cleansing properties according to TCM. Moreover, drinking tea before meals can aid in decreasing food cravings, whereas drinking tea after meals is regarded as limiting the body’s ability to absorb fat from food. Yet, Chinese youth trying to lose weight do not drink a lot of tea. In fact, certain domestic brands such as Farmer Spring (农夫山泉) and King of Teas (茶里王) have been unable to meet the taste preferences of young consumers. 

Extreme ways Chinese people lose weight

Beauty standards set by celebrities

How Chinese people lose weight is also influenced by beauty standards set by celebrities. Popular reality TV show ‘Sisters who make waves’ (乘风破浪的姐姐) showcased a segment where a contestant on the show took out a scale to weigh her food and the amount of calories in it. She would only eat food which fell within a strict limit.

china weight loss secrets
Source: Sohu, participants on ‘Sisters who make waves’

Hashtags: fitspo for Chinese people to lose weight

Extreme beauty standards are also pronounced on social media. Hashtags such as the ongoing “筷子腿” – literally translated as “chopstick legs” – show social media users posting photos of their ultra-thin legs which resemble chopsticks. Another ongoing trend is the ‘BM style’, whereby ‘BM’ is the alias for clothing brand Brandy Melville. Unlike in the USA, BM in China has in fact gained praise for being progressive by encouraging girls to show more skin instead of ‘hiding’. These trends follow previous trends such as ‘A4 waist’, which saw female netizens holding up an A4 paper in front of their waist. The goal was to show that their waists were smaller than the width of the paper. The line between healthy and unhealthy methods appears to be blurred for certain Chinese weight loss methods.

extreme thinness in china
Source: AsiaOne, A4 challenge promoting extreme thinness in China

Selling weight loss products via livestreaming

Chinese people learn weight techniques via livestreaming too. Li Jiaqi, a well-known live streamer in China, used to sell weight loss-related products such as smart scales which enabled users to access specific body data such as their basal metabolic rate and body fat percentage, as well as low-cal sauces and snacks.

The wide selection weight loss products for sale in China shows local consumers are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing weight loss methods. Therefore, even though there is fierce competition among products, Chinese consumers are open to try new remedies for losing weight.

How brands market to China’s ‘weight loss’ crowd

Genki Forest: utilizing natural sugar substitutes to cater to Chinese fit people

Genki Forest has become highly successful in becoming a staple drink for young Chinese people trying to lose weight. The company specializes in selling a variety of drinks, from sugar-free soft drinks to low-sugar milk-tea. In the first quarter of 2022, its revenue increased by 50% year-on-year- from 7.02 billion RMB in 2021.

Genki Forest is known for its aesthetically pleasing packaging with incorporated Japanese elements. It promotes a carefree and fulfilling manner of being health conscious and losing weight, all while being easy to integrate into the daily lifestyle of its consumers. This holistic approach has been credited as being key to Genki Forest’s marketing success. This is especially due to young consumers’ higher requirements for the products they consume, seeking not just taste, but also a sense of fulfilment.

genki forest 0 calorie
Source: Genki Forest, the first Chinese soft drink brand to use ‘0 sugar’ as a marketing tactic

Innocent Juice targeting health-oriented families

Building upon the strong juice market in China, Europe’s best-known smoothie brand Innocent has entered China in 2020. Innocent also uses cultural reference points from daily life in order to find entry points to remind consumers to stay healthy and drink Innocent. For instance, it drew a link between the cut fruits that Chinese parents commonly provide for their children as a gesture of affection, with presenting one’s parents with Innocent as a gift.

china weight loss methods
Source: Innocent Juice, catering to health-minded Chinese families

What social listening teaches us about how Chinese people lose weight

  • Chinese social media are crammed with peculiar weight loss methods, such as throwing out the dish to avoid overeating and having a healthy snack before dining out to eat less.
  • As health awareness spreads among Chinese young consumers, low-cal meal replacements gain popularity.
  • Moreover, since the outbreak of Covid-19 fitness KOLs are booming.
  • A limited number of people still utilize TCM methods such as acupuncture to look thinner. 
  • Live streaming is a powerful tool to introduce innovative products to Chinese people willing to lose weight.
  • Being skinny is still perceived as beautiful in China. Nonetheless, a potential opportunity for brands to take the lead in promoting more holistic methods of weight loss focusing on overall well-being is gaining ground, as Genki Forest and Innocent have successfully done.

Learn more about Chinese people’s beliefs about healthy habits