What’s for dinner? Probably nothing much, if you’re K-pop idol with a schedule the next day.

Spend any time in Korea as a tourist and you’ll find it hard to resist the spicy red kimchee, sizzling barbecue and billion intriguing side dishes you get with every meal. But idols have indeed been resisting – and confessing to the media about it – for years. It’s not just a girl thing either, the boy bands are at it too. So what exactly can we learn about idol life from their diets? What are they really eating… or not?

A calorie or portion-controlled diet is a proven way to lose weight. SNSD’s low calorie intake has long been a subject of debate: at first rumoured to be 900 kcals a day, it was later upped to 1,500 kcals. The girls themselves denied it on Strong Heart, with Tiffany saying: I feel like we eat at least 3,000 kcals a day. Our manager told us, ‘The amount of money SNSD spends on food is much greater than the amount Super Junior spends on their meals.’

Nine Muses ignore the calorie counting and count paper cups instead. They shared photos on me2day with fans on how they prepare three paper cups and fill one with fruit, another with rice, and the last with side dishes for each meal. At least they stressed that eating three (paper cup measured) meals a day is important, which is better than the worrying one meal a day trend. Many idols have confessed to trying this, including SECRET’s Hyosung, and Brown Eyed Girls’ Ga In just before she appeared in Psy’s Gentleman MV.

One meal a day is still one more than Ladies’ Code Sojung ate at one point. The former Voice Korea star suffered from anorexia, losing 12kg soon after joining the group. “I didn’t eat anything and I just worked out,” she told viewers on Incarnation. “I used to drink only water all day. For 2-3 days, I ate only 5 cherry tomatoes. I just hated myself when I wanted to eat. When I get hungry, my stomach starts growling. But I would tell my stomach that I wasn’t hungry. I would tell my stomach, ‘I’m not hungry so why are you growling?’ Now that I look back on it, I wonder why I did all that.”

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While it’s good that idols do sometimes share the pitfalls of extreme dieting, perhaps they are over sharing with us just a little too much. How do fans feel when the people they admire begin admitting to essentially starving themselves to look good? It’s great to know they’re not superhumanly svelte just like the rest of us, but it’s also somewhat alarming.

Swapping high-fat foods for healthier veg and cooking styles is another tried and tested dieting method. Of course you’ll lose some weight if you cut out the choc; but many idols cut out more than just sweet treats. Chicken breasts, sweet potatoes, corn, cottage cheese, milk and egg whites are all foods that keep cropping up when idols talk about their diets as the fastest foods to help them lose weight. The big no-no (but guilty pleasure) is ramen, especially the night before TV appearances as it makes your face bloated.

The jury is still out on bananas, after CNBLUE’s Yonghwa successfully lost weight eating just the fruit, but when Supreme Team rapper Simon D tried the same diet he enjoyed them too much, ate 6-7 a day and ended up gaining weight instead. At least a banana diet includes some kind of fruit, however; f(x)’s leader Victoria said she ate only pumpkin soup to try and lose weight; and on High Society, Infinite’s Sungkyu confessed to Super Junior’s Shindong that sometimes he only ate ice when he felt hungry.

They’re honest confessions, but how many viewers might try the same even just once, to see if it works for them too? We’d all like to think we’re not so easily influenced, but as public figures, the things that idols do and say can obviously influence fan behaviour. Does the K-pop industry need a new nutritionist in the house to whip these idols into a healthier shape? Should they just stop being so honest? Or should they continue to confess, so we get the full picture behind the scenes with no illusions? Pass the ice… I need some more time to chew this over.

 

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British writer and editor living in Japan. Currently studying Japanese, Korean, K-pop dance, and the fine form of 이성종's legs.