Here it is!
The trials of the trailing spouse in Shanghai are well documented. Following her spouse here on assignment, the trailing spouse gives up jobs and friends. Many end up bored, disoriented and even depressed. This was the path that American Julie Meyer saw herself spiraling down, until she “picked herself up out of the ditch.”
Now an entrepreneur, Meyer shows that the luxury of free time and domestic help in China can be a unique opportunity – though it takes inner strength and a lot of get-up and go.
Meyer is the founder of Eat Well Shanghai, a nutrition consulting service that helps expats navigate the food safety and health pitfalls of living here. A registered dietician in the US, working in nutrition was Meyer’s passion for 13 years, and the hardest thing to give up in the move to China.
Coming from fast-paced New York, she could not adjust to the life of a lady of leisure.
“I felt like a fish out of water, and being a taitai was not just me,” says Meyer. “It was difficult because China was a great opportunity for my husband, and for my kids – but I couldn’t figure out where the opportunity was for me. Eat Well Shanghai was a way to channel that feeling of being a fish out of water to help myself, and other people.”
Set up at the end of 2009, the business followed nine difficult months in China.
Back in the US Meyer had carefully planned her career as a nutrition consultant. It was flexible enough to fit around her family, and also something she loved as her mother was “a healthy eating nut.”
But the move to China turned her world upside down, and by September 2009 she was suffering insomnia for weeks on end. In one sleepless night she made a list of all the things she needed to be happy.
It included meeting interesting people, getting to know Shanghai and trying her long-term dream of being an entrepreneur.
“The first six months are the toughest, that’s when you decide which way your experiences here will go.”
The idea of nutrition has hit a chord as many expats feel anxiety over food safety in an unfamiliar country. Shanghai, with its culture of eating out and sweet and oily cuisine, is also a difficult place for healthy eating. Meyer recognizes that often eating is a complex psychological issue.
“I gained 12 pounds (5.4 kilograms) when I was depressed in China. When we’re stressed we reach for the most familiar and comfortable way to deal with it – and for many people that’s food,” she says. “For many new expats, food anxiety is also about loss of control over life in general, and falling apart – like I did.
“Healthy eating coupled with exercise is a path to start coming out of that. Not only will you have more energy, but you will also regain confidence, and it spreads. You’ll sleep better, have more patience with the kids, and be better able to cope with stress.”
To get started, Meyer recommends examining your current diet with a three-day diet analysis so you know what to add or subtract, and taking opportunities to walk rather than take taxis.
Sourcing good food is tougher. In New York Meyer belonged to a food coop where a group of people get together to source the freshest, organic food from nearby. But here organic standards are different and complex, and milk melamine scandals demonstrate it’s difficult even for locals. It’s also problematic dealing with allergies and vegetarian or vegan diets as Chinese restaurants often will not cater to specialist needs.
“I don’t have all the answers,” says Meyer, “But I can teach you how to wash food and investigate it. Organic standards in the US are not necessarily that great either – there’s only 99 inspectors in the whole country. EU standards are better, but it shows we all take a risk.”