A Communal Health Journey + Healthy Rice Bowls

The calendar just turned over a new year, which means copious amounts of news and media stories are focused on getting healthy. Fad diets, gym membership deals, and the latest research hits everyone hard at this time of year. A bonus this year is getting organized, thanks to Netflix. I haven’t actually watched Marie Condo’s show, but all my friends are raving about how organized their t-shirt drawers are.

A new year. A fresh start. A renewed perspective. Another shot at doing what we tried to (sorta) do last year. We’re all pumped and ready to attack our goals with new fervor!

Unfortunately, sometimes our fervor starts to fizzle. We get sidetracked, make excuses, or just give in altogether. So what can keep us on track?

I think it has to align with how we live the rest of our life—with God in the lead and community around us, committing to small changes until our habits have transformed.

Since being back in the US, I joined a local gym with my mom, grateful for the discount she could get me! The main reason I wanted to join was because the membership included several group class options. I knew if I wanted to work off the furlough few I’d gained already, I needed to do it with others. I’ve done my fair share of workout videos at home, but I always fizzle out. I get bored with them, tired of my kids crawling all over me while trying to do push-ups, or other things cram into the workout time slot. I knew I needed community to get my body moving.

For me, group classes have been a great encouragement! I’m naturally a committed, consistent person, especially when other people are involved, so the camaraderie built with the ladies in class was just what I needed. We even met outside of class for a luncheon. Relationships being built through sweating it out; God has no bounds.

When it comes to food, I struggle more. While in the US, I tell myself to go ahead and have that slice of pie because who knows how many years it’ll be until I get a chance to eat it again! The deception is that I can say that about any food, anywhere. It all adds up, and next thing I know, my body feels terrible, and I feel terrible about my body.

I’m all about moderation, though. I can’t do these elimination diets because I’m a cheater. So I know that if I’m going to a party in the evening, I better eat super light for breakfast and lunch because I want to be able to enjoy the food and the company. Nobody likes going to a get together with loads of food, only to pile salad on your plate. I’m not saying I take a heaping serving of everything; I still try to choose wisely, but I’m going to go ahead and have that small dessert, guilt-free. Small decisions that eventually add up to big changes. 

Just like with exercise, I have to introduce community to keep me accountable with food, too. Either through an app, my husband, or another friend on a similar health journey. The app shows me just how much I put in my mouth and what exercise I need to do to burn it off—talk about accountability! (One of my exercise teachers {a former body builder!} did a “fun” Halloween workout where we brought in a small candy bar and she would tell us how many sets of an exercise we had to do to burn it off. Example: 100 squats for a small pack of M&Ms. Ouch!) My husband encourages me to keep fewer sweets (my total weakness) in the house because he knows I’ll go for them every time. My friend asks me every once in a while how I’m doing and we trade recipes and workout ideas. Community keeps me accountable and keeps me working towards my goal.

Living in China has helped shape some new norms for me as well. I thoroughly enjoy walking to get groceries and other errands. (I’ve tried to incorporate it into my American lifestyle, but I have to be ready to ignore the stares while I carry my groceries home…because who does that here?) Although it was a nuisance when the kids were young, I don’t mind that most buildings don’t have elevators. Build-in exercise right there. The community encourages daily exercise by showing up at the rusty, metal equipment in the “park” rain, snow, or shine. Age is no factor, either. I’ve talked to grandparents in their 80’s who are out there on the machines or dancing/exercising in the park…because why wouldn’t they?

The Lord has commanded us to take care of our bodies. Why? So He can continue with His plan to use us while we’re here on this earth! But He knows, like any other task, we can’t do it alone. He provides us with all the strength we need, and our community can provide the encouragement, sisterhood, and understanding when we fall off the horse for a bit. May this be our year to choose a few small things to change. As we stay consistent with those small steps, we will see changes being made!

Have you made any new health goals for 2019? Care to share? How do you stay on track? What small change can you make today that will help you reach your goal? Share all your favorite tips, recipes, and workouts!


Since we’re talking healthy, I want to share a fairly healthy recipe. These are commonly called “buddha bowls,” but I’m not a fan of that name, so I call them rice bowls. Although as you’ll see below, these are the most versatile things you can make. All you need to include is a grain (or something similar if you’re avoiding carbs), protein, and lots o’ veggies. So yummy and you still feel good after you eat a huge bowl!

Whoops! Forgot to take pics until I was halfway done!
This time I used lettuce…
…shredded carrots…
…roasted sweet potatoes (one of my FAVES!)…
…mixed nuts for crunch and a touch of salt…
…and a Korean-style beef with a slightly spicy and sweet sauce.
I set it up buffet style so the kids can choose their own toppings and have a little ownership while they scarf down all those great veggies!
Here’s my version. I promise there’s rice and meat under there somewhere! I just get so excited about the veggies!!

Asian Rice Bowls 
Ready in: 45 minutes
Serves: 4-6
Slightly adapted from: Once Upon a Chef (my favorite new food blog!)

  • 1 pound lean ground beef (you can sub chicken, turkey, sausage, tofu, or any protein)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce (look here to make your own)
  • 1.5 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (I subbed ketchup)
  • 1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/2 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
  • Rice, another grain, riced cauliflower–whatever you choose for the base
  • Chopped nuts, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, or something else slightly salty and crunchy
  • Veggies, such as carrots, lettuce or bell peppers, steamed broccoli or cauliflower, or your choice of roasted veggie–the choices are endless!
  1. In a large bowl, using your hands or a wooden spoon, mash the beef with the baking soda. Let it sit on the counter for 20-25 minutes. This will keep the beef nice and tender. (I haven’t tried this method with other meats, but a quick search says it should work!)
  2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, stir together the hoisin sauce, soy sauce, tomato paste, sesame oil, sugar, and red pepper flakes. Set aside.
  3. Once the beef is “treated” and ready to cook, heat the vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Cook the onions until translucent, 3-4 minutes. Add in minced garlic and ginger. Cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the beef, stirring frequently and breaking into pieces, until just slightly pink, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the reserved hoisin sauce mixture and cook until the beef is well-coated and cooked through, about 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
  5. Spoon the beef into bowls over rice. Top with whatever delicious toppings you choose!

Photo by Peter Hershey on Unsplash


  1. M'Lynn January 20, 2019

    Ha! I hear ya about the funny looks you get when you carry groceries home on foot in America. People in the tiny town where we live knew me as “the girl who walks around town” for the first six months we lived here. I love that I can walk to work as well! However, I have less access to a gym membership here than when we lived in China, so walking is most of my exercise. I miss living on the 6th floor with no elevator in China because it was built-in daily cardio!

    1. Ashley Felder January 22, 2019

      I’m hopeful to find a gym membership when we return. Several friends seemed to have found some…but do they offer classes?! That’s a whole new level! We’ll see! If not, I’ll be joining the grannies at the “park.” 🙂

  2. Sarah Hilkemann January 21, 2019

    These Asian bowls look sooo yummy!!

    In Cambodia I was mostly in areas where walking places and exercising were seen as strange. It made it hard to want to do anything in public! I did enjoy biking to the local market though and miss that now that I’m in the States. I did enjoy cranking up the AC and doing an exercise video in the privacy of my room. 🙂 I started using Moms Into Fitness exercise videos- I’m not a mom but I loved that they had lots of levels and easy modifications. I still enjoy using them.

  3. Ashley Felder January 22, 2019

    I’ve never heard of those videos! I’ll have to check them out! Especially since I don’t know what is offered back in China. 😀

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