I often get asked ( — and always when I’m scoffing my face in), “you eat so much, how are you not fat?”.
It’s a stereotype that East Asians are naturally ‘skinny’. Some say that we’re lucky; we’re mysterious creatures who possess magical genes that aid metabolism. While genes are a contributing determinant, I’ve been doing some digging and besides being Maybelline (‘Maybe She’s Born With It’), there are the lifestyle and cultural factors that help us maintain a healthy weight.
I’m going to share them with you.
No. I’m not going to give you some lame faddy diet. All that maple syrup, air, baby food & no-carbs-after-six bullocks, is not good for you.
I don’t want to shock your body drastically because any weight you lose temporarily, will just creep back up on you — like that creepy stalker that just won’t take the hint.
These nuggets (not the chicken kind, soz) of wisdom have been passed down generation to generation.
It’s about the facts, nutrition, science and food coming together. I’m going to split this post into three sections: food, mentality and fitness.
Welcome to the secret eating tips of Asia.
First of all, it’s important to keep in mind that I don’t want you to eat because you have to; I want you to eat because it’s delicious. If you don’t know how to cook, then there’s your starting point. Learn how to prepare food from scratch — then maintaining weight will become a lot easier.
Soup is essential in the Asian diet. We drink it either before or after our meal. Our soup is essentially bone broth (made with boiling meat bones in water). It’s packed with vegetables, beans and natural Chinese herbs (you should see mummy Wong’s cupboard). Broth takes hours to boil but is super easy to make. Why bones, you ask? The gelatin from the bone marrow contains glycine that is anti-inflammatory and helps to regulate metabolism, maintain lean muscle mass, preserve bone strength and control cellular health. The vitamins, proteins, and minerals from the ingredients dissolve in the water — giving you a balanced supply of nutrition which helps to keep you full. The Chinese love to poach chicken feet in the soup because it has a lot of collagen that is good for the skin. It’s not uncommon to see an old Asian woman ask the local butcher for meat bones (I totally see myself doing that in thirty years). Centuries ago, we needed to make use of limited resources to their full potential. These days we boil our veg to death and then chuck away the mineral water containing all the good bits. If you’re vegetarian, veg broth works just as well (don’t forget the spinach for iron). If you’re not brave enough for trotter soup, don’t worry, there’s always Pho (Vietnamese rice noodles).
The most traditional soup from Hong Kong is Pork Bone Vegetable Soup:
Pork bones 1.5-2 lb
1 tbsp salt
2 bay leaves (optional)
Wash the bones and chop all the veggies.
In a stock pot, fill up with water almost halfway up the pot (around 2.5 litres).
Throw in the pork bones and bring to boil. Once it starts to bubble, reduce heat to low-medium and stew for 1.5 hours.
Turn heat to high and pop in all the veggies, salt, and bay leaves.
Reduce heat back to low-medium and boil for another hour.
The size of your plates and bowls determine (unconsciously) how much food you eat. If you buy small plates and bowls, you’ll eat smaller portions. Without thinking about it, lighter servings give you time to enjoy your food, and you reflect on whether you want to grab a second helping.
I love the Japanese bento box; It’s like picking things from a sweet shop (I’m like a child). Speaking of picking things up, you eat smaller portions with chopsticks.
The slower you eat, the faster you’ll be full. East Asians feast with a bowl of rice in hand and select from a selection of entrees. They pick one piece at a time from the middle of the table and tend to eat how much they want rather than finishing everything that’s on a plate.
Drink lots of hot water. I know it’s not the most fun of activities but it cleanses and boosts your immune system. If you’re not keen on hot water, try adding a lemon. Herbal teas contain antioxidants, and they’re best mates with your metabolism. My favourite green tea is Jasmine tea. I love the blossoming flower ones; I always end up staring at my cup & I have the same reaction every time “Oooh, so pretty!”.
Not a fan of the hot beverage? Make a homemade tea cordial. Experiment & mix different tea leaves: Lemon & Ginger, Raspberry Blaster, Baked Apple & Sticky Toffee, they could help you steer away from those naughty processed sugary soft drinks. When I went to Thailand, I had lots of fresh coconut water. It suppresses your appetite, the fat content is low and makes you feel full because it’s rich in taste. It also made my skin glow; I couldn’t stop touching my face! I also drink lots of almond & soy milk which have lots of iron and calcium.
Sometimes, your body will tell you, ‘Yo, give me food!’, But actually, you just need a refreshing beverage, so drink lots of cold water too. H2O helps us distinguish between being hungry and being thirsty so always stay hydrated.
East Asians eat a lot of fish; there are endless benefits, the fresher, the better. (Fish fingers don’t count, don’t let Captain Birdseye try and flirt with you in frozen aisles). Always eat fish off the bone because natural fatty fish contains the highest source of natural Omega 3.
I’ve already mentioned that Asians eat a lot of rice, in fact, they eat white rice every day. I’m going to talk about a healthier alternative: brown rice. I don’t get it when people say they don’t like it — I honestly can’t taste the difference! Brown rice = fibre. Genuine quote from my mummy who told me when I was six, “fibre helps you poo”. Err thanks, mum. We need fibre for digestion, and it reduces high cholesterol levels. Fibre helps out by keeping blood sugar levels under control, so brown rice is an excellent grain choice for people with diabetes.
To state the obvious, eating a lot of vegetables keeps you slim. The Chinese, Japanese and Korean diet is predominately rice and vegetables. Korean people consume a lot of raw cabbage -i.e., Bimibap. The Chinese eat a lot of greens like Pak Choi, lettuce, radish and spinach. I hated vegetables as a kid. I hated it so much that when I got to University, I got carried away and ate everything that looked beige, speaking of beige, there’s food out there that isn’t green and is good for you. If you’ve realised that you’ve over done it with the meat treats that week, why not replace it with tofu? It gives me lots of energy and is high in protein, vitamins and fibre. It’s all about learning how to balance. I missed my parent’s cooking so much at University, when I graduated, I ended up naturally eating 70% good food and 30% junk. Find your method of balance.
In the same way, that the Chicken Korma is not native Indian, foods like Sweet & Sour Chicken is not authentic Chinese, it’s British. Yes, I agree with you, it’s delicious, but we can’t eat that shiz every day. Authentic Asian cuisine is steam every-thang. I remember when my sister was born, my daddy made a Chinese hot pot and popped it in an old Carte D’Or tub (hi Asian parents). It has everything you need nutritionally for a baby: fresh meats, vegetables, tofu and seafood. The origins of the Chinese hotpot has been around for over 1,000 years. Packed with flavour, I love a good hearty hot pot. My favourite one is on this blog.
You know what? I’m not going to lie to you; I love a sweet treat. My Instagram is a collage of cake. I’m addicted to cake and breakfast tea. One day, I substituted my breakfast muffin for a banana and realised that the satisfaction I got out of both were similar — it helps if the texture is comparable. If you crave sugar, you can get it from the healthier sugars in fruit. Asians have either soup or fruit after dinner. The way I balance it out now is by having dessert for breakfast or as a dessert after dinner, never both.
When I went travelling in Southeast Asia, I rarely saw any diet food. ‘Light’ options in the supermarket annoy the s**t out of me. Like ‘no added sugar’ yoghurt, or ‘low fat’ cereal, or ‘light’ mayonnaise. If there’s less fat in there, it usually has to be replaced with something else to keep the flavour. Dear food brands, you can’t fool us with your extra sugar, sweetie. Diet Coke is one of the worst offenders, less sugar but more Aspartame. I’ll leave you to research and make up your own mind on that one.
I’ll end the food section with a poem from Japan called Hara Hachi Bu which is the Confucian philosophy for ‘eat until you’re 8/10 full’. Derived from Okinawa, the Japanese leave that little bit on their plate.
Hara Hachi Bu
‘The Okinawa Diet‘:
Fill your plate with plants.
Consider the sweet potato.
Eat soy every day.
Learn some recipes that call for turmeric.
Make meat a rare treat.
Drink green tea like it’s going out of style.
Forgo the “all-you-can-eat buffet” mentality.
In the Asian culture, there is no liability for eating. Guilt leads to anxiety and stress leads to overeating. Eating brings people together; it’s supposed to be a joyous occasion.
(Vs. Western culture) Asians talk so openly about weight which eliminates guilt. If I’ve gained or lost weight, my mum will tell me. I don’t get offended. If I’ve gained weight, I’ve gained weight. If I’ve lost weight, I’ve lost weight. Who gives a f**k if we’re chubby this week?
Counting calories is not fun. Fixating on measurements can lead to a reverse effect on your objective. We all know the type, ‘Oh I had 300 calories today, so according to this fitness app, I can have this chocolate bar to meet the recommended daily allowance’. You could argue that you’re the person who’s more like, ‘Ah s**t I’ve gone over my daily allowance so I won’t eat any more’, but that’s so tiring, isn’t it? Question your mindset, you know what works for you.
Mentality and way of thinking determine your diet. It’s about feeling comfortable with yourself as a person. Accept yourself, for what you are. The aim is to have a healthy relationship with yourself (and food).
Okay, so you need motivation. You know your body & mind more than anyone else. You know what motivates you. What motivates me is to refer to an image that is the end goal.
You need to get off your ass. If you work in an office, you need to get off your bum even more.
I’m not going to tell you to join a martial arts class and become a ninja (unless you want to).
The best way to lose weight without realising is to find a sport / active activity that you’ll fall in love with. Asian parents take their kids to sports classes when they’re young, I mean the culture in China is a bit extreme because they want their kid to be the next Olympian, but as an adult, sweating it out in the gym is not fun.
Martial Arts, Basketball, Football, Netball, Rugby, Swimming, Cycling, Running, Boxing, Yoga, Zumba, Ballet, Ariel Silks — the list is endless.
Once you’re addicted to your competitive sport, you’ll be fit and you’ll feel good about yourself.
And that’s that!
Quit weighing yourself. It’s not a reflection on how you’re doing & you’ll feel crap one day and then endure short-lived happiness the next. Go on how you feel.
Don’t stress about your weight. Food is for enjoying, not for worrying about. East Asians tend to eat little and often. That’s why people think we eat all the time.
Start looking up sports classes that you’ve always wanted to join. Trial some on Groupon and let me know which ones you like.
Decide to love yourself today.