One week ago I moved into a house with roommates in Somerville, Massachusetts. In that first week of transition I had a lot on my plate, so I did what most temporarily scattered people would do – eat shitty food. I ate plain ramen, peanut butter bread, cheese on toast, dunkin donuts sandwiches, rotisserie chicken from Shaws… barely any vegetables or fruit. I also exercised very little… maybe a few push-ups and sit-ups. I wasn’t depressed but I felt like I was just… existing.
But today, I feel like a million bucks. Here’s what happened…
Yesterday morning I was having my peanut butter on toast with banana slices when one of my roommates explained why he makes fruit smoothies every morning. “I eat fruit onlyin the morning.” he said. “It’s actually really good for you and the body breaks it down quickly, which in turn gives you a lot more energy to burn.” Continue reading Does your Body Reward you?
Believe it or not, a majority of the “skinny” women that you see when visiting Asian countries believe they are, themselves, “fat” or “overweight”. It is appalling to Western women when I tell them this but it is a reality. However, the reality of being “overweight” in a country like China is no different than in the US. Why? Because it is 100% relative and culture-based.
In China, women are worried about roundness and often strive for an image that westerners would call “boney”. When asked about the Western “plus-sized” models, many women here think that it’s not right to be so big. They agree with the fashion magazines that show thin, tall women. The first time I heard someone say that plus-sized models were not necessary was a strange moment for me, but then I realized that this culture (and their eating habits) seem to allow most women a fair chance at achieving a healthy, attractive figure. This “chance” is the result of traditional healthy eating habits, which one of the many reasons I started writing AL.ME.
But with the increase in Western-style eating, that healthy figure is becoming less of the norm. Since there is always a competition for being the hottest (in virtually all modern cultures) many of them want to get even thinner! As you might expect, confusion sets in for some of them and the results are quite unexpected, to be honest. The following are a few before and after photos of typical young women in China trying to reach their ideal weight… (All images were self-posted on Weibo in late 2012)
Acupuncture, as with massage, is often misunderstood by the West. Although Traditional Chinese Medicine is gaining popularity, this procedure looks more like a painful circus act than anything truly healthful. With a little bit of belief, it actually serves many purposes for both repairing your body and staying healthy.
Any discussion about Italian food in China is bound to curtail into how pasta originated in China over 4,000 years ago[*]. I would say the Chinese have perfected the noodle over years of trial ‘n error, mostly due to their choice of seasonings. (My favorite Chinese noodles to this day are from the north and are pulled thick just prior to being tossed in a savory broth or pan-fried with seafood.)
A popular request I get is related to the medicinal use of tea. I’m finally writing this article after discussing this topic with various Chinese friends who have nearly 20 years of experience in the tea business. After discussions with them and other trusted tea connoisseurs I’m ready to post on this topic. I suggest reading a previous post about understanding the world of tea in order to get more familiar with the major varieties of tea.
As the world turns its eyes on China, and all parts of developing Asia, increasing numbers of Westerners are traveling here and getting a taste of it for themselves, literally. As tasty as the dishes may be, foreign guests have started deciding for themselves that Chinese food might just be “a little too oily to be healthy.” I’m personally biased and in favor of Asian food traditions, but I do think the argument deserves a fair bout!
Round 1, Ding!
When friends visit China their #1 concern about the food is sanitation, but also the oiliness. The picture to the right is one rather oily example. To satisfy their curiosity, and mine, I decided to ask some Chinese friends what their take is on this matter. I’ve listed their responses to common concerns that are voiced by Westerners (American friends, specifically):
1. There is simply too much oil in the food. How can this be healthy? The initial response to this question is: Yes, there is oil on the food, but we don’t eat it. It just sits in the dish. Its not like a soup you drink or a gravy that you might put on potatoes.
2. How do you avoid eating much of the oil? People here use chopsticks for food that is sitting in broth or oil. We just let most of the oil drip off of the food first. The portion of rice you eat is important too. The combination of roughly 30% staple and 50% main dish and 20% liquid (soup or water) are important to note here.
3. Doesn’t the oil get on your rice too? The oil can sometimes drip on the rice, but that is not how rice is consumed here. Normally people take pure, white, cooked rice with their food. This soaks up oil or other strong flavors from the food and protects your stomach. Fried rice is not a substitute for white rice either; and spooning the sauce of any dish into your rice is never done.
A case of misunderstanding: I remember making green beans with sausage bits and a simple cabbage dish for my family last Christmas. I also made white rice to go with it, of course. The salty/oily sauce that went in the green beans dish was irresistible to my grandmother, who is an amazing cook of Mediterranean food. But when I explained that “the rice soaks up the sauce”, she immediately tested my claim; she took a spoon and proceeded to pour the sauce over her rice… moments later… “Mmmm, it is sure does!” she said.
4. My friend went to China and gained weight. Why? The major reason Westerners gain weight in China is because of mixing food habits. We all try to assimilate to the local food culture at first, but we soon begin missing the dishes from home. Some people go back to convenient eating habits, like sandwiches for lunch. Others miss cheese and butter and other processed foods, so they might visit the foreign food store every few weeks or so. These actions have inescapable consequences.
Ben’s Opinion: Food culture is special and synergistic: more than the some of its parts. Using our own (American) nutritional logic to understand how on earth the Chinese (Koreans, Japanese, Vietnamese, etc.) could be so healthy would be a mistake. We shouldn’t use a microscope to look at how a system works. We should be looking at the big picture here. From that perspective, I would say, whatever these food cultures are doing… they are doing it right!
Please add your thoughts, comments, and rebuttals below. Thanks!
I noticed a woman’s magazine article today about “6 Reasons You’re Struggling with your Weight”, and the top reason was lack of sleep. It makes perfect sense. Not only does your body feel slow, but you will go for processed and sugary foods/drinks in order to give you a quick hit of energy, even when you aren’t hungry.
In China, I’ve always chuckled at the mid-day “resting” time from about 1-2pm. It always seems like laziness or something for kindergartners. But, when you analyze this habit more closely, you’ll find that it probably is quite helpful; Your brain will be completely recharged, you have time to eat a proper lunch, and you will feel less tired overall. That last one is pretty obvious, but it can reduce your excuse-making for eating sweets and starches.
Can’t get a mid-day nap in your schedule? Try cutting useless tasks out of your day. Three times a day you should ask yourself, “Is this task really necessary to improving my life or job results?” If you start deleting useless tasks from your day, you will find time to get more rest. Don’t let our extremely modern, fast-paced culture force you into useless long-hour days.
Its no secret that the Western Diet has led to larger waistlines and that eating our diet tends to give people higher rates of cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. This comes from the scientific community, but we also learn loads of very detailed nutritional “factoids” about our food from them too. Eat more of this food for the amino-acids, and less of that because of the fats… blah blah blah. I believe the complication of our food choices has caused the problems. Things only get worse by simply patching the system here and there, rather than scrapping it all together. Read Michael Pollan’s book “In Defense of Food” for a deeper understanding of our broken food system which shows that the current system is good for profits, but bad for people.
One of the major problems with our food system is that it is based on efficiency, which really doesn’t sound like a bad idea! (Improved technology = increased food production = a good thing, right?) But in fact, the more food you grow, with the same amount of available nutrients, actually causes a reduction in those nutrients per item/bushel/whatever. Then, you must eat more in order to get the nutrition you need…. that’s probably true and can cause some people to eat more. However, the more likely situation is a less cognitive one; Pollan explains it well:
… a body starved of critical nutrients will keep eating in the hope of obtaining them.
Meaning that a national food system that is mainly consisting of corn, wheat, and soybeans will create a natural craving in our bodies for something more! Of the 50-100 nutrients and compounds needed for healthy living, we probably don’t consume more than a couple dozen in a given week…. thus, our bodies tell us to eat more in hopes of someday getting them! That is one of the major connections I’ve realized recently between the folly of nutrition science and the natural occurrence of overeating.
So, eat more colorful food and other varieties. Spend money on exotic veges and fruits. Cook with different ingredients. Make meal time an exotic part of your day, rather than a chore. As you eat better, you’ll feel better.
Remember: variety is the spice of life, and then some!