I was in Thailand last year and I swear I never saw so many skinny people — in relatively well-off surroundings — in my life! To a lesser degree, I’ve noticed the same thing on my trips to Tokyo, Hong Kong, Beijing and Singapore. Large populations of people with a reasonable standard of living, a huge variety of foods available, and yet very little visible obesity. Since my partner is Taiwanese, I’m no stranger to Asian cuisine, and it strikes me that there are just as many UN-healthy choices as healthy ones. For every dish of raw fish and veggies, there’s another that involves deep frying, sesame oil, or sugary sauces. Even that fantastic Vietnamese national dish, Pho’ soup, comes laden with about three solid cups of noodles per bowl. So how does this work?
For one thing, the “snacking” culture appears to be somewhat less prevalent in Asia. While they do have convenience stores and junk food outlets, visits to such places apparently remain a more occasional experience than they do for Americans. For another thing, portions are just smaller. Most food in Asia that I’ve seen comes in dishes and containers significantly tinier than in the U.S. And who knows, there may be an obesity epidemic waiting in the wings, as their economies continue to surge and they continue to import western eating habits.
In the mean time, I had an interesting discovery. Because I like salads, veggies stir frys, and other healthy, but messy foods, I discovered that I was getting a lot of balsamic vinegar and mustard on my ties. Finally one day, after dropping a forkful of lettuce on my freshly dry-cleaned dress trousers, I recalled that I have a drawer-full of nice wooden chopsticks. Amazingly, I am far neater with these tools and now that I’ve taken to using them, I’ve almost completely eliminated the need to cover myself from head to toe in napkins while eating.
But here’s the REAL kicker. Although I’m great with chopsticks, when I use them I am forced to eat small, reasonable bites, one at a time. I cannot shovel food into my mouth the way I often have in the past. As a result, I’m taking my time, savoring the food more, and stopping sooner. I’ve even taken to using smaller serving plates!
How do you slow down? Can you think of ways to savor food more, while keeping portions reasonable and stopping before you get full? We’ve heard time and again that too much food, too fast, can yield really terrible results. The question is, for those of us without a natural stop sign, how to we figure this out?
For now I’m sticking with the chopsticks. I’m even thinking about bringing some along on my next trip, just to see how it works when I’m away from home.
– Contributed by Jonathan