Saturday, April 19, 2008


I met a woman who only ate because she got hungry. She said that if those bothersome unger pangs weren't there, she'd quite happily not eat a thing. Her usual lunch was a Kashi bar; a health food bar sold in the US.

I wish I could divorce myself from food like that. For then I would have that svelte physiqe and forever-out-of-reach six-pack that I've all but given up on. Unfortunately for me I eat:

  • When I feel happy; to celebrate

  • When I feel sad; to make me feel better

  • When I'm hungry; to feel satisfied

  • When I'm full; because I like the taste

  • When I'm lonely; to distract and comfort

  • When I'm with company; to share the occassion

In short, I eat whenever there's a reason to. I'm trying not to eat for no reason. I've flirted with restricted calorie, restricted carbohydrate and all sorts of modified diets. Usually I end up craving the very things I'm denying myself. On one of these I used to daydream of a big bowl of steaming white rice with two big tablespoons of gently melting butter on top. I imagined the cold hardness of the butter mingling with the warm melted unctuosness and coating the delicate soft white grains of rice. I'd get a hit of the saltiness, the perfume of the fragrant rice and feel the waft of moist steam against my face.

I used to find myself odd as I thought I was preoccupied with food. All the fitness magazines and diet advice never seemed to address the issue that some people actually like eating and it's an integral part of their life. I mean, it would dead easy to lose weight if all we needed to do was eat Kashi bars instead of real food. Incidentally, this woman was bone thin. The problem comes when we're somehow left feeling unfulfilled by our meal replacement snack bar. For us, our lives feel incomplete without eating a proper meal. It's trying to get that balance between eating with restraint for our physical health but still eating enough for our mental well-being.

Part of eating for mental-health also means eating things we feel and remember as 'food'. There used to be a common complaint amongst Westerners that Chinese food "never fills you up". In China, they're experiencing this with Western fast foods, which results in an increase in obesity rates. It's because both aren't eating food that they subconsciously think of as a 'real meal'. It's all just snacks in each other's slanted and round eyes, respectively.

Mireille Giuliano extends on the concept of eating 'real meals' in her series of books beginning with "Why French Women don't get Fat". She advocates sitting down and eating every meal with a knife and fork, preferably a napkin and a glass of wine for lunch and dinner.

I wonder if that advice is translatable to a Chinese housewife accustomed to eating with a bowl of rice and chopsticks? Could you imagine your chubby neighbourhood Auntie sitting down to eat with a knife, fork and napkin? I wonder if she'd still feel full without rice.