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Last Wednesday was the Chinese New Year Eve — the long-waited time of the year to indulge in tables and tables of deliciousness. Feasts jokers firecrackers — they say. And every year around this time, the families would throw the MOST affluent, voluminous, and festive dinners with our family and friends to usher the good fortune and prosperity for the new year — like this one in our household.
My mom rose early on the day to prepare for it. A whole table of foods was set up by about 5:30 pm and about the time when relatives arrived.
We couldn’t finish the whole table of food for sure, and it means for the following 1-2 days, you would be having (delicious) leftovers . After that, we were invited by relatives and friends to their place to eat the whole table of fresh, delicious treat they’ve prepared for us. The feasts last for 7-8 days.
If you are negligent about those “rules,” you’ll probably put on a pound or two during the Holiday. But overall you are fine, and those 1-2 lbs can easily go away after a short week or two once things get back to normal.
This has sparked up a lot of curiosity. From time to time, I get asked the same questions from people over and over again — the Asian people are obsessed with food and everything from closing businesses to having blind dates is done on the food table with lots and lots of tempting, delicious food around, but how come you guys are still so skinny?
It’s not genes, but the food.
First of all, every dish had to earn its way onto our table — it means that they have to taste delicious, smell equally aromatic, and look good. In our long-standing cuisine culture, taste, look, and aroma are equally important. And I want you to know this because what I’m really trying to show you is an experience where taste and health or slimming down aren’t trade-offs.
And you don’t believe your waistline can shrink by 1″ after a few days of indulgence? You need to read this.
On the dinner table that I’ve shown you — there are 22 dishes, made of 50 ingredients across, and everything was made from scratch (so no processed food). Among all the ingredients, 8 are meat, all others are veggies.
And here are the a few settings of the meal that ensures that your waistline won’t be risked:
1. There’s almost no added sugar.
Sugary and delicious are different things. Most of our dishes do not involve sugar. And if there happens to be any, it’d be a tiny amount. On a New Year Eve dinner like this, the only dessert you have are some fruits which are nicely diced into bite size and plated. And it’s eaten in a family sharing style, meaning you won’t have (or want to have) too much.
If you are a kid, you get to have a cup of orange juice or yogurt. Adults drink them sometimes, but not much.
2. It’s family sharing style.
You get a small (4″ dia) bowl in front of you and take foods from the plate into the bowl.
Hint: using a smaller bowl really helps. And it repetitively amazes my coaching students — “I can’t believe I’m full with what I just had now. I remember having twice that much but never feeling full!”
This is because the feeling of satiety is triggered by not just the amount of food you eat but also your overall sensual and visual experience. Eating a blend salad may not make you feel full; eating a dish of the same size but rich in delicious, interesting flavors and different textures will. And using a container that makes you feel you are “done” is an essential part of that matrix. This works extremely well for those who have the habit of finishing everything on the plate for every meal because when you are done — even though the plate is smaller this time — your brain sends you the signal to stop eating just as a behavior pattern.
So yeah, the bowls that you see on the photo above are about 4″ dia with some depth. If you think about the actual size of a human stomach, you’d know the amount of food is enough to fill it. And with all the delicious flavors, you are more than satisfied and pleased.
3. There’s A LOT OF vegetables.
How much vegetable did you eat today? You may proudly tell me you had a big salad with lots of lettuce and spinach and that is about 3-4 full cups.
That’s nothing, my friend.
No kidding. To us, that’s 3-4 bites only. And if I had only 3-4 bites of vegetables during a meal when I was a child, I won’t be able to leave the table until I fill up the rest of the quota, and that would mean to double or triple the amount.
“But what does it mean by saying it’s only 3-4 bites, Leslie?”
Leafy greens shrink in size like crazy when you cook them — by 80%. And if you go back to the picture that I’ve shown you, you’ll see quite a few pure veggie dishes that are light stir-fried. And each of them required at least 24-30 cups of raw greens. There are other dishes that has 1 portion of meat and 2 portion of vegetables in it, and that’s easily another 10 cups.
Ultimately, over 100 cups of vegetable are condensed onto a table and was split among the 6 of us.
4. Fat is minimal.
The thing about our cooking is: you use a very moderate amount of 1-2 tbsp of oil when cooking a dish, yet most of the oil – if there is juice – does not get absorbed into the foods.
Think about the time when you have a burger with a slice of cheese or a tbsp of mayo of it — as soon is it’s put there, it’s sure to be eaten. But here, the format is very different because you skip the juice which has most of the oil in it, and for the rest amount of oil, you share it with others (another great thing about family sharing style eating).
Overall, the food is lean but no boring or blend because of a big variety of flavors created from them.
Now about fat intake — some people advocate that your body needs fat and it’s okay to eat a lot of that. Some fat is good. And as to how much you are supposed to eat, the American Heart Association recommended 20% of your daily calorie intake (not 35-40%) which is also in line with the experience of the world’s most healthy and long-living populations.
Notice that 20% isn’t a lot at all. If you are eating a 2000 calorie diet, that’s about 400 calories. Given there are 9 calories per gram of fat, it gives you about 45g (or 3.5 tbsp) oil per day to put into your cooking pan. But you have to also factor in the cheese, mayo, bacon, burger patty, avocado that you can eat here and there. Most of Americans are way above the line with the average consumption of 75g, which is a big problem today.
5. We drink soup while eating.
There’s a whole pot of home-cooked clean chicken soup that comes with this dinner which is not in the picture because it has to be kept on the stove for constant warming. But everyone gets a bowl of that first when they eat, and drinking and eating at the same time really boosts your satiety.
6. We don’t really focus on food.
It is ironical because we spend so much time making the whole table of foods. But the truth is: when you meet family members who you haven’t seen for long, you no longer think about food.
So what happens a lot is that you sit by the table busy talking or listening. You are so absorbed into the conversation, trying to catch up every bit of the news about your relatives in the past year. You also crack up some jokes and have a good laugh. Regardless of what it is, you forget about food.
In a while, your food becomes cold. and others have to remind you that you haven’t taken a bite of anything yet in the past 5 minutes! The dinner lasts 2-3 hours with all the delicious food around you, but you don’t constantly eat for 2-3 hours (which would be disastrous). That’s how you get leftovers for the following days.
At the end of the dinner, you feel happy, nourished, satisfied (mentally and physically), and perhaps stuffed a little. However, you know it’s fine because you’ve stuffed yourself with all the delicious greens that will pump up the antioxidants in your body, make your skin glow, make your hair silkier, and energize you further. You don’t worry a bit about calories. And you only remember you’ve had a great time.
Hope this article gives you an idea about what happy and healthy feasting can be like. Have a good weekend.