The first time at a KFC in the US, I asked for a small soda, then was handed a jumbo sized cup for self-service.
I said to that lady: “I’m sorry, I asked for small.” She said: “this is small.”
Then, I walked out with a huge Dr. Pepper in hand. 20 minutes later, I threw it away because all the sugar and carbon in it made me bloated.
In America, everything is bigger.
Today’s weight loss and fitness industries teach people to base portion-sizing on calorie counting, yet many who experienced it have found it ineffective and misleading.
It is because calories don’t mean satisfaction. A 50-calorie apple could be more satiating than a 200-calorie brownie, and when joy is absent, deprivation is on.
This is the start of the chronic dieting mindset which is hard to escape later.
And it explains why MyFitnessPal, a platform that merely simplifies calorie counting and makes people even more obsessed with the numbers, is not solving the problem in the long run.
But what is the alternative then?
Eat whole foods, mindfully.
This is how I was taught to eat the right portion since my early childhood in China:
In my memory, each time, my mother would hand me a small bowl with half of it pre-filled with the fluffy rice.
She would then add some sliced meat from the light, freshly cooked stir-fry dish, then use the green vegetables to cover everything.
There’s one more step she never forgot to take: mixing everything thoroughly just to make sure every spoonful had rice, meat, and greens in it.
She would then feed me each spoonful and watch me chew slowly. When I finished, she asks me “are you full?” Then I would contently nod my head or ask her for more food.
Mom 25, me 1. I was a chubby kid.
Mom 51, me 27.
“Are you full?”
Answering this simple question once and once again trained me to be mindful about my body’s connection with food at a very young age.
I quickly learned what every meal was supposed to include, and the key components always needed to be there even though the entrees changed day after day.
A bowl of rice mixed with scallions, bean curd and mushrooms
No scale is necessary, nor are the measuring cups and spoons a must. I can accurately gauge the food portion size and proportion just by looking at what’s in the bowl. It’s a skill I gained from daily practicing.
The concept of “calories-counting”, which has arrived in China from the west recently, seems to address a need that doesn’t exist among most of us in China because all that is necessary is to listen to your body attentively.
That listening ability is human being’s natural instinct that seems to be largely forgotten.
BONUS TIP: Consider cutting your meat into bite-size pieces and mix the meat, vegetables, and starch well when eating. The reason is when we eat foods of different textures and eat them together, we feel more satisfied – both physically and psychologically.
What do you do then?
No matter what you are eating, visualization makes you conscious of the actual amount of food you are getting from each food category. You’d be surprised by how less often you overeat simply by being aware.
Here’s how you can start it:
For each meal, visualize a 9-inch plate with 55% lightly cooked vegetables, 20% lean meat or tofu, and 25% grains or potato. Do not go over the quota for each food category.
Eat slowly, chew well. Feel the flavors, aroma, and the varied texture of the food you are eating, and be attentive to how it makes you feel.
If the amount of food on your plate fills you well, stop. If not, get 10% more vegetables and protein.
When setting your goal for mindful eating, don’t go for 100% full but 80%, and fill the other 20% with healthy, clear soup, tea, or water. Let the liquid hydrate you and inflate the food you eat. Within just minutes, you’ll be satiated.
Super easy, delicious enoki mushroom soup done by Elaine at China Sichuan Food. Find recipe
Guess what, on the dinner table of a traditional Chinese family, a warm soup cannot be missed, and that is why.
Sometimes, a bowl of light, flavorful, and nutrition-rich noodle soup would do the job.
Vegetarian ramen by Nami @ Just One Cookbook
BONUS TIP: Simply by pouring the soup into the rice bowl and letting it stay for 10 minutes can inflate the rice size by 15%. You feel you are eating more, but you aren’t.
In the meantime, the soup, while softening the rice, enrich it with flavors and aroma, making it an even more pleasurable eating experience.
This is almost close to the concept of congee – something that you can eat 1 whole litter with <500 calories.
Slow cooked chicken soup poured into the rice bowl.
The seafood congee that is super filling and super light.
Don’t worry about calories. If the food is fresh, natural, and cooked with a moderate amount of fat and sugar, you’ll rarely hit the calorie ceiling before feeling full. In fact, chances are you’ll naturally create a substantial gap.
Do keep asking yourself “am I full yet?” Then feel it, and wait for a few seconds before answering.
Gradually, you will regain the real contentment and become comfortable with following the need of your body vs the numbers.
Note that the only thing to focus on during this practice is how your stomach feels.
If the taste buds aren’t pleased, avoid compensating yourself by adding up the food quantity as many people unconsciously do.
Just stop, then go for another recipe next time.