People often wonder how Asian people stay so slim when food appears to be so plenty. In Tibet, it’s the same story as elsewhere in the region: the dinner table is typically a grand spread every time, and people really go for it.
In the west some people like to say it’s genetics, but it seems to me that it’s a lot to do with how people perceive food in Asia, as well as the way that they are eating. All this before you even start to think about what people are eating.
Let’s start with perception: in the west, many people view food as a source of unwanted calories – something that we must consume in order to allay hunger. When measured in these terms – as calories – we often eat less of what we know to be good for us in order to allow for a little more of what we know is bad.
In Tibet, there is no word for calorie, and people rarely think of food in terms of good or bad. Food is perceived as something that provides nourishment. It is fundamentally good, and guilt has no place at the table.
And then there’s how people are eating. In Asia, where multiple dishes are cooked and enjoyed fresh every mealtime, food is placed in the centre of the table, an approach that allows you to think about what you are eating, rather than clearing your plate without even noticing.
In the west, we allow less time for meals. We tend to eat faster than our appetite needs to register how much we have eaten. This means that we are often left hungry between meals or that we eat too much.
The important difference is that in Tibet, as elsewhere in Asia, people generally have a positive relationship with food, and they make time for it. They eat three good meals a day and they eat until they are full. Dessert and snacks are not a feature of the diet.
What can we take from this? If we want to channel an Asian attitude, we should make more of an occasion of mealtimes, enjoy plenty of fresh food, and eat enough of it that we don’t feel the need for a snack in between times.
There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, but it’s a starting point! Does any of this resonate with you?
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