Thursday, April 11, 2013

Thinking about Eating.

I remember being told this story when I was a child - my uncle had gone out and bought a whole carton of bar soaps. In his mind it made complete sense - it was a non-perishable item, and you could keep it for as long as you wanted. If prices of soap went up - well, you have just saved yourself some money. A few months later, and he had only gone through three or four bars of his hundred-something soaps sitting in his store room. He noticed that the rest of the soaps had lost their perfumed scent, so he had to throw them out.

One of the things that I am re-learning here in Ballarat is how I eat. People who share a meal with me will always wonder if I had eaten at all that day - I would always be the first to finish, I would eat at least three bowls of rice in a sitting and I used to 'push past the point of pain' - eat despite being full. (Hands up all you Asian children).

My friends used to joke that I didn't have worms - my whole gut was just one big worm. (At first I laughed. And then I ate my friends.)

I try to think about my attitude towards food, and in a way it is heavily influenced by my parents. Growing up, two things were valued in the family- education (including books) and food. My clothes were hand-me-downs, I had to be fairly imaginative with sparse toys, and entertainment (cinemas, video games, expensive toys) was wasteful. These were things you weren't meant to spend money on.

Food, on the other hand, was not regulated as strongly. As kids, my Dad would change about a hundred ringgit worth of fifty sen coins, and a jar would sit downstairs. You were meant to have fifty sen a day as pocket money, but no one really raised an eyebrow if you took more to spend at the school canteen.

In a way, I guess my parents, like all parents, wanted for me what they couldn't afford in their days. Dad used to tell me that he was so poor during his college years that he and his best friend would just drink tap water for lunch, and that would be all they would have for lunch. The thought of my father having to go without a meal still knots me up in my stomach and almost brings me to tears.

And so we ate, and we ate, and let's just say I was quite the tubby little boy growing up. I have pictures of me as a nine year old with my shirt buttons begging for mercy as the buttonholes wrinkled from trying to contain my little elephantine body, while I grinned like a mini Kim Jong-Un.

Were it not the dual mercies of puberty and my bout with dengue, I think I would have required my stomach to be stapled about five years ago. Heck, the doctors would have taken a look at me and offered to staple my mouth as well, I think.

It's true what they say - once you hit your thirties your metabolism slows down a lot. The only problem is that now that I am well and truly into my thirties, I still eat like my twenties, and therein lies the problem.

These are a few new ways I am learning to look at my food:

1) Do not deny yourself anything. What?! I hear you say. I know, he's trying to get us to fatten up so that he will look thin in comparison, you say.

I actually learnt this lesson from Karen - if you feel like eating something, just go ahead and eat it. If you deny yourself anything, that food item is suddenly placed on a pedestal and we all know that we want what we can't get (hands up all you unrequited lovers).

Suddenly the M&Ms become a guilty pleasure and then you binge when you finally do get to eat it because you never know when you'll be able to eat it again.

And so nowadays, if I feel like eating something, I will. Not in large amounts. Just enough to satisfy the craving. So stop when you are full. Food, like everything else, should be made our servant, and not our master.

2) You don't have to finish it. A lot of my attitude towards food is based on an inherited scarcity mentality. My survival instincts tell me that whenever I eat, it may be my last meal, so stock up! It may have been true for our ancestors and perhaps in war time, but it does not apply to us today.

Nowadays I no longer 'push past the pain' and stop when my tummy tells me I am full. You don't have to clean up everything on your plate. Really, it's okay. You can always cook that meal again or return to the restaurant.

Contrary to what your parents were brainwashing you with growing up, no one made a sizeable donation to the starving children in Africa just because you finished all the food on your plate.

The war is coming! Eat!
3) Shop wisely. I believe that the way we eat starts all the way at the choices we make at the supermarket. Never shop when you are hungry.

We live in a generation of excess - we have rows upon rows of fresh and processed foods and we are spoilt for choice. There is a convenience store or a supermarket within driving, if not walking distance from wherever we live.

And get this - the food will always be there. We shop so often from a scarcity mentality again - as if the war was coming. I have seen mothers with supermarket trollies that creak under the weight of their weekly groceries, filled almost to the point of overflowing.

Or maybe they ran an orphanage. (No, it was definitely a mother.)
Grocery shopping is retail therapy for some.

Don't buy double of anything. That other packet of Tim Tams or Oreos will be there when you return. The more you have at home, the easier it is to reach for it when your hands are not doing anything else, even when you are already full.

One other tip - sometimes we think we are hungry, when actually we are thirsty. Drink two glasses of water when hungry and wait for five minutes to see if the sensation goes away. If still hungry after that, then eat.

I am no health guru and I am myself learning to view my eating habits anew. It is not easy considering that I come from a culture where we meet up over meals, late night suppers are everywhere and we are obsessed with finding out where the good eating places are.

I have no inclinations to be thin, just healthy. I hope this helps some people think about our eating habits as well. The word 'habits' suggest that how we eat is influenced subconsciously. Maybe you have some other realisation you have come to about your eating habits. Thinking about how we eat and why we eat are the first steps to changing these long-standing habits.

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