How come Asians are slimmer? (usually)

Did you ever wonder how come most Asians you see are skinny(ier)?
If you will walk down the street in most Asian countries, you are not likely to meet too many “heavy” people.
Why is that?

Well, it’s got quite a few reasons – but let’s talk about the main ones (**the reasons are not necessarily in the below order).

Chopsticks - with a treat!

Chopsticks – with a treat!

Reason # 1 – Chopsticks:
Did you see those small sticks that are used as cutlery? well, there’s a limit to what can go between them:)
So the food portions that can be eaten with them are smaller than if you use a fork / spoon.
If you go to a restaurant in a western country, and look at the eating habits, you will see a group of people sitting around the table, each one with a full plate, a personal one, and usually the person will use a fork / spoon to “load” the food.
But if you go to a Chinese restaurant or even if you will go to a dinner in a Chinese family’s house you will also see a group of people sitting around the table, but their eating habits will be completely different than the “western way”, which brings me to my next point.



2. “Family sharing” eating style:
Asians usually don’t use personal plates.
If you will take a look from up close at a dinner table in an Asian restaurant, you will see a lot of plates – much more that if you go to a western restaurant.
That way – everybody gets to taste everything and everybody wants to make sure that the other will have enough food – so they will usually not consume more than what they actually need / want.

3.The ingredients and the cooking method:
The Asian nutrition is based on a lot of vegetables, fruits fish and rice.
Meat was (in some places still is) a luxury, because it is quite expensive.
Now – not only the ingredients are healthy – Asians almost don’t have sugar in them (or at least artificial one).
The Asian cooking methods are usually either to stir-fry or to steam cook, you will almost never see deep fry in traditional cooking.

Fresh Baozi, at people's park, Chengdu

Fresh Baozi, at people’s park, Chengdu

4. Snacking:
While living in China in the past year – I have noticed that Chinese people have a lot of snacks.
And when I say snacks I don’t mean Doritos / snickers, but I mean food snacks – usually street food (which is excellent!) like a few dumplings or some baozi (steamed, usually with vegetables bun) or sometimes skewers.
In that way – when they sit down to actually eat – they don’t over eat, but eat to “fill out the gap”.

5. Sports:
Although not too many are doing sports in the conventional way, but in China for example, even though the number of cars is increasing more and more, still one of the most popular means of transportation is bicycle.
Second, if you go to any park at around 6 AM / PM you will see a lot of people doing different forms of activities, if it’s Tai Chi, Yoga, power exercise or plain walking or running.

With the above being said, you can still see more and more “heavy” people in Asian countries, and why is that?

Because of a few reasons, but the biggest one I assume is the “westernization”:
As I stated above, one of the most common means of transportation is bicycle, but in Beijing for example there are traffic jams almost 24/7 for a reason – more and more cars are to be seen (because of the big cities nouveau riche wave – you can read all about it here.
So obviously the car itself is not causing this fattening trend, but because of the westernization you will find more and more people that are eating sweets (local and foreign) and drinking sweet drinks.
To conclude – get a pair of chopsticks, wake up a few times a week at 5:30 and go to the park, share food and don’t eat too many sweets (although sweets are not necessarily bad for you) and you are less likely to gain weight – I hope!;)

Adam Disatnik

I have been living in China since early 2013 in the great Beijing. I try to travel as much as I can and try to understand the culture and the habits as much as possible. It's amazing how much can be learned about China, and about life, while living abroad in a totally different country than the one you grew up in. I love it! Catch up on my blog to try and understand along with me:) Adam.

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1 Response

  1. Amir Klein says:

    An excellent post! I totally enjoyed reading it! The first part, which talks about the Asian cutlery and eating habits as well as ingredients used etc., was not new to me, but very interesting nonetheless. Actually, I’ve read a lot about the Asian eating habits in a Food-History book by Bee Wilson, titled ‘Consider the Fork’, A recommended book for anyone who is interested with eating habits and `food culture.
    The other parts were not very known to me, and intrigued me very much: It’s very interesting, how the uprising economic situation in China affects the weight of people in such a direct and indirect way all at once! I guess that the westernization of China, and the spread out of fast food chains doesn’t help a lot for keeping a thin population. I guess, as Asia as a whole and China in particular get more and more westernized every year, with a growing number of McDonald’s and KFC branches, more and more cars and western eating habits getting very popular (Chinese people using knives and forks instead of chopsticks, ditching the shared dishes for private ones and so on), there is really no escaping from a respective growth in the number of heavy people in China. Too bad.

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