Saturday, October 3, 2009

Using small plates

Yesterday, Lisa posted on Obesity Help about her struggle to accept the small amounts of food she can eat now, and that got me to thinking.

Using small plates instead of big plates is one of the things that has helped me a lot in my WLS journey. It sounds so simple - maybe too simple. Why does it work?

I think that most obese people are accustomed to eating huge dinner plates piled high with food at every meal (plus snacks inbetween). I know I was. I ate the equivalent of Thanksgiving Dinner every night. In some ways, a plate piled high with food is a good thing - a sign of plenty, or wealth, or security, or comfort. Just think of those starving 3rd world children holding up empty bowls, hoping for a few grains of rice. So a steak so big that half of it falls off the plate is good, right?

Not if you eat it all at one sitting.

After I had WLS, and after I had enough fill in my band to truly comprehend how little I could eat, my obese soul rebelled. This could not possibly be enough to keep a body alive! I would eat 4 bites of food, feel uncomfortable, and have to debate: stop now (the sensible thing) or keep on eating (because I "needed" more) and get into trouble? The small portion of food I could handle looked so meager on a dinner plate, but was just right on a salad plate. I still got to eat a full plate of food, so somehow I didn't feel so deprived.

This afternoon, I was thinking about this issue and remembered some of the wonderful meals I've had while traveling in China (too many to count). When I first visited China (in the late 1980's), I rarely saw an obese person. Since then, fast food and other delights of Western civilization have had their effects, and there are more obese Chinese people, but still nothing like what you see here in the USA. A traditional Chinese meal is served in big dishes at the center of the table, with each diner taking one or two bites worth of food at a time, using their chopsticks and putting the food on tiny (smaller than American salad plates) plates. The serving dishes are circulated until everyone has had their fill, but no one takes more than those few bites at a time. The etiquette behind this is: when food is scarce, you share it equally with other community members, so no one goes hungry and everybody has enough fuel to do the next chore to support the community.

I have been to small villages in China where having plates was not a priority. You might be too poor to buy plates, or so rich that you couldn't provide plates for the 800 hungry people that came to your daughter's wedding reception (many of those guests had to walk 5 hours on country roads to get there). The food is served in a big communal bowl, and each person takes 1 bite at a time. You don't pile a big dinner plate with food you don't need, just because you want it or deserve it or whatever. The Chinese people who still observe this tradition are not obese. They feel they have had plenty even when there were only 4 bites to share amongst 4 people.

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