When we think of starvation, images of sickly, frail, bony bodies come to mind. We see heartbreaking images on the internet of people in places with no access to food and water.
It’s no wonder that we glamourize abundant eating here in developed countries. An abundance of food everywhere is almost like a badge of honour to say that we’ve made it. Look at me indulging in my fried chicken and char kway teow and pizza and buritos! Check out my cosmopolitan diet, you guys!
Yet everywhere I look, I see people around me, right here in developed Singapore, starving, starving STARVING. And it’s killing me. It makes me so upset and angry at the same time. I want to shake my fist at the problem and childishly tell it to go away but of course it wouldn’t, certainly not just like that.
First off, let’s state that this has NOTHING to do with your body size. I DON’T CARE. You can be obese with a BMI of 50 or waif-like with a BMI of 10 or be perfectly defined as ‘healthy’ with regards to the BMI scale and you still could be starving.
According the the Oxford English Dictionary, starvation is defined as:
suffering or death caused by the lack of food.
any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink or that plants absorb in order to maintain life and growth.
which essentially, I would put starvation as suffering or death caused by the lack of nutrition to maintain life and growth.
I doubt anybody in Singapore is dying from starvation but are you suffering from a lack of nutrition today?
Are you suffering from or on the brink of suffering from diabetes, high cholesterol, osteoporosis? I found a really great article here (“Are you starving yourself into obesity”) that I feel is quite telling of the future of our nation if we don’t encourage greater mineral and vitamin intake (from real food sources! Not just supplementation!)
When I go overseas and I eat an abundance of food, I always crave to return back to normal eating because I know that much as I enjoy it, the abundance of food I’m eating is not meeting my nutritional requirements at all. On my recent Bangkok trip, we loaded up on Pad Thai and fried chicken wings, fantastic pork intestines and rice and an abundance of every rich and yummy food you could think of. I was eating up to 8 meals a day yet I knew I was starving. I was eating a whole load of items but they weren’t hitting my micro-nutrient needs. The sense of fullness I felt was from a bloated stomach and overworked digestive system rather than true satiety.
It amazes me that I learnt how to felt to be truly satiated only in my mid 20s. Before, I would eat a whole lot but never truly feel full. Well, I would think I was full but now on a diet abundant in nutrients that my body needs, I’ve finally learnt the feeling of true satiety. It’s not a sense of bloatedness or lethargy and I no longer crave to eat more of the same.
Have you ever tried an amazing dish that you just wanted to eat more and more of it till you are totally stuffed? Chances are the item in question is a product cooked with a perfect blend of quick digesting carbohydrates and fat that altars your brain to crave more. It’s a double whammy as well because not only do you crave to eat more psychologically, physiologically, because your body is only receiving carbohydrates and fat, it will send signals to eat more in hopes you might give it the nutrients it needs. My acid test for natural, good food now is if I can stop eating it. People are often surprised when I bring them to ‘healthy’ cafe joints like Balanced Living Cafe and they are full and unwilling to eat anymore despite them over ordering intitally coz they feared the salad is ‘not filing enough’. (This is probably why ‘unhealthy food’ is yummy to you. It’s yummy / makes you crave more of it because your body isn’t getting any nutrients, it never gets full!)
Let’s pause for a moment here and take a look at a diet that I copied wholesale from what one of my students told me he eats daily. He is 12 by the way and is obese and suffering from pre- diabetes which is in my humble opinion, totally unnecessary. I’ve tried to sound it out to his parents but they sighed in despair and say they have no time to take care of him and his grandparents show love by showering him with food.
Breakfast: milo/ white bread/ kaya
Snack: (he brings a lunchbox to school in an attempt to get him to eat ‘healthier’!!!)
Chicken nuggets with cut up prata slices and chili sauce
Lunch: Macdonalds meal upsized
Snack: All the soda he wants and chips
Dinner: Normal Chinese dinner but usually has some kind of friend food and 3 portions of rice. He does eat some veggies here
Supper: Instant noodleswith canned sausages (his favourite!)
All I see here is SO MUCH FOOD and the boy is starving away. He’s not getting anything! He’s constantly hungry and his parents just laugh it off and calls him a ‘growing boy’ with a ‘big appetite’. DOES THIS NOT UPSET YOU? Here we are living in such a developed, rich nation and we are starving our kids (and ourselves) out of LOVE? Oh the irony.
In other news, let’s move away to a typical office worker’s food intake:
Breakfast: Bread with egg and coffee
Lunch: Dabao-ed hawker centre Cai fan with rice and meat and veggie
Tea: Teh-O Siew Dai with a chicken pie
Dinner: Fishball noodles (soup- coz healthier option?)
Sounds pretty reasonable right? Is this office worker likely to be fat? I’d say no. OW here might be quite slim in fact, eats reasonably well and have no current health problems but a daily intake like that is almost devoid of fibre, minerals and vitamins that the body needs.
So if said OW here decides that he/ she needed to ‘detox’ (ugh, I hate this word) coz he/ she is feeling a little pudgy recently, he/she might decide to cut out carbs because that’s what everybody does when they go on a diet right?
So in an attempt to be ‘healthier’ and slim down, OW new daily intake might look like that:
Breakfast: scrambled egg and coffee
Lunch: Cai fan meat and veggies no rice
Tea: 1 slice of papaya
Dinner: Fish soup no noodles
Will he/ she lose weight? Of course! He/ She might even be the envy of all her colleagues who also strive to cut out carbs and whatnot because her/ his one week ‘detox’ was so successful! Will he/ she get healthier? NO. This ‘detox’ to get healthier is even more devoid of nutrients than her previous diet with the exception of the additional papaya. I see so many people around me on this kind of diets and it makes me want to wring my hands out in frustration. Yes you are eating, but you are still starving!
Getting healthier, guys, is not SUBTRACTION. It’s not eating less. It’s eating more! Eat more fibre, eat more calcium, magnesium, vitamins etc! Stop starving yourselves!
In another scenario, our dear friend OW here might be walking past her friend who is eating KFC for lunch. OW2’s daily intake might go somewhat like this:
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs with mushrooms and assorted veggies
Lunch: KFC chicken with a lunchbox of broccoli and brown rice
Dinner: Homecooked white rice, veg and Fish
OW2 ate KFC for lunch- JENG JENG JENG! White rice! All these things people always say are ‘unhealthy’ and ‘bad’ But overall, her diet has more fibre, nutrients and vitamins than OW1. Do you see that it’s not about restriction but balance? That the more substances you eat that are devoid of nutrients, the more nutrition you need to eat? It’s not about the type of food you eat at all, it’s about supplying your body with nutrients such that it can work at its most optimal. If you eat a whole cake for Christmas, your next meal jolly well be a whole farm of broccoli. (Haha!)
So the next time you indulge in a feast (holiday season, guys!) or lots of cake and pastries and whatnot remember that you may not exactly be eating FOOD. You might just be stuffing yourself silly.
Which brings me to… the post holiday ‘detox’.
I’ve had so many email requests for a ‘detox’ plan. Readers send in their self crafted detox plan which consists of a few bunch of salad leaves and think they are going to attain nirvana and purity after that. Seriously, what is with this idea of perfection and internal cleanliness that people are so obsessed over?
If you over indulged on food one day, restricting your food intake the next day is not the way to help your body at all. You need to think of eating in terms of nutrients rather than calories! If on Day One you ate lots of Christmas cookies and treats and every thing, as a calorie counter, you might be tempted to eat nothing the next day and exercise intensively (exercising intensively also leeeches vitamins and minerals from your body so you MUST REFUEL!) to return to a net zero. Don’t you see how unhealthy that is? If you do so, instead of your one day ‘detox’ effort to get healthier, you end up with TWO days devoid of nutrition or maybe even less nutrition than when you first started!
But if you look at your intake in terms of nutrition, you would realise that on Day One, you ate lots of sugar and fat with hardly any fibre or vitamins or minerals (no biggie, no need to beat yourself up over it) thus on Day Two, rather than completely restricting your food intake or eating the bare minimal, you might load up on lots of (If you are eating ONE iceberg lettuce and dressing for lunch that is pure starvation. Don’t do it!) fruits and veggies and lean protein to balance the previous day and re-nourish your body.
So the next time you see a friend eating a salad, don’t be too quick to judge and dismiss said friend as starving him/ herself. For all you know, the one starving here might just be… you 😉