Asian Girl Problem #113: Two Loose Screws Short of a Disorder

Some of my oldest, closest friends told me that they know very little about my food anxieties and the extent of control they have on my everyday life. I don’t think it’s hard to talk about, the occasion just rarely comes up. We’re already bombarded with ED conversations because it’s the perfect modern-day malaise to glamorize, blame society for, and half-joke about. While I enjoy some of them, like this one, the more I think about it, the worse it gets. Better to focus on repeating healthier actions until they become habits. My anxieties can’t be diagnosed, and I’m not endangering my physical health (anymore) so I just pretend it doesn’t exist. Age has also mellowed me, smoothing out many anxieties and giving me permission to be softer, both to myself and to the touch.

If you asked, I’d be quick to tell you the facts of my EDNOS from a detached, clinical point of view.

I count calories, loosely, every day.
I won’t buy junk food unless I plan to leave it at someone else’s house.
Sometimes I can’t stop eating even though I feel full.
ThenI’ll feel anxious afterwards unless I run seven miles.
The first time I dieted was in fourth grade, deciding that to eat only rice porridge and mushrooms. I lasted three days.
I learned to diet by eating under 1000 calories a day in high school and lost 15 pounds.
I gained 25 pounds in college and tried to learn how to throw up from a new best friend.

Then there are the stories that make me struggle for breath, that I mean to blog about at some point. Hopefully I’ll do it sooner than later.

When I was taken to China at 8 and left isolated/ignored in at my grandparents’ house for a month, except during mealtimes.
How the first thing I wanted when I returned to Ohio after that trip, even more than seeing my dad, was Pizza Hut. Which is what I got.
All the candy my mom hid in the house, from Halloweens years past, and all the times I found and ate them without her knowing.
Tales of hunger I heard as a kid from my parents’ generation. Mom ate spoonfuls of sugar when she didn’t have lunch as a child. Dad ate moldy cornbread and pickled radish for weeks on end during his two years of cultural reform in the fields. A family friend boiled her leather belts until they were soft enough to bite through.
The plates of food my dad inhales/d every night after work, only to return to the kitchen an hour later for ice cream or nuts.
When I decided I’d had enough of being mistaken for a boy and wearing baggy clothing in high school. I listened to music and sewed instead of eating, throwing myself into a new obsession with fashion and the power to express myself creatively.

Always this anxiety of being hungry, or full. EDNOS doesn’t understand moderation. It’s either don’t buy groceries for as long as possible or try every kind of junk food. Wait until you’re too weak to move or eat everything behind their backs. It doesn’t matter who’s back–it adds a thrill. Eat a crazy combination of Cheetos dipped in frosting, or claw out lumps of peanut butter with your fingers, or brush your teeth right before you bake a tray of brownies for a party so you never get to know how they turned out, or pick out every broken cookie in the box and then destroy the rest and eat those too because you don’t know how to appreciate whole ones like normal people.

Don’t feel bad. (I don’t.) Do get on my ass about writing a post for each of those memories, though.

Asian Girl Problem #103: The Cake That Wasn’t

Up until a few decades ago, Chinese people didn’t bake. The British had some influence on Hong Kong desserts during their reign, but up in the mainland, people didn’t eat sweets. If you could afford dessert, it would consist of something like steamed mochi or red bean soup, which, to those of us raised on Good Humor and Little Debbie, aren’t worth the coal it takes to cook them. By the way, this is also the number one reason they remained svelte–expending lots of energy dodging gross desserts.

When China finally opened up to foreign economy and trade in the 80s, they discovered French and Cantonese style desserts and evolved them according to their own tastes, which is how you end up with the modern-day fruit cakes that are fluffy, mildly sweet and covered in whipped cream. The kind of cake that if sat on, would emit the sound of a whoopee cushion and flatten into nothing Because it is 90% air, all style and little substance. Which is exactly what my mother loves about them.

Despite being a health freak, her former sweet tooth comes back to bite every few weeks. Always looking for healthy desserts, she asks me to bring home an Asian bakery cake whenever there’s a special occasion.

“Tell them to make it with less sugar, less fat, no artificial ingredients, no colors.” She reminds me every time. And again when I bring it home for her. “Did they make it with less sugar, less fat, no artificial ingredients, no colors?”

No, I don’t tell the Dalai Lama how to meditate, and I don’t tell impatient Chinatown bakers to tweak their recipes to taste more like this “Yep!” I tell her. The lie is good for both our souls.

“It could still be a little less sweet. Tell them that next time,” she says as she returns for a second slice.

Asian Girl Problem #99: Get Dat Glow

I know healthy habits and the right regime are the foundation for all good skin, but I wouldn’t trade my Asian skin type for any other. Commonly known traits include:

-Thicker and denser dermal layer with more collagen, which makes it harder to damage/age.
-Darker color (“caramel, if you will) that tans easier than it burns.
-Less likely to get skin cancer/diseases, because of the darker pigmentation.
-Retains darker scars after minor injuries. Still waiting for two bug bites from last summer to show some sign of fading.

Another reason I think we maintain dat glow is by drinking plain hot water, an unspoken and mostly unconscious habit passed down from our moms and grannies. In China, cold water that’s safe to drink only comes bottled, but you can find places to fill up your thermos with free boiled water almost anywhere. But now in America, where hot water no cleaner than iced and probably annoys servers, we still ask for it whenever we can.

My Asian girlfriends know what I’m talking about–when we roll up to a restaurant, we get hot waters all around. A spot of tea or squeeze of lemon is great, but can sometimes sullies the pure experience–steeping our face in the steam and inhaling the warmth has a magical effect. As it cools enough to drink, tastes different too–almost thicker and more mineral-y, like the heat enhances every flavor nuance.

Far more crucial than a blender or food processor in our family.

I forget how uncommon it is in American culture until I’m the only one doing it in the presence of non-Asians. Happened yesterday at a bar, after one too many whiskeys. (Which, for those of you who underestimate my alcohol sensitivity, is one whiskey.)

“You just got hot water?” they asked, followed by a long pause while trying to decide if I’m cheap or weird.

“It’s an Asian thing.” So probably both.

For all that’s great about Asian skin, we pay our dues in social chagrin: Asian glow*. I saw an exceptionally bad case the other day– a fellow yellow turned Crayola red within ten minutes of entering the bar. So red we couldn’t be sure if it was alcohol-induced or rosacea. But unless people are genuinely wondering if they need to be calling 911, I don’t see why it’s embarrassing. Maybe it’s compounded by coming from a culture that values self-control and reticence and being in the one situation where you can’t maintain a poker face.

*for an antidote, Pepcid AC 30 minutes before drinking has always worked for me.

Asian Girl Problem #58: Happy Feet

It’s finally chilly where I live now, putting me in the holiday spirit better than any pumpkin-flavored comestible or hirsute man in a red hat. But staying healthy in cold weather takes conscious effort, and sometimes, two thousand years of Chinese tradition.
I’ve yet to meet a Chinese household that allows shoes indoors. But as much as that disgusts us, there is one thing worse: going barefoot on the cold floor. For years, Chinese people chastised and followed me around with slippers lest the chill traveled up my leg and gave me arthritis, a stomach cold, and various other diseases cause by too much yin.
It seems like we spend 10% of our lives trying to keep our feet happy, (except that bout of foot binding we’ll pretend never happened). Soaking them nightly in hot water, reflexology, even weight loss pads you stick to your sole that draw the fat out. I’ll have to ask my cousin  if they work.