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After Trying Countless Diets, I Circled Back to Intuitive Eating | by heidi


 


I can barely get through a day without people calling me “skinny” or telling me to “eat more.” And I’m so far into the “underweight” area on the body mass index (BMI) chart that my doctor has warned me about potential health problems.



But BMI isn’t an accurate marker of health risks, especially for people of color. For example, Asians and Asian Americans generally have lower BMI values than White people, who BMI was designed to serve. As a result, the unadjusted BMI chart tends to underestimate the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes in Asian populations.1 Without considering factors like body fat percentage and muscle mass, measuring weight alone doesn’t tell the full story about one’s health status.


I now live in Taiwan, where my body size is more common. But locals in Taiwan tend to greet people by asking if they’ve eaten lunch or dinner, making personal diets an unavoidable conversation. Anyone who’s ever encountered an Asian auntie knows that they’ll always tell you to eat more and eat well regardless of your weight.


It doesn’t help that I follow a plant-based diet, which keeps my body fat percentage relatively low. However, maintaining a certain body weight has never been a priority in my diet. It’s more important for me to consume foods that align with my values while optimizing health, which pushed me to explore creative cooking with various dietary restrictions.


My Diet Experiment

I stopped eating meat in middle school after making the connection between the animals in our storybooks and the ones on our dinner table. I kept eating seafood for the rich protein, but switched to a fully vegetarian diet after graduating college. 



It was also around this time that I tried allium-free vegetarianism, a practice rooted in Buddhism. Some Buddhist vegetarians avoid the “five pungent vegetables” of the genus Allium—onions, garlic, chives, green onions, and leeks—due to certain passages in the scripture.



While a Buddhist text says these spices incite lust or desire in the consumer, traditional Chinese medicine takes the view that the antibacterial properties are too strong for frequent consumption.


From an allium-free diet, I made the transition to veganism, when I recognized that the consumption of eggs and milk exploits the reproductive systems of animals. Eggs were eschewed from my diet, and I slowly worked my way through plant-based milk, yogurt, and ice cream.


As I explored veganism, I tried a wide range of complementary diets such as gluten-free, raw, and keto briefly. Keto, a restrictive diet that doesn’t allow carbohydrates, was too testing as I love carbs way too much.



 Study: Keto Diet May Lead to Long-Term Health Risks

Intuitive Eating

After spending my early 20s in exploring different diets, I circled back to intuitive eating principles, which encourage eating what my body inherently craves: plant-based whole foods.



Research shows that intuitive eating is associated with a more positive body image and reduced disordered eating in women.2 This approach has been the best for my energy levels and overall happiness. After all, pleasure is an indisputable part of the culinary experience. 


A whole foods, plant-based diet can vary based on individual preferences. It focuses on fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains while excluding processed foods. Luckily for me, the subtropical climate in Taiwan provides an abundance of fresh produce year-round, readily available at open-air wet markets and grocery stores.


Recipe: Turmeric Tofu Scramble

Tofu remains one of my favorite sources of protein. A 100 gram serving tofu contains 17 grams of protein while the same serving of chicken offers 23.9 grams of protein. Tofu is also packed with essential nutrients like calcium and iron, with very few calories.3


I often make a basic tofu scramble and pair it with other foods based on my appetite and how much time I have. I’m a huge fan of English breakfast, so I sometimes serve this simple dish with vegan sausage, toasted bread, stir fried mushrooms, baked beans, and a scalded half tomato. Most days, though, I’ll just stir fry it with leafy greens or any leftovers from the fridge.


tofu scramble ingredients

Darice Chang


Time: 10 minutes

Yield: 2 servings


Ingredients

1 block of firm tofu, pressed and drained

1 tbsp of coconut butter (or any vegetable oil/butter of your choice)

Flaky salt, to taste

1 tsp turmeric powder

Leafy greens such as spinach and kale

Optional: smoked paprika or cracked black pepper for topping



tofu scramble

Darice Chang


Directions


Press and dry the tofu as much as possible. You can place paper towels around the tofu and put a heavy bowl on top to squeeze out the moisture.

Crumble the tofu into bits with your hands.

Heat the coconut butter in a nonstick pan on medium heat and sprinkle salt over the melted butter or oil. This helps to distribute the salt evenly.

Add turmeric powder.

When the pan is hot, add the crumbled tofu and stir to coat it with the salty turmeric oil. 

Turmeric will add a yellow color to the tofu. When the tofu starts looking like eggs, you can toss in leafy greens right at the end and cover the pan for about 2 minutes until the greens start to wilt.*

Remove from the pan and serve with your favorite sides.

*You can add other vegetables like eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, or mushrooms. Just sauté them separately before cooking the tofu, otherwise the turmeric will dye them yellow. Add them back in at the end with the greens.

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