By Nina Huang
Northwest Asian Weekly
“In the Asian community, food is a love language. Food is how we connect with our culture,” Mindy Lu said.
In Western dietary circles and fields, people don’t talk about this, but in the Asian community, food is how we communicate affection for one another.
Thinking about how Asians celebrate Lunar New Year with feasts and how each dish has a specific meaning, food is integral to the Asian culture, it’s how we connect with our heritage and one another, so it’s important to have access and a good relationship with food that we have great memories of, Lu said.
Lu, LMHC, CN is the clinical director, therapist, and nutritionist at Sunrise Nutrition located in the Eastlake neighborhood of Seattle. She was born and raised in Seattle with cultural roots in Taiwan. Her specialty is in eating disorders and body image within the Asian community.
Lu said the scope of practice for a nutritionist or dietitian is pretty large. Generally, it’s anything that concerns food, food behavior, or one’s relationship with food.
“Sometimes our relationships with food have to do with body image. While body image falls into the scope of a therapist, it’s directly related to the relationship of food,” she said.
Lu is professionally trained to see patients for both fields. Her specific specialty is the relationship with food, behavioral and emotional experiences around food, and what goes into the decision-making process for food.
“Food is never just about food. It’s never just about what goes in and what goes out. It’s about the relationship,” she said.
Lu pursued the nutrition field because she wanted to learn more about what she could do for her own personal body goals, and then in the training process, she learned about how harmful and oppressive the thinking and narratives around food are.
“I love this work because I’m doing the work that I wish was around when I was young. I wish 12-year-old Mindy had someone ask about whether or not to go on this diet, and to tell her no, don’t do it,” she said.
Lu feels very passionate about the intersection of nutrition, diet culture, racism, and eating disorders.
“Asian Americans are one of the most underdiagnosed populations for eating disorders. I see this a lot in practice because there’s not enough awareness around it. People of all colors deserve to have a good relationship with food,” she said.
She said that many of her clients feel shame around rice and noodles.
“There is nothing wrong with rice and noodles,” Lu said.
“I see that reflected in our dominant culture as well, like, ‘I love rice but it’s supposed to be bad for me.’ I’d encourage the Asian community to lean into the notion that there’s a time and place for all foods,” she said.
She added that Asian food is really diverse with all kinds of rice: white, brown, multigrain, barley, millet, and all sorts of other different grains. This idea that Asian food is less healthy than other foods is incorrect because there are no studies that prove that.
Lu sees a lot of racism in Western medicine and in nutrition education and policies out there.
“Western dietetics is rooted in white supremacy and colonialism, and they’re not educated on Asian communities thriving on a variety of foods,” she said.
She always tells her Asian clients that the foods that they grew up with deserve space and they have value here.
“The thing that leads to increased risk for metabolic disease like diabetes, hypertension, or osteoporosis is the stress that comes with being an Asian American in a white-centered world,” she added.
Lu said that access to healthcare is another factor that affects one’s health.
“A lot of Asian Americans don’t have access to healthcare and that actually leads more to those diseases we’re concerned about,” she said.
“It’s less about the food and more about access. Health is never just about what we put in our bodies. It’s about access to movement, resources and healthcare,” she said.
Lu said that she had a patient who went on a vegan diet for six months, but their cholesterol didn’t change. This is because cholesterol is related to genetics.
She also said there’s a lot of harm in the pursuit of weight loss. She has done a lot of research on this topic and the science of weight loss is interesting in that when we’re malnourished, it puts our bodies in stress mode (fight or flight mode) and the increase in that is what leads to diseases such as hypertension, diabetes, and more.
Within the Asian community, there are external pressures where you’re not actually Asian American unless you fit an Asian American body.
“There’s a lot of body diversity, I see a lot of people wanting to diet or lose weight to fit that stereotype,” she said.
Lu said that there has been erasure or exclusion of the Asian experience in Western studies about nutrition. She mentioned the racist origins of the body mass index (BMI). The BMI is part of the healthcare system but created in the 1800s by a mathematician and astronomer who thought it’d be fun to graph the height and weight of Scottish/French men into a bell curve to find the formula. He did some calculations and came up with the BMI. Fast forward to the 20th century, American insurance companies needed to find a way to charge premiums so they used the BMI formula. The BMI is not based on credible research since it derived from graphic white men on a bell curve.
“This already excludes the Asian American experience, and on top of this, who conducts these studies? I’d love to see studies that look at the Asian experience, but haven’t found any,” Lu said.
Nutrition can be very complicated, but there’s a time and space for all foods and it’s important to diversify one’s diet.
Nina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.