I recently returned from a two-week tour of China. What a fascinating place! Hiking on the Great Wall, viewing the Terracotta Warriors, cruising the Yangtze, touring fabulous Shanghai – these are just a few highlights of the trip. And the people – it was hard not to notice how slender the Chinese were. After eating for two weeks as the Chinese do (we were on a tour that ate at local restaurants with authentic Chinese food), I can see why they are so slim. The Chinese have long integrated many of the tips we have learned for losing/maintaining weight:

Size of Plates: We ate family style at the restaurants, and the plates were usually the size of my salad plate at home. Visually, it gave the impression of a lot of food – psychologically satisfying.

Chopsticks: Although the Chinese were proficient with chopsticks, chopsticks (especially for me) slowed down the rate of eating. This allowed my brain to tell my stomach I was full much sooner than usual. I’m ordinarily a very fast eater.

Food: The emphasis is on vegetables; minimally processed and lots of green (cabbage, broccoli, bok choy, celery). Meat (chicken, duck, beef, pork) plays a secondary role to the veggies. Lots of river fish (eating the small bones is a source of calcium). And, there was always soup available. If you’re familiar with the concept of Volumetrics (check out research from Dr. Barbara Rolls), you know that low-calorie soup is filling, and results in fewer calories consumed. (Disclosure: although I tried many of the soups, I did pass on Pigeon soup.) Then, of course, there is the rice. Although rice is fairly high on the glycemic index, the addition of the vegetables helps to mitigate that effect. And, there has been recent research with “resistant starch” – some of the starch in rice, potatoes, and pasta can’t be digested, and thus is called resistant starch – cooling the food increases the amount of resistant starch.

Bread and Desserts: Our guide told us that most Chinese do not have ovens – they do not eat bread (they do make steamed buns), nor do they make cake or cookies (they do have bakeries if they need to get them for a special occasion, such as having Western guests!) And, interestingly, eating cookies or ice cream is considered childish. Most adult Chinese do not eat them.

Tea: We’ve heard the praises of tea before – how the polyphenols, amino acids, and antioxidants in tea promote a stronger immune system, speed up metabolism, and increase mental alertness.

Finally, although not food-related, it is interesting to note all the walking, riding of bikes, and social support. Public transportation is encouraged and inexpensive (if you saw the traffic in the cities you’d see why), and throngs of Chinese were walking, walking, walking (including getting to the bus stops), or biking, biking, biking. Older Chinese routinely go to parks to practice their Tai Chi, play with Hacky-sacks (remember them?), and throw soft rings from one person to another and catch them around their necks (I was invited to participate in this fun activity). And, the tea houses, parks, and culture encourage lots of social support, which is also important for lower stress (stress can lead to increased cortisol production and weight gain).

You’ve heard the Bangles sing “Walk like an Egyptian”…I’m going to start eating like the Chinese!

Jan Cullinane is the co-author of The New Retirement: The Ultimate Guide to the Rest of Your Life (Rodale, 2007). She gives seminars on the (primarily) non-financial aspects of retirement through her company, "Retirement Living from A to Z."