I have been asked this question more times than I can remember.
There seems to be a belief that people who eat rice all the time should be fat.
Let me briefly explain why this might not necessarily be so.
Proviso 1: Many of the points I mention below also applies to other Asians (Southeast, South, etc) who regularly consume rice in a traditional Asian diet. I only mention East Asian in my title and in my points below because that's who I am and that's what I'm familiar with. I think all the points below apply to all other Asian cultures that consume rice regularly.
Proviso 2: My examples below, of what I normally eat, follows a Traditional Asian diet. Of course, I am well aware that there are many, many food options available in the world. And I do avail myself of them, especially when traveling! But, I can honestly say, that for the vast majority of my days (~ 80 - 90%), I follow a Traditional Asian diet.
Extra details: In case you're wondering whether I'm fat, I will just share my height and weight with you. In my circle of East Asian friends (male), I am considered average in height and weight. My height is 1.83 m (6'0") and I weigh 75 kilograms ( ~ 165 lbs). I exercise every day for at least 30 minutes.
Usually, I eat rice three times a day. For breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
"So, how do East Asians eat rice all the time and not get fat?"
Many people who ask this question think that East Asians eat this amount of rice at every meal:
(I own none of the pictures below)
In reality, this is the amount of rice I eat at lunch and dinner, and a little less for breakfast:
I don't eat noodles as much as I eat rice. I eat rice every day, but I eat noodles, maybe once a week or so. In Northern Chinese cuisine, the reverse is true: they eat more noodles and buns than rice.
Note: Everyday meals are eaten with plain, boiled rice. Fried rice is a snack or standalone meal. There's a reason why East Asians eat meals with plain, boiled rice instead of fried rice - the explanation is too long to fit here and requires its own post.
If I have a bowl of noodles as a meal, it's about yea-big:
So, what else is eaten at these meals, besides rice and noodles?
All three East Asian cultures have their own specialties and dishes and proportions.
I subscribe to a 2+1 Method for basic meals:
2 Vegetables + 1 Fish (or Meat) dish.
First Vegetable Dish (preferable Leafy Green Vegetable) :
Second Vegetable Dish, usually prepared in a different way compared to First Vegetable Dish:
Fish (or Meat) Dish:
If I'm especially hungry, I will usually add a fourth dish.
Usually either a broth, or a very-easy-to-make dish.
Here are is one example of a supremely-easy-to-make dish:
Okay, what about dessert?
A Traditional Asian meal has NO dessert.
You eat the main meal, and that's it.
Traditionally, growing up, dessert meant Fruits.
A very common dessert was / is Orange Slices.
Or watermelon, especially during summer:
Here's one of my favorite snacks, Roasted Sweet Potato.
Well, there's always banana and nuts.
But, what if I get hungry between meals?
I don't make this at home, but if there's a good dim sum place nearby, I'll go buy a couple of 叉燒包 (roasted pork buns) and have them as a snack:
But what if I wanted to indulge a little?
What type of food would I eat if I wanted to hang out with my mates a little and have a drink?
One of my absolute favorites is 떡볶이, or romanized as Tteokbokki.
Which is Spicy Rice Cakes, a very popular street food.
I enjoy this maybe once every two weeks or so.
I consider it an indulgence.
This is a great dish for drinking outings.
Perfect with Soju and Maekju (Beer). Combine both those drinks to make Somaek.
Another favorite is 焼き鳥, or yakitori, which is skewered chicken, food commonly served at an izakaya. I eat and enjoy all parts of the chicken: gizzards, heart, liver, etc.
I always enjoy yakitori with several glasses of umeshu (plum wine) on the rocks:
Okay, all that is good and fine.
But if that's a Traditional Asian diet that I keep to, there must be food items I don't eat, right?
Compare all the above to things I don't eat:
I don't eat cereal and I don't drink milk. (although sometimes, it's hard to avoid milk if I'm eating outside):
I don’t eat pancakes, donuts, waffles, or muffins:
I don't eat bread, pastries, or cakes (although, I do eat bread when I'm traveling in countries where rice is difficult to come by):
So that means there's no this:
And no this:
I also don't eat Potatoes when they come in Mashed Potatoes-form:
I also don't eat Potatoes when they come in French Fries-form (I will however, eat Roasted Potatoes. ) :
I don't eat America-style pizza (NY, deep dish, stuffed) (I will, however, enjoy eating Italian-style pizza, but that's once in a blue moon):
And I don't like eating sugary foods, so I definitely don't eat food like this:
All of the above are possible reasons why East Asians are able to eat rice almost every day of the year without necessarily getting fat.
Thank you for making it this far!