Growing up, my relationship with my mother was far from harmonious.  We seemed to clash about everything: anything from curfew, clothes to taking summer school, piano – and oh yes, food.  From a young age I’d remember my mother telling me “You cannot eat candy or potato chips, they are bad for you and make you fat.”  So what would I do?  That’s right.  Eat candy and potato chips behind her back.

She was always nervous about my weight – I am a rather big-boned girl for an Asian but while I learned to embrace it, it completely geeked my mom out.  “You must watch what you eat, you big bone you get fat.” As she would scoot the fried dish away from me and smoothly replaced it with something steamed or boiled – “See, you mostly eat this and not that.”

I’d hate her for it.  I wanted to eat what I wanted, when I wanted without the pestering voice over my shoulder asking “SHOULD YOU EAT THIS XIN-XIN?”  Damn it, yes I should!  So from as early as I can remember until I was 18, my mom controlled nearly every meal I ate except for the occasional outing with friends and family.  She made sure I ate mostly vegetables that were both low in oil and flavor, we never had juices or sodas, and pizza night?  Forget about it, I never even experienced “delivery food” until my first sleepover in 3rd grade.  It drove me crazy and as I reached adolescence I started to take her pestering personally and began the downhill cycle of an eating disorder.

A lot of things were going on back then; my parents were fighting, I was still trying to figure out where I fit in at school, oh and the whole awkward puberty thing didn’t make matters any better.  My mother’s pestering soon became hurtful and her once “suggestions” became “attacks” to me – the only words I heard were “You’re fat.”   Combine that with the influx of magazines I’d read with the gorgeous leggy models and soon enough it became true: I’m fat.

I obsessed over every little thing I ate, or lack thereof.  I desperately wanted to be a size where my mom wouldn’t give me suggestions anymore – week after week, pound after pound, and before I knew it I was struggling to keep a pair of size 0 jeans on.  It’s the lightest I’ve ever weighed: 103.5 pounds yet it had to be one of the lowest points in my life.  I didn’t feel good, look good and was constantly tired.

I couldn’t take it anymore.  I went into my mom’s room one night and screamed “I’ll never be good enough for you! No matter what I do it’s never good enough.  You think I’m stupid, you think I’m fat! WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO DO?”  She looked so confused – “When I say you stupid?  When I say you fat?”  I didn’t realize it at the time but she really didn’t say those things, or mean them rather.  But her reaction made me angry; I couldn’t believe she didn’t know what I was talking about.  I left it at that.  I eventually got over trying to please her and with the help of friends I eventually maintained a weight of 130 pounds by the end of my senior year in high school.

Going to college away from home was a huge milestone for me.  It forced me to make my own decisions without the constant watchful eyes of my parents.  Most importantly I was free to eat what I wanted, when I wanted, wherever I wanted.  Think of it like a kid and his very first time at a candy store – I didn’t even know how to handle it.  Late night snacks at 2 am, breakfast and lunch buffets at the cafeteria, deliveries to your dorm room, my mother would’ve been appalled.

By sophomore year, I had gained a whopping 35 pounds — my mother’s worst nightmare had come true.  I was officially fat.  What the hell?  How did it happen so fast?  Just yesterday I was fitting into my size 4 jeans and looking fabulous and suddenly I find myself trying to hide my muffin top as best as I could under the fold of my size 10 pants.  Freaking lame, all the pesky suggestions I use to hate hearing from my mother were suddenly ringing in my head again – “Do not eat those fried things!  Oh tsk tsk, fast food Sooooo bad for you.”  Okay mother, you win.

It wasn’t until I went back home to visit her a couple years ago when I finally understood why she always pestered me.  By then, I’ve reached a comfortable weight of 135, worked out 4-5 times a week and ate a healthy balanced diet with the occasional treat.  For the first time in my life she said “Xin-xin, you look good.  Mommy no worry about you anymore, you take care of yourself.”  I lifted my shirt to show her my abs – “What do you think of those apples ma?”  She shook her head and laughed.  She sat down next to a box of pictures she was organizing “Sit down, I show you something.”

She handed me a thin, worn down tiny album – I opened it and gasped: there I saw my mom, FAT.  Mind you, my mom has maintained her weight of 130-133 pounds from age 30 to 55.  She has never fluctuated outside of that range in 25 years.  THAT my friend is called magic.

“You see why mommy always worry about you now?”

I couldn’t help it, I had to laugh “Mom, you can’t even see your eyes.”

“I KNOW!  I so fat back then, I embarrassing. I don’t even like to show these pictures, soooo ugly.”

I smiled and kissed her – “You’re not ugly mom, you’re beautiful.”

“NOOOooo…” She giggled as she playfully pushed me away – “But seriously!  You see why I tell you you cannot get fat???”

It all made sense now.  She just didn’t want her daughter to be her old chubby shadow, why didn’t she just say so?  In every dark cloud there’s a silver lining, without this experience I would’ve never learned to be creative when it came to cooking healthy.  I would’ve never learned to allow myself to eat what I wanted in moderation.  I would’ve never learned the negative effects of being underweight and overweight.  Most importantly I would’ve never learned to just love my body for what it is: big boned, curvy, beautiful.  So what if I’m not “petite” like the other Asian girls?  So what if my arms are kinda big?  I can still strut my stuff like Beyonce in some 4-inch heels any night and feel just as sexy as Adriana Lima (of course with the help of my Victoria’s Secret Miracle Bra!).

Embrace your body for what it is, love yourself because you’re fabulous, and if you want a piece of chocolate cake at the end of a long hard work day, treat yourself — but to a small piece instead of the whole dang cake.  I love this Strawberry Lassi because it’s not as decadent as a strawberry milkshake, but just as satisfying.  The tartness of the yogurt immersed with the floral cardamom notes and fresh strawberries, makes this the perfect, healthy drink to welcome the simply beautiful Spring weather we’ve been having here in Texas.  So enjoy this recipe, sit back and relax and think about the importance of living a healthy life through food, exercise and spirit.   You only have one life to live, let’s make it a good one.

Ingredients for Strawberry Lassi (serves 4-6):

Prep Time: 10 minutes; Total Cooking Time: 10 Minutes

  • 1 lb fresh strawberries, trimmed and halved (3 1/2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 2 cups plain yogurt (whole-milk or low-fat)
  • 1 1/4 cup ice cubes
Purée strawberries with honey, cardamom, and a pinch of salt in a blender or hand held immersion blender until smooth. Add yogurt and ice, then purée until smooth again.  Serve immediately.  Feel free to garnish with honey, cardamom seeds or fresh strawberries. 


  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tanvi Srivastava and Joy Zhang, Joy Zhang. Joy Zhang said: [New Post] Strawberry Lassi — a healthy alternative to a Strawberry Milkshake :) YUM!! [...]


  2. Sukaina says: 22 Feb ’11 • 09:22:50

    What a beautiful post. I think the most important thing is to be healthy and to be comfortable in your own skin. And you’re obviously ticking both boxes! The message you’re putting across is so important, especially now when size zero is all the rage! Good job- and I could happily down a whole jug of that lassi!


  3. Sigrun Olafsdottir says: 22 Feb ’11 • 09:56:30

    Beautiful pictures and a beautiful story :)


  4. Claudia says: 22 Feb ’11 • 12:40:54

    Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing! *sniffles*


  5. Nadia says: 22 Feb ’11 • 16:28:53

    awww, Joy! What a sweet post! My mom was the same way-because she was so conscious about her body (mind you, she’s always been thin) it would reflect on my sister and myself. Thankfully, we’ve all grown up and managed to be comfortable in our own skin. :)
    Lovely recipe, so light and refreshing. I wish you were closer to me so I could learn how to take amazing pics like you! Gorgeous!


  6. skip to malou says: 22 Feb ’11 • 16:41:59

    i so love this post… it spoke to me on both sides… your mom’s and yours… i’ve been in this battling the bulge all my life and growing up in the Philippines where people say “you’re fat” in your face didn’t help at all. For us here it’s rude but over there when they see you, instantly they would say: i think you gained weight or I think you lost weight, as a form of a greeting. When you’re used to hearing it, it was not as offensive… but recently when I went home, hearing it for the first time after sooooo many years of not hearing it made my face turn red, I almost cried.
    But I hear you… you should embrace yourself.. and love it.. now i have started walking and exercising like never before… I never thought I would have so much fun doing it…. and the bonus part is I am getting healthier and losing all the weight woo hoo!


  7. Valerie says: 22 Feb ’11 • 19:18:31

    I just discovered your blog & this was the first post I read. Thank you so much for your honesty on what must have been a very difficult part of your life. Coming from a ‘big boned’ family myself, weight has always been an issue for me, too. I’m so glad you’ve come through the hard years and hope your experiences inspire others as they have me.

    p.s. I saved the recipe for your Strawberry Lassi and can’t wait to try it!


  8. Brian says: 22 Feb ’11 • 19:45:25

    The last time I had a lassi, I was sitting outside at an Indian restaurant in Boston working my way through some “medium-spiced” food that was burning up my mouth. Thank goodness for that lassi… don’t know what I would have done without it.


  9. Brian says: 22 Feb ’11 • 19:49:36

    One more note… Your story was so beautiful, heartbreaking and hilarious all at once. Sounds like, in the end, it was a bonding experience for you and your mother. Glad things got resolved.

    My weight fluctuates… but I think I’ve gotten things in a decent place… or at least one that I’m comfortable with. I eat things because I enjoy them and I work out because it makes me feel good. But, really, you only live life once. So you have to enjoy it.


  10. Isabelle says: 22 Feb ’11 • 21:27:58

    It’s amazing to hear that even someone as lovely as you has struggled with weight, Joy. I’m glad you’ve reached a good balance, and that you’re happy in your own skin.
    I’ve got about 25 lbs I’d be more than happy to kiss goodbye, but I’ve learned the hard way that starving or depriving myself isn’t a long-term solution… if it was, I’d still be 135lbs! So instead I’m using smaller portions, regular exercise and smart substitutions (like lassis instead of milkshakes). Oh, and I’m telling my mother to shove it when she asks me what I’m doing about my weight problem. :)


  11. Anita Menon says: 23 Feb ’11 • 05:17:58

    Lovely post. When I trace back I realize what I felt back then during my growing years. Only my mother was very lax in letting me just eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted and how much ever I wanted. Whilst I do not blame her for anything since that is the kind of culture she grew up in, she did teach me the importance of home cooked food.
    She taught me the love of cooking and I appreciate her for that.

    I loved the Strawberry version of the lassi. Coming from India, I haven’t seen this variation anywhere esle. A new twist and I am sure would be worth it.

    Will try soon.

    Once again, a wonderful post. Writing about some painful experiences help quell so many demons!!

    Take Care


  12. Lisa H. says: 23 Feb ’11 • 06:17:15

    Your piece has strike a cord in my heart… being large frame myself and being Asian… first greetings would always be ‘ You have put on weight’…
    As long as I am happy and healthy that all that matters… :D


  13. Kita says: 23 Feb ’11 • 14:14:31

    I think its great when people share things like this on their blog. Realistic things. 135 is real. And we all need that from time to time. Not to mention – these strawberries look amazing! Can I ask what camera/lens you’re using?


  14. RavieNomNoms says: 23 Feb ’11 • 14:24:19

    What an amazing story, thank you so much for sharing it. I know where you are coming from on that one. My mother and I share the same kind of *ahem* “battle” we shall say. Seems to be something that we never drop. Being a dancer all my life has for sure made things hard on me and made both myself and my mother very critical on weight. Why do we have to be like that?! haha, I wish we could just eat whatever we wanted, whenever we wanted and still maintain a healthy weight. Hmmm…we should invent something…hehe

    Your strawberry lassi looks delicious, thanks again for the touching post!


  15. Liren says: 23 Feb ’11 • 14:26:19

    Joy, you open your heart and soul to us here, and beautifully so. This post tugged on my heartstrings, recalling memories of my own mother, my own college weight epiphanies, and how we all, at some point our lives, learn to control our bodies. You bring it to us with such honesty and mirth, thank you :)


  16. [email protected] says: 23 Feb ’11 • 14:34:38

    Joy, I love the candid way you share your experiences with us here, I can relate to the struggle to be comfortable in our own skin. I think it’s something that a lot of us go through. I haven’t had a lassi in such a long time, this sounds delicious with the addition of the cardamom.


  17. Jean says: 23 Feb ’11 • 14:56:01

    Joy, I got choked up reading this. It reminded me of differences of opinion that I had with my own parents growing up which weren’t settled until I gained clarity about their position when I reached young adulthood. Such a heartfelt post. Thank you for sharing part of your life journey with us. :-)


  18. Mikaela Cowles says: 23 Feb ’11 • 15:00:11

    What a beautiful journey with food and more importantly your mom. I couldn’t help but laugh at the willful girl eating behind her mothers back and smile at the strong, very confident woman in charge of her own body. It is such a pleasure to read about another woman who rocks high heals. Thank you for sharing. Oh, and your pictures are lovely. I can’t wait for a warm day to try your recipe.


  19. Kulsum at JourneyKit says: 23 Feb ’11 • 15:03:38

    Joy this is such a fabulous post. And its almost like my story in your words! My mom always been cautious about what I ate and kept telling me to avoid BAD foods. Even though I hated at the time, that was the only reason I was fit and healthy. She would make me climb the stairs of our building in form of daily exercise! Even when she calls me now from India, she would say ” I hope you are taking care of yourself ” :-) I love strawberry lassi. I love yogurt. If you wanted to take the the flavors to a pudding level – try making Shrikhand.. not that there is anything bad about LASSI :-)


  20. Vicki @ WITK says: 23 Feb ’11 • 15:09:17

    Beautiful story, you certainly have a way with words. Great photos and recipe as well, I love lassis.


  21. Kim says: 23 Feb ’11 • 15:34:45

    Joy, I got your blog from Roxanne Curry’s blog, and I absolutely love what you are doing. Your food photography is a gift, truly amazing! I need lessons from you! What kind of camera and lens do you use?


  22. TripleScoop says: 23 Feb ’11 • 17:56:21

    Thanks for sharing such a personal story. I’m glad it had a happy ending! Keep up all the fantastic things you are doing. You are a great inspiration.


  23. Rosa says: 23 Feb ’11 • 18:34:50

    What a wonderful lassi! I can’t wait to buy strawberries…




  24. Chris says: 23 Feb ’11 • 20:09:49

    Great story, makes me want a Mango Lassi!!!


  25. ittybittyfoodies mom says: 23 Feb ’11 • 21:05:26

    Joy, what a beautiful and thought provoking post. My mother was similar for different things. And now that I’m a mother of two, i hope they understand why i do the things I do (maybe not now but one day). Cheers! Cheryl


  26. Sandra says: 23 Feb ’11 • 22:06:16

    Great pictures and incredible post. You always share so much of you, thank you.


  27. Sara says: 24 Feb ’11 • 01:44:15

    Joy, what a lovely touching post! Also the strawberry lassi looks so good & healthy, I want t a glass right now! I love your photography, those strawberries look so fresh and juicy!


  28. torviewtoronto says: 24 Feb ’11 • 02:17:15

    delicious and healthy can’t wait for summer to have these delicious cool drinks


  29. kim pozderac says: 24 Feb ’11 • 03:37:28

    How do I donate to your Hunger cause? I agree we all need to fill the need.
    Call/email me
    Momma Poz


  30. penny aka jeroxie says: 24 Feb ’11 • 05:28:00

    Great post. :) As a food blogger, I stuggle at times with weight and what I eat. I am not fat but have noticed my expanding waistline. I am also greedy. So what I did is to get back to riding and trying to hit the gym more often.


  31. Lawyer Loves Lunch says: 24 Feb ’11 • 05:57:36

    Joy, this is such a beautifully written post. We women are so hard on ourselves, especially when we’re younger. It’s so sad that these epiphanies about being comfortable in your own skin come so much later. I wish we could all go back and have a good heart to heart with our 12 year old selves :)


  32. MaryMoh says: 24 Feb ’11 • 06:25:09

    That’s a very beautiful story about you and your mom over food and fatness. It’s what I tried to tell my girls all the time. I don’t want them to be fat but to be slim and healthy. One day when you have daughters, I guess you will do the same :D I hope they don’t fight back. But you cook so well I am sure you will serve them healthy, yet delicious food. I love you lassi. The colour is so beautiful. I love peach lassi….love the flavour. Hope you have a fun day!


  33. Yin says: 24 Feb ’11 • 08:36:19

    Great story, healthy recipe not too mention lovely photo. The photo form own story by themselves :-P
    Agreed on the weight watcher point of view. Don’t be overly obsessed with weight loss. To me exercise is the key.


  34. Mistress of Spices says: 24 Feb ’11 • 09:46:46

    Thanks for sharing your beautiful and very real story and for the reminder of the importance of having a healthy relationship with food. Your lassi recipe sounds delicious and the photos are gorgeous…I am definitely bookmarking this one to try when strawberries are in season. Can’t wait!


  35. [email protected] says: 24 Feb ’11 • 10:21:10

    Hi Joy, first time here. I read your beautiful post in one breathe! So touching story of you and your mom. Moms are always right! Lovely pics of strawberry lassi and I loved how you used honey here instead of sugar. Just beautiful presentation. :)


  36. Rochelle says: 24 Feb ’11 • 14:01:46

    First, I’d like to say I understand the problem with weight as I’ve been struggling with it since before I was in high school. Instead of not eating when someone would say something I would rebel and eat more. It got me up to 195 lbs by the time I was 23. I’ve since lost 35 of it, but still am overweight and still struggling to loose it and become healthy.

    It became a reality when a couple of years ago I went to a doctor and was told I was diabetic. At 25, I was considered diabetic. A wake up call that scared me so bad that I decided something needed to change with both food and exercise (which it has).

    Because of the health issue (which thankfully seems to be almost gone) I worry about what to feed my son and if in the future I have a daughter what to teach them about food. I’ve decided that to teach them to eat healthy food and what it is, but allow them to have “treats” every once in a while so that that is what it is when there is fast food/candy/etc instead of being denied it all together.

    I’m thrilled to hear that you’ve learned how to do this and are now healthy and you share it with all of your readers with such recipes as this Strawberry Lassi, which looks delicious/beautiful while being healthy too!


  37. Tiffany says: 24 Feb ’11 • 15:45:58

    The lassi looks delicious and your story seems so difficult, but I’m happy that you and your mom see eye to eye now!


  38. Barbara DeGroot says: 25 Feb ’11 • 12:45:55

    What a delicious way to start the day and — lucky me — strawberries are in season where I live. Love the touch of cardamom you’ve used here!


  39. Lori says: 27 Feb ’11 • 03:09:15

    Wow! Thank you for sharing your story (and the strawberry lassi) with us! The dynamics between mother and daughter can be so unstable! I am glad you have sorted through all the mixed messages. So many of us have had these mixed messages as we grew up and this makes it difficult for us to make the right decisions for ourselves and for the right reasons. Thank you again for sharing.


  40. zenchef says: 28 Feb ’11 • 04:03:31

    Skinny. Less Skinny. I think you’re very beautiful.
    Be proud of who you are. Always.

    Now hand over that strawberry lassi!! :)


  41. Elle (Bromography) says: 13 Mar ’11 • 07:50:38

    A great post! Mouthwatering photos…


  42. Amelia, Z Tasty Life says: 29 Mar ’11 • 02:19:22

    Joy is the perfect name for you. You exhude such joy. I have barely started exploring your blog and already love everything about you. Your candid way of sharing a story is so lovable. I relate to your story. My mother is thinner than me and growing up I always felt lesser than her. Keep writing, keep sharing, and we’ll follow!


  43. casapinka says: 29 Mar ’11 • 02:58:39

    Nothing short of inspiring – from the story, to the photos, to the recipe. Thanks!


  44. Rachel says: 29 Mar ’11 • 17:07:15

    It’s amazing how a few simple words said nonchalantly can haunt us for years. I had relatives always comment on my weight as a teenager, although I was perfectly normal and healthy. Then just like you, I went off to college and gained 35 pounds my freshman year. I came home and my family didn’t even recognize me. I was horrified and then determined to lose it all. I became obsessive about my weight and that’s when the eating disorder started. For almost 2 years, I starved myself and also threw up whenever I had to put on a good show and eat in front of others. It was a vicious cycle and one that was soooo hard to break. But thank goodness, with the help and prayers of friends, I was able to get out of that dark place. It’s somewhat ironic now that I’m keeping a food blog! :) And I can’t imagine NOT enjoying food!

    Women struggle with self-image and self-confidence b/c the world tells us we have to look a certain way. But just as you pointed out, we are beautiful just as we are and need to embrace that.

    Thank you for sharing so openly, honestly, and poignantly. You are a beautiful & gifted young woman.


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