Keeping Weight Off the Japanese Way

Keeping weight off is the same as praying. I pray that the cheesecake I ate yesterday doesn’t go straight to my thighs. I pray that this 10-minute workout will burn off 300 calories. I pray that my metabolism is fast enough to eat a day’s worth of food in my sleep.

All of it is prayer–then I take my prayers seriously and put actions behind each (silent) statement.

At the beginning of the year in “How I Lost over 40 Pounds in Japan“, I outlined how I actively went from size 14 to size 6 by using or ditching some Japanese techniques. However direct losing the weight in Japan was in 2014 through 2015, keeping it off in the States since 2016 is a whole other beast.

After I moved back to the States, reality gave me a punch to the face: I needed a job, my cat had bald patches from stress, and in a household of meat-eaters, I was the lone pescatarian, or fish eater. In the beginning, it was fun. The first thing I ate was a burrito from Del Taco. (Japan has some Mexican food restaurants, but they’re all pricey for only decent food.) I continued to eat anything that didn’t have meat, and in 2 weeks, I gained 10 pounds. That added to the stress. I had to lose weight again while looking for a job, protecting my cat from 3 big dogs, and learning to live with my in-laws (I love them, but it’s always stressful living in a new habitat).

To deal with the stress, I set up a routine again. In the mornings, I exercised, monitored my portions with vegetarian meals, and drank more water. The most important part of the routine was eating around the same time every day, something that the Japanese have on point.

Gym Memberships (pre-COVID)

I did get a gym membership, something I by-passed when I lived in Japan, and stuck to it for about a month before I landed a job at the Japanese Consulate in LA. I ended up canceling this when I realized I stayed in the stretching room for 45 minutes before half-assedly doing machine work. I ditched the gym membership and returned to what I knew: personalizing my home workouts. I woke up before everyone else and did a 10- to 20-minute routine in the garage, switching between cardio and weight training. After work and dinner, I’d do another 10- to 20-minute workout. Interval training has helped a bit with keeping the belly fat at bay–and there’s a recent study to support that shorter yet intense workouts can reduce belly fat better than longer workouts (“The Secret to Losing Belly Fat“). On the weekends, I divided my time between walks and yoga routines.

If you’re wondering about taking up a gym membership versus working out at home, think about what you want to do in your workout. For me, I’m there to get fit but not build bulk, so rows of weights and machines aren’t important to me. If it’s hard to get to the gym, consider starting at home and building a foundation (i.e. pilates, yoga, beginner workouts) before putting your hard-earned money into a membership. Remember: $10 a month equals $120 a year.

Diets?

The one thing I remember Japanese people loved more than alcohol was a successful diet. It didn’t matter if the diet didn’t turn into a lifestyle–a good diet was a good diet. I had learned the hard way to ditch the yo-yo diets, dig deep psychologically, and find the mental and emotional triggers for my poor lifestyle.

I returned to plastic boxes and Tupperware of homemade food. The cafeteria at my new job helped keep me in line–I couldn’t see myself paying $2.95 for a slice of ordinary pizza. To keep my waistline and wallet happy, I packed food ahead of time and prepped meals when I needed to, most consisting of rolled eggs, rice, and veggies.

At work, it was an uphill battle towards the scale line to maintain my weight. With all the office celebrations and cheap sweets in bulk, saying, “One slice won’t hurt” didn’t hurt so much. But if that same delicious cake kept calling my name for 3 days (cake is good for 3 days, right?), it became increasingly obvious that I had to control myself even if others floated by with beautiful plates of cakes in their hands.

Being that my job is extremely busy, I could control myself after 9AM. Afterwards, I was swamped with so much work, my coffee would go cold.

Stress Levels

I admit my stress is a little higher than when I lived in Japan. Even without language barriers to hurdle over or a sick husband to take care of, I still face daily stresses that didn’t plaque me when I was an expat.

Unlike my employment as a language assistant, I’m a secretary again with no real purpose than to make others’ lives easier. As a language assistant, I always felt I was doing something worthy–and I do feel that the place I work I am helping others accomplish worthy goals for students–but I don’t feel as accomplished as I did in Japan. Also, everyone around me seems to have clearer ideas of what they want to do with their lives. I’m still deciding, but I get the feeling that whatever I choose, it won’t make me any money.

There’s also that lovely bonus of racism in the U.S. It’s not to say that Japan–or any other country–doesn’t share in racism and colorism, but it’s never a good thing when the survivors of racism have poorer health conditions mostly due to higher stress levels. If you’ve never had to worry about walking around without thinking about your skin color being a factor in being attacked or harassed, you won’t understand this daily fear and anxiety. Even though a new president may seem like a cure-all, it’ll take years before racism disappears. At the end of the day, I can’t stop being Black, so I’ll be facing racism and racist acts until I die.

These stresses, now that I’ve had the chance to stand back and see what my American life looks like, contribute to my waistline and overall well being. Since coming back to the States, I’ve gone from 119 pounds to 136 pounds, a 17-pound gain that seems to cling to my body. In spite of my weight gain, I’m fitter now than when I lived in Japan. I have to be fitter to balance the stress I face on a daily basis.

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