How I Lost over 40 Pounds in Japan

JE-howIlostover40pounds

How I Lost Weight in Japan

It’s the same question from family members, friends, and former co-workers after they see a skinnier me:”How did you lose weight?”

In 2010, I was 138 pounds, still within my BMI for a 63-inch woman.

Jade in May 2010 at 138

May 2010

After I got married (December 2010), I gained around 36 pounds.

Jade in August 2011 at over 140

August 2011

Every summer between 2011 and 2014, I yo-yoed between diets and exercise programs. Once winter came, I’d make excuses. “It’s too cold to exercise. I want to eat something hot and heavy. I can start tomorrow.” In the summer of 2014, I hit 2 big roadblocks. My doctor told me I was cruising the line to high blood pressure. The second roadblock came as a surprise to me: I injured my knee, leaving me on crutches for 3 painful weeks (but I still had to drive, grocery shop, cook and clean).

Weight Gain and Weight Loss isn’t about Food or Exercise

At that point, I couldn’t let excuses get in my way. I had to dig deeper than diet and exercise to lose the weight. I looked at why I ate the things I ate and what triggered my snack and chocolate binges.

The first thing that derailed all of my diet or exercise programs was my sweet tooth. Since my childhood, I hid cookies, ate the sweetest ice creams, and regularly chewed gums. I usually ate sweets when I was physically hungry or thirsty. Many times, I mistook hunger for thirst. I started asking myself before I looked for sweets, “Am I actually hungry or thirsty or bored?”

I also had to change my mindset. There really is no shortcut to long-lasting weight management. It’s really a lifestyle change. If I changed my eating habits, I asked myself, “Can I eat like for a whole year?” If I changed my workout regiment, I asked myself, “Can I workout like this for a whole year?” If I answered “no” to these, I would change my diet and exercises to something I could maintain for at least a year. It was about making new healthy habits.

On top of looking at my cravings, I had to recall what didn’t work for me (but they might work for others).

These didn’t work for me:

  • Keeping a food diary or journal.
  • Counting calories every day.
  • Completely cutting out carbs (i.e. rice, breads, sugars).
  • Doing circuit training.
  • Having a workout buddy.

I changed my work and home lifestyles to lose weight by:

water-bottles

Staying hydrated throughout the day. Most Japanese people reach for teas at the workplace, so when I didn’t have water, I opted for green tea or jasmine tea freely offered in the office. I downed a glass of water before and after my morning workouts and meals to keep my hunger at bay and keep my body and skin hydrated.

different donuts on white background

Image Source: I Hate Diet

Getting rid of all packaged sweets at my desk and home. In most Japanese offices, there are tables I label “the free snack table”. Anything that gets placed on those tables are free for the taking. The only way to not eat them was to avoid the table. I didn’t completely eliminate sweets. At first, I limited my number of sweets until I felt OK replacing them with fruits and homemade oatmeal bars.

Bringing bananas, smoothies, and small salads to work in case I wanted a snack. Instead of reaching for something on the free snack table, I grabbed something I brought. It was easier, and if I didn’t eat it, it would spoil. Did I mention I hate wasting food?

polka-dot-japanese-bento-lunch-box-for-kids-plastic-sushi-lunchbox-food-container-food-box-microwave

Image source: AliExpress

Using Japanese lunchboxes to package all my meals. Most Japanese lunchboxes hold 48.6 fluid ounces (5.7″x 8.1″ x 1.9″ at Daiso) compared to the American reusable lunchboxes, which carry 221.6 fluid ounces (8″x 5″ x 10″ at the Dollar Tree). With smaller lunchboxes and containers, I tricked my brain into believing that I was eating enough.

JPomelettepan

Image source: Gent Daily

Using tamagoyaki, or Japanese omelette, pans. Because it stayed non-sticky for a long time, I didn’t use much oil. I limited my daily egg intake to one egg a day while the omelette pan made that one scrambled egg look bigger and cuter in my Japanese lunchboxes.

Studying the Japanese art of making bento. The best lunchboxes are balanced in not just food but color. The reds in tomatoes should balance the greens from broccoli and spinach. White, brown, and yellow complete the lunch, making it visually stimulating (you eat with your eyes before your mouth) and healthy. (I recommend The Just Bento Cookbook: Everyday Lunches To Go by Makiko Itoh for first timers.)

breaktime

Image source: Annienygma

Taking breaks and finding time to breathe. When I lived in Japan, I saw many people walking and chatting with their co-workers. At work, people talked to each other and traded snacks and drank coffee as the clock ticked away working hours. Doing these things, I realized later, helped decrease stress from daily life.

With all of these things, I learned to control my hunger and sweet tooth.

Refining My Food and Willpower

In April 2015, I still looked big even though I had dropped to 148 pounds. I had done 2 months of running 1.2-mile (2 km) hills 3 times a week, making my legs muscular and thick.

weightloss_march-april2015

April 2015

By this point, I had stopped eating cheese, chicken, pork, and beef. From other failed diets, I learned that I couldn’t do without fish and eggs. It was hard visiting my family in the Philippines because everything had sugar or meat alongside several cups of rice per meal. Everyone kept asking, “Did you eat?” then turned around and commented on how fat I was. Later on, my mom told me I was “brave” for not eating certain Filipino foods.

Becoming pescatarian made me answer to myself, not to others who felt I was being a spoiled brat for refusing food or those who felt inferior because I had declined society’s meat-eating culture. I didn’t feel trapped because I had eliminated certain foods from my diet. I had more energy for my last days in Japan, and the box of clothes that didn’t fit were suddenly too big for my new body.

Exercise and Research: The Last 20%

As daunting as exercise seems, for me, exercise meant attacking the fat on my stomach, legs, and face. Since I was young, I consider exercise as a tool to accomplish a goal like winning a game, relieving stress, or, in this case, losing weight. I did Billy Blanks’s and Jillian Michaels’s workouts on YouTube, and when I got an Xbox 360, I did Nike+. I have to admit I didn’t like running when I started, but since I saw it as a tool towards my target weight and my therapy through some personal baggage, I ended up enjoying my runs 3 times a week.

The other thing I hadn’t done in the past diets was research. Every day was an opportunity to improve my body, health, and overall well being just by Googling questions. “What are some snacks under 150 calories? What are some vegan recipes for bread? How do I make spaghetti sauce from scratch?” I even started reading the back labels of any packaged foods I bought at the store. This is one thing that I’ve found Japanese folks–and folks in general–are afraid to do: ask! I had to go against that grain and find some answers.

Along with my research, questions, and my degree in sports medicine, I created a workout regiment that I could do anywhere. When I injured my knee from running, I was forced to re-think my exercise program. I have bad knees because I tore my ACL, so designing a knee-sensitive workout was crucial to losing the last 10 pounds. I started doing 10- to 20-minute workouts concentrating on my upper body, abs, and thighs using free YouTube channels like Blogiplates (abs and thighs), POPSUGAR Fitness (full-body workouts), and FitnessBlender (full-body workouts). At nighttime or days between more strenuous workouts, I did yoga and pilates. I picked the mornings to work out because it jump-started my metabolism for the rest of the day.

De-stressing and Getting Enough Sleep

The hardest part of weight loss (and keeping it off) was stress. It affects every aspect of life from sleep cycles and quality to diets and concentration. I would crave sweets when I didn’t get 7 hours of sleep. Even when I caught 8 hours of sleeps, I felt trapped in a cycle that included cleaning, cooking, and babying despite my 9-hour workday, class prep at home, and helping my husband alleviate his asthma troubles. To combat the stress of last-minute lesson plans and meals, I kept a schedule for everything so I would have meals ready for the next day, allocate time at work and home for studies (I was taking Japanese), and stick to an exercise regiment. When my husband’s work contract ended (he worked outside of JET), he returned to the U.S., honestly reducing my stress by half–half the meals, half the driving, half the worries.

Creating a routine also helped deal with stress. It’s something I noticed Japanese have down to a tee and has benefits for weight losers. Also, I didn’t have to think hard about what I was supposed to be doing at certain parts of the day. I woke up at 6AM, exercised at 6:15AM before showering, fixed lunch and ate breakfast at 7AM, and went to work at 8AM. At 11AM, I had a mid-morning snack, and at 1:15PM, I had lunch. I usually at dinner around 5:30 or 6PM, and if I was really hungry, I ate a mid-evening snack at around 7:30PM. 8:30PM meant dance time (yes, I scheduled a time to dance and enjoy my favorite tunes). After dance time came food prep for the next day, cutting veggies, thawing fruits for smoothies, or looking up vegan meals on Allrecipes. If I still felt hungry, I ate low-fat yogurt or a small bowl of granola with low-fat milk. By 10:30PM, I was in bed in my exercise clothes for the next day.

There were also things I didn’t do that Japanese people did such as:

Drinking. I’m not fond of beer or alcohol, but in Japan, drinking is part of the landscape. It hinders fat loss because of its caloric content and its by-products makes our bodies focus on burning those by-products, not stored fat or carbs among other things. Plus, I think it’s expensive compared to the little benefits my body gets out of it (saving money = less stress).

Eating ramen or soba. It’s not that I don’t like noodles–they’re my true loves after my mom’s cooking and pizza–but even a cup of ramen is unhealthy. I traded 100-yen soba for homemade carrot noodles and spinach fettuccine spaghetti.

Using already-made ingredients. Again, I’m not saying Japanese folks don’t use fresh ingredients (that’s more of an American accusation). It’s just that it’s easy to make meals when there are curry blocks, bottled sauces, and canned soups to speed up the cooking process. In getting healthier, I used as little canned and bottled products as possible, adopting something close to a Paleo diet. Even salt and sugar, which were constant reminders of my road to high blood pressure, I traded for lemons and honey.

Eating (white) rice. As most Asian countries eat rice for meal staples, I knew that eating less rice would make me an outsider, even in my culture. In the Philippines, everyone consumed large plates of rice every meal. In Japan, school lunches included big bowls of white rice.  By reducing my rice intake to 2 cups a week, I allowed my body to use the stored fat as fuel.

Total Lost, Lots Gained

weightloss_sept2015

September 2015

When I returned to the States in August 2015, I weighed 119 pounds, a total of 55 pounds lost in a year. Between the end of March 2015 to August 2015, I lost 29 pounds by changing my exercise regiments and diet every 6 weeks, cooking most of my meals using fresh ingredients, drinking lots of water, and de-stressing my life.

 

My Challenge to You

If you want to change how you look or feel, start a new healthy mindful habit. The hardest things to do are only difficult from the outside, but once you get a taste for more energy and a healthier body, you’ll find yourself in a better club.

Kickstart your resolutions by changing just one meal or adopting one of the things that worked for me. Who knows? Maybe you’ll see a new you within the next month.

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Reformed Fat Hater on Fat Characters in Manga

fat-hater-header

 

Reformed Fat Hater on Fat Characters in Manga

I used to hate and blame fat people for their heaviness. It’s their faults, I convinced myself. But after facing my own fat issues and reading about weight discrimination in all walks of life, I’ve changed my accusatory hate into something more productive: understanding. It’s been hard considering that I live in Japan, a country where the inaccurate BMI is still gold and sizes run all but large.

In reading a post on Tutus and Tiny Hats, I realized that this problem–making fat people the victims of a weighty situation–is ingrained not just in Japanese fashion. It’s something that even manga readers have to see in black and white: the fat characters in manga and their treatment by their thin counterparts.

fortherose

Two manga come to mind. The first title is Bara no Tame ni, or For the Rose, an unlicensed title in the shoujo category. Because of its quirky plot–a chubby homeless girl starts living with her half-siblings in her movie star mother’s home–For the Rose won the Shogakukan Manga Award in 1994. For me, this manga proves that a manga starring an overweight woman can be memorable. I read this 10 years ago, and I can still remember how unfair and judgmental everyone was being to Yuri, who only wants to find a home with her siblings. One thing I love about this manga was how the other characters changed around her, defending and protecting her for her, not her size. 

cousin-l0The second title is an unlicensed josei title called Cousin with a chubby girl as its main character. After Yuki graduates from high school, she meets Aoi, a carefree guy who decides to befriend her because he’s a fan of her actress cousin. Though Yuki is skeptical at first, thinking he’s a pervert, they become friends. In spite of its lackluster plot, I love Yuki and her realistic struggles with her weight and her place in the world. She faces hassles on her new job and with her new friends, but she keeps moving forward in life. What really surprised me was her family’s personality. When she decides to lose weight, her parents are reluctant at first because they “love her the way she is” (though her father adds, “I like chubbiness”). Her younger sister, on the other hand, gets on her case even more, but just as in Yuki-fashion, she is mostly labeled as an ignorable brat. I never thought of this kind of situation for a fat person. What if your family is resistant to you losing weight? What warms readers hearts about this manga is that Yuki has perseverance–and yes, she stumbles here and there–and the characters around her accept her for who she is, not the size on the tag.

I love these two manga, but as I said before, they’re unlicensed, meaning that they aren’t officially translated into English for the Western audience. I can think of other manga that have fat supporting characters, however, I’m looking at main characters. They come few and far between. This shows how Japanese comic artists stereotype fat people, usually making the defining traits for rotund characters like Choji Akimichi (Naruto), Gluttony (Fullmetal Alchemist), and Terumichi Nishida (Detroit Metal City) the same.

I don’t think fat people can be put into the same Giant Foodie Category just because they’re fat. Every person, whether they’re a size 22 or a size 2, has problems, and those problems lead people to different coping mechanisms. Some may be food addiction while others are alcoholism. Some may be one too many milkshakes, and others may be one too many sexapades. These things are just escapes from a larger issue that needs to be faced. I know for me to even start losing the weight I gained from life abroad and marriage, I had to look at my heart before my plate. If anything was going to change and stick, I had to tackle the problem(s). I’m not at my goal right now, but I am at a better place–and so are the numbers on my scales.

Now if only manga creators could find it in their hearts to make some super interesting fat characters, main or side, without using their fatness as the only defining trait.

Here are some licensed manga that feature fat or fat-thinking main characters:

Accel World by Reki Kawahara and Hiroyuki Aigamo (Yen Press)

Boys, Please Kiss Him Instead of Me by Junko (Kondansha/Crunchyroll)

Fat Cinderella! by RISE and Makoto Suzukawa (DeNA Manga Box)

I’ll Give It My All…Tomorrow by Shunju Aono (Viz)

In Clothes Called Fat by Moyoco Anno (Vertical) [Review from Otaku Champloo]

My Love Story!! by Kazune Kawahara and Aruko (Viz)

Ugly Duckling’s Love Revolution by Yuuki Fujinari (Yen Press)

How to Lose Weight According to Anime and Manga

After I got married, I gained 36 pounds. All my co-workers, even the ones with kids, were skinny. It made me wonder how Japanese people stayed thin without any effort. I’ve turned to anime and manga (and my Kinesiology background) to find the answers.

Anime/Manga Advice True or False?

cousin-l0Cousin (Unlicensed) Food and Baths

·         Eat brown rice instead of white rice.

·         Cook at home.

·         Avoid eating out.

·         Eat small portions.

·         Take 45-minute baths before going to sleep.

·         Brown rice has more dietary fiber and fewer calories than white rice.·         Cooking at home will mean you won’t overeat or buy unnecessary food.·         Your body operates on an input-output cycle. Smaller portions mean smaller fat deposits.·         Steam may exfoliate the skin, but 45-minute baths do not cause weight loss. They only cause you to lose water weight, or weight that can easily be regained by drinking water. Sure, your heart rate goes up, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good thing—some people have heart problems or palpitations. Hot baths also dry out your skin. I would stick with a 20-minute bath for relaxation.
Real ClothesReal Clothes (Unlicensed) Exercise and Heartbreak··         Go running in the morning.

·         Get dumped by your lover and pine away by refusing meals.

·         If you exercise in the morning, your metabolism will get a wake-up call greater than your cup of coffee. Plus, you get better sleep than people who exercise in the evening.·         Some people experience heartbreak–and quickly ditch their meals to dwell on the shards left by their lovers. I’m not an advocate for skipping meals because it’s counterproductive: you might actually gain more weight when you get your mojo and regular eating habits back. Results may vary.

High_School_Debut_volume_1High School Debut (Licensed by Viz) Exercise

·         Go running in winter gear.

·         Heat will help you lose weight, but it is only temporary. You’re just sweating water weight, which will return once you drink water.

cromsonheroCrimson Hero (Licensed by Viz) Exercise

·         Play a sport.

·         Tired of running past the same scenery? Devote yourself to a sport like basketball, boxing, soccer, or in Nobara’s case, volleyball.

Doubt_volume_1_by_Kaneyoshi_IzumiDoubt! (Licensed by Yen Press) Food and Exercise

·         Don’t eat sweets.

·         Use a treadmill or home exercise program.

·         Do a diet program.

·         Ditch the processed sweets and pick up fruits, nuts, veggies, and yogurt.·         If you don’t have a treadmill or gym membership, I would suggest a home exercise program like FitnessBlender Youtube videos or Jilian Michaels’s DVDs.

·         Diet programs may help you lose weight, but if you don’t make it your lifestyle, you’ll balloon into a state worse than your previous weight. Certain diet programs were created for specific types of bodies (ex. Atkins’ No-Carb Diet was made for obese people). My advice: re-create your eating habits and stick to it.

wallflowerThe Wallflower (Licensed by Tokyopop) Drink Water

·         Drink water as soon as you wake up.

·         Nothing metabolizes fat better than water. Drink lots of it instead of sugary alternatives. Soda, energy drinks, and sports beverages all have exuberant amounts of sugar that’ll send your energy downhill when it hits 3 o’clock. If you don’t like plain water, squeeze a lemon into it. Also try green tea or black coffee for your energy fixes.

Anime and manga say that this idea of effortless thinness is not so effortless. On a daily basis, Japanese people are mindful of their eating habits, portions, and exercise regiments—something that the rest of us can do in a quest towards weight loss.

Jade’s Rant

I’ve tried all of these suggestions, and the one that has worked for me the most is my diet. Without exercise, I lost 15 pounds by revising our eating habits and sticking with it. My husband and I stopped eating meat and processed foods—chips, ketchup, soda—and replaced them with vegetables, fish, fruits, and wheat. Our lunches are measured every day, and they usually include beans, eggs, rice, salad, vegetable soup, and pasta. This lifestyle of cooking most of our meals is a little tough, but we plan ahead.

Exercise won’t account for most of your weight loss. In some cases, exercisers will see increased weight. What exercise does is build muscle, and that muscle will help burn some fat but not all of it. Your waist might get smaller and your arms might get leaner, but the real fix for your fat is your diet. If you’re about to make an excuse for not losing weight—“It’s too hard”, “I don’t have time”, “I don’t have money”—I’m sure collapsed lungs (around $20,000), heart failure ($20,000-$93,000), diabetes ($7,000-$13,000 per year), and death ($3,000-$6,600 average cost) can convince you to re-think those excuses.

How to get started for free?

Change 1 meal out of your day. That meal can be breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Make sure that meal has lots of veggies, fiber, and lean protein such as grilled chicken or fish. When you’re ready to change another meal, do it! You’ll start to see changes in your body after 30 days.

Eat less processed food. They aren’t good for you. Did you know soda is used by police officers to wash blood off the streets? Did you know mechanics use soda to take the corrosion off car batteries? Imagine what it can do your stomach. Did you know most processed food is made up of sugars, corn, and salt? Next time, look at the label and find the nutritional value.

Cook at home. A restaurant isn’t going to understand your taste buds or weight struggles. Make your food at home and check out Youtube and websites for awesome and delicious recipes. My favorite is AllRecipes.com!

Try FitnessBlender’s (or any other Youtube channel’s) chair or low-impact cardio programs. They take 10 to 30 minutes, and they’re great for anyone who has leg or knee injuries (like myself).

Go walking with a friend or loved one. When my friend was learning English, we used to take walks twice a week around our neighborhood. If you want to burn more calories, add a 1-minute jogging interval to your walk, and you’ll burn triple the calories of walking.

Laugh those pounds away! Depending on the intensity of the laughter, you can trim 10 to 40 calories off with comedy. If you’re a comedy head like me, watch George Carlin, Bill Hicks, Steve Colbert, Kevin Hart, Patrice O’Neal, Sheryl Underwood, Sommore, and Loni Love.

Squat it out while watching TV or listening to a podcast. Every time I tune into Sleepy Hollow or Elementary, I do squats, pushups, and tricep dips. It’s better than being a couch potato…and later becoming a potato.