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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How Much of the Snake I’ve Eaten

In January, I posted my New Year’s resolution. Now, six months later, I’m doing a check-in.

Gotta get that fat outta here!!

#1: Losing weight: Drop 25 pounds.

In January and February, while my husband did a cleanse, I opted for only eating meat once a day. I don’t know if I dropped weight, but my clothes did fit differently–good for not exercising (my husband did, though). Just when we were going at a good pace, my husband hurt his back and the exercising (for him) and the non-meat meals stopped. It goes to show how much being in a relationship can affect your body.

Three weeks ago, I started doing Tae Bo again. It wasn’t as bad as I remembered (I did it last year for two months), but I decided to do cardio three times a week and strength training once a week. A week ago, I hurt my knee, so I’ll have to stick with strength training and minimum cardio. Injuries are the worst!

Plan: Do 30-45 minutes of exercise every other day. Two times a week include a strength training regiment (12 reps, 3 sets with weights), and work on abs every exercise day.

How to write “learn” in kanji

#2: Learn Japanese: Become a more fluent speaker.

I entered an international speech contest in Japanese, but I wasn’t picked. Maybe next year… Every day, I learn a new Japanese word (today’s word is 野良猫, noraneko, or “stray cat”) to build my vocabulary. I also write in a journal in Japanese, and some of my posts on this blog have a Japanese translation. So far, my reading comprehension has gotten easier as well as my kanji.

Plan for the rest of the year: Sign up for the JET Programme’s free advanced Japanese course and get ready for another speech contest (to get picked this time!).

#3: Save more money

I haven’t saved any money (according to my Mint account), but I have managed to slim our daily expenses. Instead of buying many snacks and going out to eat, we cook at home and avoid sugary products like cookies and fruit juices.

Plan: Send a set amount of money to my American bank account and not touch it except for emergencies and bills.

#4: Travel more.

Because of Item Number 3, traveling is out of the question. Sadness!

Once upon a time, there was a writer…

#5: Get to reading and writing!

I became a part of a creative writing circle. We get a prompt and two weeks to write something, then we post in on Google Plus. It’s very convenient because I never know how people will react to it. Also, it keeps me on my toes in keeping with deadlines!

Plan: Continue with the writing circle. Win at least one writing contest!

Links

1. Scale: http://www.johnstonefitness.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Weighing-Scales-1.jpg

2. “Learn” kanji gif: http://nihongoichibandotcom.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/5b66.gif

3. Piggy bank: http://sj.sunne.ws/files/2011/09/Piggy-Bank1.jpg

4. Suitcase: http://henricodoctors.com/util/images/TravelMedicineSuitcase.jpg

5. Books: https://jadesescape.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/books.jpg?w=257

Time to Take a Bite Out of the Year of the Snake

Per New Year’s and weight gain, I made several resolutions to better my life. For 2013, I have a few, but I’m not just going to say what they are. Many people make that mistake. I want to avoid the talk and just get down to the core of the problem and how to realistically solve them.

Gotta get that fat outta here!!

#1: Lose weight.

Last year, I made this a goal, and in July, I could wear clothes that I hadn’t worn in two years because of my weight. By December, I regained most of the weight I lost five months ago. The most realistic approach to losing weight for me is not stressing out, getting enough sleep, eating more vegetables and fruits, and exercising.

My goal in losing weight this year is 25 pounds. Right now, I weigh 155 pounds–30 pounds over my high school weight–and I want to shed it. This fat represents the stress I’ve gone through since getting married, living in a foreign country without being fluent in the language, and becoming inactive in my local community. The fat needs to go.

My plan is to start with moderate cardiovascular exercises that I enjoy (basketball practice, dance, and jogs) and moderate strength-training regiments at home. I just have to watch my knees (two torn ACL injuries from ten years ago). Right now, my eating habits are OK, but they can be better. I’ll add more dairy products, fruits, and vegetables to my diet from now on.

How to write “learn” in kanji

#2: Learn Japanese.

I’ve come a long way since last year when I could vaguely understand what someone said in Japanese. Now, I’m on my way to becoming a more fluent listener. My goal this year is to become a more fluent speaker. It’s harder than it sounds because I have trouble with what I call the linkers, wa, ga, wo, and ni. I want to master them.

My plan is to study with a native speaker weekly and later take the lowest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT). Right now, I have a book for passing the JLPT and I have several workbooks for learning the most basic kanji . In the meantime, I’m working on remembering my Japanese speech for a contest.

Bank on the Pig.

#3: Save more money.

That’s all. Just save more money. This past year, I was able to pay off just about all of my credit cards. Now I want to pay off one of two big debts and continue my savings plan for when I return to the U.S. One thing that has kept me in check is a financial planning website called Mint.com, which gives me a pie chart of all of my expenditures and keeps track of my financial goals.

Let’s get to packin’!

#4: Travel more.

My husband and I decided that in 2014, we’ll return the U.S. Before then, I’d like to visit some other nearby countries on holiday breaks. Of course, this could dig into Resolution #3, but we can definitely make it work without having to spend an arm and a leg. Flying between China and Japan starts around $150 dollars. For a new experience in a different land, I’m willing to pay for it.

Once upon a time, there was a writer…

#5: Get to reading and writing!

In August last year, I self-published The Ends Don’t Tie with Bunny Rabbits. Ever since then, I’ve gone on to do a free book-reviewing website by the same name and started to read indie authors’ books. I still have several books on my list, but I’d like to read up to 50 books in 2013. I only read 26 books in 2012 and 24 books in 2011.

With writing, I’d like to start this year with a great Korean comic review for the Manga Bookshelf column. I also want to finish writing another book and get it published this year. It’s possible to do all this if I use my time wisely. No more Youtube time wasters.

Links

1. Scale: http://www.johnstonefitness.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Weighing-Scales-1.jpg

2. “Learn” kanji gif: http://nihongoichibandotcom.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/5b66.gif

3. Piggy bank: http://sj.sunne.ws/files/2011/09/Piggy-Bank1.jpg

4. Suitcase: http://henricodoctors.com/util/images/TravelMedicineSuitcase.jpg

5. Books: https://jadesescape.files.wordpress.com/2013/01/books.jpg?w=257