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:

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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?

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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.

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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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Not Like Anime or Manga: 10 Realistic Ideas for Your Japanese School Festival

School festivals are central to all manga and anime centering around Japanese schools as well as Japanese society.

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Everyone participates in the school festivals, even the foreign English teachers like myself. Last year, I was faced with the school festival, and though I wanted to do something as typical as a cafe, rules kept the maid outfits at bay. “There are only two places where food can be made, and they’ve already been claimed,” a teacher told me with a sympathetic smile. “You’ll have to come up with some other idea for the English Club.”

Great. I guess my anime dreams of doing a maid cafe couldn’t come true. Ideas, I thought, I need ideas. Of course, my students couldn’t come up with anything. You’ll find that unless you offer Japanese kids ideas, you won’t come up with anything concrete.

For those of you in the same situation, here’s a list of ideas you can do with a small club (3 to 5 members) or more.

1. Cake Walk (Musical Chairs + Raffle): Use Daiso vinyl tape and make footprints or circles on the floor into one big circle. Put numbers in each circle. Participants will stand on the circles, and when the music starts, they will walk to each circle. When the music stops, a number will be called. The participant on the called number will win a cake or a prize. For more info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cakewalk_(carnival_game) 

2. Costume Booth (Halloween + Photography): Get a lot of costumes and props. Designate someone who will print pictures and put them in cellophane holders. Participants will pick what costumes they want and the theme of their photograph.

3. Skit: Pick a Western-origin or English-language skit such as Red Riding Hood, Beauty and the Beast, or Harry Potter. Adjust the script, pick the actors, and perform the skit on stage.

4. Names in Cursive: For more artistic people, participants will get their names written in pretty cursive. If you’re into graffiti, do names in graffiti.

5. Dance: Do a traditional dance from a different country (i.e. Philippine’s tinikling or binasuan or Mexico’s folklorico).

6. Western bazaar: Get lots of new knickknacks (stickers, posters, bilingual books, toys, stuffed animals, bracelets, snacks, etc.). Set up a booth or room with the items all tagged with prices. Get a register or cash box and put someone responsible for it.

7. English wanage (Ring Toss): Make rings and stands out of cardboard and tape. (I would use Daiso colored tape to make the rings and stands more interesting, seeing that cardboard is pretty ugly.) Use vinyl tape as a distance marker. Give participants the rings and prizes after they’ve gotten the rings on the stands successfully. For an English-involved ring toss, put pictures on the stands. Show the participants an English word. They will throw the ring onto the matching picture of the English word.

8. Basket Toss: Make balls out of tape and set up cardboard boxes. For an English-involved basket toss, put pictures on the boxes. Tell the participant an English word, and they will throw the ball into the matching picture. You can also do this with teachers’ pictures and tell the participants a teacher’s profile (where they’re from, the subject they teach, the homeroom they’re in charge of).

9. Western Cafe: Pick any theme for your cafe (find ideas at CelebrationsatHomeBlog.com). Get refreshments (cupcakes, brownies, muffins, breads), drinks, utensils, table clothes, napkins, and props that fit the theme. Set up nice tables and have the club members be waiters (make shifts!). Customers will come and order food and drinks from an all-English menu. The waiters will take the orders in English as best as they can. For the non-food option, still set up the cafe the same way but make a separate table with different candies, knickknacks, and lots of gift wrapping materials (ribbons, wrapping paper, tape, scissors, cellophane bags, hole punches, and stickers). Customers will look at a menu of themes and make a gift for their friends, parents, or lovers. The waiters will only clean up after the customers and offer suggestions to them.

10. Movie: Make a movie with the club before the school festival (summer vacation is the best time to do this if your festival is later on in the year). Sit down with the club, write the script, schedule times to film, practice all the scenes, film, edit, and add Japanese subtitles.

11. English Scavenger Hunt: Give attendees a scavenger hunt paper with tasks such as “Find three married teachers” (3人の結婚したの教師を探してください). If they complete the task, they get a stamp on their paper. They can show their stamps at one location (if you have no room, use a kiosk or table-top cart) and get prizes. If you’re looking for examples of this kind of activity, it has been done at the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in Okinawa for their annual festivals (おきなわ国際協力・交流フェスティバル[English][Japanese] ).

If you’re having trouble coming up with school festival ideas for your English club or the English Speaking Society, just think of a fundraiser or carnival event and try that.

Yaese Town Cherry Blossoms Festival 八重瀬町桜まつり

Image Hanami, or cherry blossoms viewing, is usually seen throughout Japan in March and April. This year, in Okinawa, the cherry blossoms have bloomed early–but their flowers aren’t as bright as the years before. It’s OK, though. Many festivals in honor of these beautiful, pink flowers have cropped up just as early as the cherry blossoms’ blooming. One festival that my husband and I went to was the Yaese Town Cherry Blossoms Festival. 

We arrived in the latter part of the event, but we didn’t miss out on the festivities. After walking up a long hill overlooking Yaese Town and climbing multitudes of stairs (and a kind grandmother commenting loudly, “Mada?” when we encountered another set of stairs), we finally reached the top of the small mountain. The smell of corn dogs, yakisoba (sauteed noodles), and french fries filled the air as music by a local J-rock group sounded from a big stage flanked with large sakura poles. 

One thing about festivals that I absolutely love is the festival food. Fatty, greasy, and cheap, festival food can range from traditional Japanese food (sobaramen, takoyaki) to Western food (tacos, hamburgers, chicken nuggets). This time, there were a few vendors selling cheap vegetables, homemade cookies, and chicken pies. 

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Aside from the food, the Yaese Town festival had a treat for everyone: a tug-of-war contest. The rope was as thick as my body! It took over twenty people to carry one side of the rope in traditional fashion around the festival grounds. After some (quiet) taunting from both sides, we grabbed the ropes and pulled. It was a hard fight, but the other side managed to pull us over the line. The second time was fruitful: we won in less than five minutes. 

We dusted ourselves off, carried the rope again, and then disappeared down the stairs to the cave. It was once used as a medical center for the Okinawans during World War II, and still stands as a historical reminder to all. Many of the elementary school students asked us as we exited the cave area, “Do your pictures have ghosts in them?”

I don’t know if this counts as a ghost; there’s a small circle to the right of my husband. Just so you know, there wasn’t a light inside the cave. We checked.Image

 

Food from this Weekend (August 4th-6th)

Here’s some of the food I made during the weekend.

Per my husband’s request, I made chicken noodle soup.

Chicken noodle soup with bell peppers and onions

We didn’t have any crackers or crunchy things (something my husband always needs during a meal), so I decided to make flour tortilla chips. Normally, tortilla chips are made out of corn tortillas and fried. Unfortunately, the stores in Okinawa mostly have flour tortillas, so I just improvised. Actually, I preferred these chips compared to buying Doritos for nachos. First, I brushed some oil on both sides of the tortillas, sprinkled some salt on them, and cut into pieces before baking them for 5 minutes. The first attempt wasn’t so much a failure but a learning lesson. One minute makes a big different in how good your chips will turn out.

My first attempt at baked flour tortilla chips

My second attempt at flour tortilla chips, and they turned out really good! I added a little bit of guacamole to go with my husband’s brunch of fried eggs and bacon.

Hubby-san’s brunch

Food Blog: Teriyaki Stir Fry

Since I wanted to use up some of the bell peppers slowly warping into leathery skin, I cut a couple with some onions and a slab of boneless chicken fillet before tossing them together in a saucepan of teriyaki sauce. The magic came in with the seasonings, though. I added basil, parsley, garlic, salt, habanero pepper, chili pepper, and grounded pepper until it had a little bit of a kick. Just a tablespoon of soy sauce pulled out some of the teriyaki flavor.

The rice wasn’t regular Japanese white rice, but during the boiling process (surprisingly, I don’t have a rice cooker), I added a chicken bouillon cube. My husband doesn’t like plain white rice anyways.

 

Food Blog?

I have decided to start blogging about what I eat so that I can keep track of my diet and how I make things. Lately, I’ve been cooking more at home to help lessen my tummy fat, fatten my wallet, and condition my cooking skills. One of the suggestions I’ve read in losing weight without categorizing calories (something I was guilty of) was by keeping a food blog. It forces me to see what I’m eating and also garners support (or criticism) from people reading about the food I post. In a way, it’s a way to kick my ass into shape. Along with the food blog, I’ve been upping my cardio workouts, switching between dancing, kickboxing, and ballet to keep things interesting. However, I’m looking forward to food blogging. I like cooking for my husband, especially when I can make the meal look and taste good, which is harder than it looks.

Today, I felt like eating a creme pasta with baked chicken, though not the best choice in the healthiest of meals (whip creme is made out of percentage of fat and pasta has carbs). But baking chicken curbs the extra fat from pan-frying and the fresh ingredients give the food a more wholesome taste. Tomorrow, I hope the meal is more healthy. Wish me luck!

Lightly-seasoned baked chicken, creme sauce pasta with fresh basil, and freshly-cut tomatoes and onions

Creme Ingredients:
-1 small carton of whipped creme, liquid
-2 tablespoons of fresh sliced basil
-1 tablespoon of onions
-spaghetti pasta
-2 tablespoons of margarine
These are cheap and local items at any Japanese grocery store or produce place.

First, cook the onions and any other vegetables. Put the cooked veggies to the side. Under low to medium heat, melt the margarine in the pan until the water has evaporated and before the margarine can brown. Pour the whipped creme into the pan and slowly stir the melted margarine with the creme. Let the combination simmer a little before turning down the heat. Stir it for 5 minutes. Add all of the ingredients into the pan and enjoy!

The Katsudon of my (Anime) Dreams

One of the teachers took me to a family restaurant that sold katsudon (かつどん), a dish that’s common in anime and manga.
What is it besides a common anime and manga dish? It’s deep-fried chicken over eggs, rice and onions. It can be made in different ways, but it’s delicious anyways.
This katsudon was huge! It was as big as my face, and it came with miso soup and a small dish of pickled radish. For all of that food, I only paid 500 円 (around $5). What a deal! I only finished half, and I felt so guilty for not finishing it. Normally someone would say, “Mottainai”, which is a way of saying, “What a waste”, but thankfully no one did. (^_^)v