3 Health Tips I Learned In Japan That Helped Me Lose 40 Pounds

How Japan's lifestyle healed my relationship with dieting

By Katheryn Gronauer
November 29, 2017
Health & Beauty

Ever wondered how Japanese women can eat a variety of foods, skip out on intense exercise and still look slim? I’ll share with you three concepts I learned in Japan that helped me lose 40 pounds (18 kg), all while enjoying food.

Tokyo isn’t such a great place to visit if you’re self-conscious about your weight. I remember the first few days I spent settling into my apartment. The apartment door heights were short, the hallways narrow, and I was a head taller than the crowds of Japanese women who walked in front of me on the way to the train station.

I was already self-conscious about my size, and had been on countless diets in the US prior to arriving in Japan. I had tried everything from calorie counting to eating lots of salads to Weight Watchers, and exercised for 1-2 hours per day, but I wasn’t able to get my weight to budge.

I also felt horribly excluded in Tokyo when venturing into retail shops only to discover each store only carried clothing in a “free size” (one-size-fits-all). It seemed that the only fashionable items I could pick out were jewelry and shoes, and I started migrating to international shops like Zara and H&M to find pieces I could wear.

Me at a fruit stand in Japan. 

How are Japanese women so slim?

I couldn’t understand why Japanese women were so slim despite eating all of the things I was told to avoid when wanting to lose weight. Noodles, rice, afternoon cake with a friend — the Japanese seemed to know how to have a bit of everything without consequence.

I also didn’t see any Japanese women power-walking in spandex with a 2-liter bottle of water tucked under their arms. They seemed to maintain their slim bodies just fine by walking around the city and doing yoga, instead of hitting the gym and doing high-intensity training like what I was used to seeing women do in the US.

Eating a lot, yet staying fit — how do Japanese women do it?

It made me wonder: was there some piece of secret information about healthy eating and exercise that Japanese women knew, but I was missing? Had what I been learning in the US about getting slim, been wrong?

I didn’t know how they were able to do it, but I knew that I wanted what they had: to be able to eat a variety of foods, exercise less, and not worry about my weight. And after some careful observation and practice, I discovered three things that turned out to be exactly what I needed — and what led me reduce my weight while having a balanced diet and still having chocolate.  

1. Acclimate your body to your climate

One concept of staying healthy that jumped out at me when I arrived in Japan was the notion of keeping your body warm. I couldn’t understand why this was one of the first pieces of advice I had heard when it seemed that learning about protein and carb ratios was more viable.

Oden: traditional autumn and winter food in Japan. 

In the US, people spend a lot of time focusing on nutritional density, but they don’t pay a lot of attention to how the food is prepared or how it affects our circulation. You’re bound to find many people in western countries trying to get healthy by eating raw foods, salads, and juices because of their nutritional content, but these aren’t commonly eaten in Japan in comparison.

I couldn’t understand why Japanese women were so slim despite eating all of the things I was told to avoid when wanting to lose weight.

Instead, Japanese cook most of their foods and prepare them with flavorings like ginger or miso which help the body with digestion and circulation. They also stick to eating seasonal vegetables, for the benefit not only of the peak flavor, but also for keeping our bodies acclimated to our climate.

While raw foods might be more nutritionally dense, they can also be a lot harder for our bodies to digest, and they’re considered to be cooling to the body by holistic standards. And the most important thing is not how much nutrition you’re consuming as much as how much nutrition you’re absorbing.

So, making sure that your food is easy for your body to digest and that you have strong circulation and warmth is important for body balance. When you do have raw foods, it’s ideal to have them in the hot summer months when our bodies do need to cool off in the heat.  

2. Body care is just as important for body balance

Taking a bath on a regular basis instead of a shower is common in the Japanese culture. But what you might not know is that taking a bath can help you with your weight.

In Japan, it’s common for women to do a “half-bath” which is where you fill the tub to just under your chest level, and soak for about 20 minutes in water between 38-42 degrees.

As it turns out, taking a bath can help your body burn as many calories as taking a half-hour walk. It can reduce blood sugar levels, lower inflammation and help you have better quality sleep – all of which are great aids for weight loss and body balance.

Making sure that your food is easy for your body to digest and that you have strong circulation and warmth is important for body balance.

According to research studies on taking baths for passive heating, you can achieve these results by raising your body temperature by one degree Celsius. So, while the Japanese recommend 38-42 degrees to be the perfect bath range, you’re going to reap the benefits as long as you set your bath to at least 37 degrees.  

3. Hard exercise isn’t necessarily going to help you slim down — but light exercise, can

Within the first few months of moving to Tokyo, my weight started coming off naturally, and I was really confused because I hadn’t been exercising nearly as much as I had been when I was in the US.

Instead of visiting the gym almost every day for 1-2 hours doing intense, sweat-inducing workouts and lifting weights, I was only walking consistently to run errands.

I couldn’t understand how doing less was producing more of the kind of results I was looking for, until I learned that physical stress on your body can affect the kind of energy your body chooses to use.

When you put your body into a state of stress by doing really intense workouts, your body will utilize the energy from your last meal. Not only that, but once you’ve finished your intense workout, your body wants to quickly replenish energy, so you’re likely to feel hungry after a tough workout and also crave more sugar than after a calming workout.

I never imagined that simple walking, stretching, and yoga could make my body leaner. I think it’s common to believe that if you want to lose weight, you need to put in more effort into your workouts to reap more reward. But instead, doing calming exercises that reduce stress can influence your body to use the fat that is on your body for fuel instead of your last meal. That means more results with less effort.

Give it a try

Even though we all have access to plenty of health information, the way we interpret and act on that information is what makes a difference in results. And the Japanese really have it figured out: if you want to adopt their ability to enjoy food and still be slim, then start off by incorporating seasonal vegetables into your diet, take a hot bath on the regular, and pick exercises that make you stress less. You’ll be suprised at the results!