Before I moved to Tokyo, I was always curious how Japanese women stayed slim.
When I looked up the perks of a Japanese diet, however, I came across the health benefits of exotic ingredients like miso, natto (fermented soybeans), seaweed and a whole bunch of ingredients I couldn't possibly source on a regular basis in the US.
But after moving to Japan, I wound up losing 40 pounds, and it didn't really have to do with any of those special ingredients.
It had to do with how the foods were arranged, and that's something you can totally copy no matter where you are in the world.
See, any country you go to is going to have the same basic ingredients: animal products, grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, probiotics, etc.
The difference is how the food is combined, consumed and the thought process that goes behind the way of eating.
So, let me share with you seven diet tips I learned in Japan that helped me lose 40 pounds and keep it off no matter where I travel.
1. Make sure the foods you eat are not drying.
One big difference between Japanese meals and Western meals that often gets overlooked is that they're hydrating.
In the West, if you have a sandwich with a coffee for lunch, the bread itself is dry (because water is baked out), cold cuts have zero water content and the coffee is dehydrating.
But in a Japanese meal, the rice has been cooked in water, the vegetables themselves have high water content and traditional meals include hydrating soups.
So, if you're the kind of person who's been lugging around a 2 liter water bottle and trying to stay hydrated (but feeling uncomfortable from the water sloshing around your stomach), then you should ask yourself if the meals you're eating have enough water content.
Instead of trying to hydrate your body by drinking a lot of water, it's worth analyzing if the meals themselves are dehydrating or hydrating.
2. Don't drink water with meals.
As I mentioned in the previous point, instead of adding even more water to your meal, go for hydrating foods that contain high water content like soups.
And if you want to have even more liquids, make sure they are ones that help aid in digestion like warm herbal teas, rather than water itself.
3. Eat a variety of everything.
Most people think that Japanese portion sizes are small, but the overall volume of their meals are similar to what you would have in other countries.
The difference is, they add in more variety of dishes and have small portions of many kinds of foods.
One way you can go about this is to create a meal made out of deli portions of food.
For example, instead of having a large steak with a side of a large portion of green vegetables, which is common in the West, try having smaller portions of steak and vegetables, and add in a few more other dishes.
By having a variety of foods, you're not only giving your body a variety of nutrients, but you're also increasing your satisfaction with the meal by experiencing many flavors and textures.
And to note, most people who are trying to lose weight tend to cut out major food groups, be it carbs or animal products or oils.
But the Japanese recognize that inner peace after a meal comes from having a bit of everything, rather than leaving your body craving a missing piece.
4. Combine foods to optimize digestion.
The Japanese are very conscious about combining foods in a way that optimizes digestion.
Whenever you have oily or fried foods in Japan, you'll find grated radish as a garnish that helps the body digest oils.
Whenever you have fried foods, aim to add in foods that ease the digestion of fatty foods. This includes mushrooms, burdock, radishes and citrus like a drizzle of lemon juice.
So if you're out with some friends and the only food at the bar is fried chicken, just ask for a lemon wedge to squeeze on top, and you're good to go.
5. Eat seasonally.
The foods that stay constant in Japanese meals are protein sources like animal products or beans, plus rice, soup and pickles.
The other side dishes you add to the meals should be seasonal so you can enjoy what nature has to offer during their peak offering.
In food energetics, which is an Eastern way of looking at a food-mood connection, you'll find that eating seasonal foods helps your body acclimate to the climate.
So instead of eating imported foods and concentrating on nutrient density, the way to get one step closer to health is to trust the foods local to you are going to make you feel the most comfortable in your environment.
6. Add in probiotics.
Japanese can have miso soup and fermented vegetables with each meal, which both aid the body in overall digestion.
But, you don't have to have miso soup to add in probiotics. Some sources you can easily try are cultured vegetables like pickles, kimchi and sauerkraut.
If you're not lactose intolerant, you can incorporate high quality yogurt. And if you're really into probiotics, you could try kombucha or travel around with probiotic supplements.
Just adding in a bit of probiotics to help your body with digestion is one of the easiest ways to help with your weight.
If I was reading this for the first time and had no clue about the Japanese diet, I probably wouldn't think that any of this works because I grew up in the US, where weight loss is all about nutrient density and calories.
But weight loss can be easier than you think, and it has to do with eating a variety of foods and making sure your body's systems are functioning smoothly.
When your functions are working optimally, it's really hard for your body to be out of balance.
If you've ever felt curious about the Japanese diet, but felt like it would be too tough to get used to in your own culture, then these are the elements you can focus on to reap the same benefits.
Focus on variety, season and digestion, and you'll be on your way to better health.