Weight Loss

Weight Loss

My Quarantine Diet is Working

SoupCurry

Good things from bad situations

In my second month of sequestration during the COVID-19 pandemic, I decided to finally go back to dieting. It’s been quite some time since I gave it a serious go, but it’s hard to be in a new country with lots of new foods and then decide not to eat everything that looks tasty.

Japan isn’t really quarantined the way some places are. Restaurants are still mostly open, even the famous conveyor belt sushi shops which in the best of times seem almost ideally designed for spreading pathogens. But I was told to stay at home by my job and Anne was nervous about spending too much time in public so we mostly were eating at home and cooking our own food. This makes it much easier for me to control what I eat.

Soup Curry Picture
Ah, delicious and healthy soup curry. It’s perfect for my diet of protein and vegetables.

The plan unfolds

While Anne tends to focus on either vegetarian or calorie-restricted diets, I mostly focus on getting all the sugar and easy carbs out of my diet. I go very strict on not eating snack foods, sweet drinks, and easy carbs like bread and pasta. I set my sights on a “Mediterranean style diet.” It generally involves fish, seeds, vegetables, fruits, and a smattering of meats.

We started the diet in early/mid April. I don’t like to waste food, so I didn’t start eating “on-diet” right away. I wanted to finish off the food we already had. Fortunately, Japanese apartment kitchens don’t allow for much stockpiling. We launched the diet by going shopping and buying food strictly according to our relative diet strategies. Anne buys a bit more vegetables and tofu, I buy lots of seafood, meats, and cheeses.

Generally, my routine starts with a cheese omelet for breakfast. An early supper consists of some kind of fish, shellfish, or meat with a bowl of brown rice. I snack a few times on a can of tuna, nuts, fruits, and cheese as the mood strikes me. I drink strong tea with some milk and honey more or less all day long. Anne prepares about 2/3 of my meals. My favorite thing has been jumbo prawns in a butter-garlic-chili sauce over brown rice. I make this dish myself since Anne is allergic to shellfish.

Begone evil pancakes, you have no place in my diet!

The sweet taste of success

So far, my diet has been effective. I started out around 149kg/330lb. Four weeks in I weighed 143kg/315lb. My weight can vary by as much as 5lb any given day but dropping 15lb in a month is pretty substantial for me and its the first time I’ve been under 320lb in at least a decade.

Better yet, I discovered a possible vitamin deficiency I was probably suffering from. There is a good chance I’d had a vitamin D deficiency for quite a while now. It’s a subject that’s been discussed due to Covid-19 and I’d not really paid much attention to it previously. The diet I’m on includes quite a lot of fatty fish like mackerel, salmon, and tuna. All of these are prime sources of vitamin D. Anne also started us on some vitamin supplements during the diet. So now I’m getting loads of the stuff.

The reason I think I was deficient before is that since starting my diet, I’ve noticed a huge difference in muscle soreness. I had pretty regular soreness in my muscles even without any real strain on them. I’d become pretty accustomed to it. It was never too severe but on long days out walking or just standing around, my back would really start acting up. After the diet change, it has almost completely vanished.

Naruto fried thicken plate.
A lovely fried chicken dinner is right up my alley and fits well in my diet plan.

But will it last?

Hopefully, I can keep at this diet for a while. My longest stint of strict dieting lasted for about one hear and I got down to around 300-290 that way. Of course, it didn’t take long to return to “normal” weight afterward. Ideally, what I’d like is to spend most of my time on the diet, but then spend a few weeks a year off-diet when there are special occasions or I’m in a new country.

Ultimately, I’m not especially worried about being overweight. I’m happily married so I don’t need to impress anyone. I’ve never been so obese that its impacted my blood pressure or the like. But it does take a toll on my muscles and joints, and its just sometimes difficult being so big. For example, my office chairs rarely survive more than a year. The older I get, the more value I can get from slimming down. I’m hoping I can make this kind of diet the new-normal for myself even after my quarantine lifts.

Gaijin Survival GuideLife in JapanWeight Loss

How Huge is Anne?

Anne-Kyoto-2019Kyoto, Japan, 2019

I’ll be up front; I don’t like talking too much about my state of health. For me, it’s deeply personal, something I only share with family and close friends. But today, I’m going out of my comfort zone and sharing it on our travel blog of all places — well mostly because of this website’s title: 2 Huge in Japan.

Before stepping foot in Japan, I weighed 132 kg (290 lbs). Unlike my 190 cm (6’3″) husband, who’s hight to weight ratio sits well on him, I look pretty fat — especially since I stand at 162 cm (5’4″). FYI: my heaviest was in 2016 at 140 kg (310 lbs).

Today I weigh 116kg (255 lbs), with a net weight loss at about 25 kg (55 lbs) in roughly two years. Since landing in Japan in November, I’ve lost about 16 kg (35 lbs) which is about 0.6 kg per week (1.5 lbs/wk).

Sig & I at Glacier National Park, Montana, USA
Sig & I at Glacier National Park, Montana, USA, 2017

Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

In 2008 my doctor diagnosed me with Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). After seeking help for ungodly 3-week long periods, a series of lab tests discovered that I had a strong resistance to my own insulin, an excess of male hormones, and ovarian cysts — pretty much the tell-tell signs of PCOS.

When I was told I had a “strong” resistance to insulin, I immediately translated it as: “Well, that explains why I have to work 2 to 3 times as hard to lose weight than another normal person.” I already knew that insulin is used to turn glucose into energy for the body since my mother was diabetic. By the way, I’m prediabetic with my AC1 tests at 5.8 and my fasting glucose at consistently in the mid to upper 90s.

But this would also explain why low carb diets work really well for me. In fact, a few years before my PCOS diagnosis, I did the Atkins diet and got down to 100 kg (219 lbs). Sadly I then gained it all back after I had a really bad gout attack from eating too much meat.

Grand Canyon West, Arizona, USA
Grand Canyon West, Arizona, USA, 2016

Understanding My Habits

For the past several months, I’ve been relatively carb restrictive diet, eating mostly veggies and a reasonable amount of meat. I’d say the most significant change in my eating habits is that I only eat between the hours of Noon and 5 pm. Dieticians call this “Time-restricted eating” or “time-restricted feeding” where one limits eating to a certain number of hours each day.

I didn’t select this method of weight loss because it was a fad — I’ve made that mistake many times before and failed. This time I researched. I became convinced of this method after reading “Time-restricted eating can overcome the bad effects of faulty genes and unhealthy diet.”.

After reading that, I spent a few weeks building a baseline of when and what I ate, how I slept, and activity levels. I discovered that I slept poorly, ate way too much food at night, and wasn’t regularly active enough.

Various things I noticed were small but interesting, such as mistaking thirst for hunger. I found that drinking water or tea pretty much solved that gnawing feeling I got when I woke up. I didn’t need to gorge myself on a high-fat high-carb American breakfast.

Bunker Hill Monument in Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Bunker Hill Monument in Boston, Massachusetts, USA, 2017

Eating Healthy in Tokyo

It’s effortless to eat healthy in Japan. “Konbini” ( コンビニ) or convenience stores in Japan regularly stock fresh single sized salad bags. Plus heat-and-go meals are portioned modestly instead of oversized. It’s only a bonus that much of it is reasonably priced. For example, a salad plus a pork-leek bowl with rice cost about 600 yen ($5.40 US).

Furthermore, I’ve discovered that Tokyo supermarkets sell whole produce at a premium price. Fruits are especially more expensive than vegetables. Despite that, I still try to cook my meals at home about 80% of the time.

Don’t get me wrong: one could still eat poorly while in Japan but must admit that finding healthy ready to eat meals in Japan is about as easy as finding junk food in America.

Exercise in Japan

Without a car, I mostly walk to where I need to go. So for a trip to the store, I’ll walk the long way around to get my 30 minutes logged.

On exploration days with Sig, we can walk up to 8 to 12 km (5 to 8 miles). I also try to coincide the walks with a moderate carb cheat day. There’s way too much to see, do, and eat in Tokyo to keep still and keep a strict diet.

For rainy days, I fire up Youtube and do 30 minutes of low-impact-no-equipment exercises. Here’s my YouTube “Low Impact” Playlist if you are interested.

Me at Lotte World Tower in Seoul, South Korea, 2019
Me at Lotte World Tower in Seoul, South Korea, 2019

What’s it Like Being Overweight in Japan

For the most part, people in Tokyo tend to ignore me. That or they’re being polite by not staring or making comments in my close vicinity. It might also help that my current ability to understand Japanese is at a basic level.

I’m grateful that I’m not working a regular job in an office or going to school: I’d expect that I’d get shit for being overweight. But that’s just my assumption because there’s always some regular news about bullying in Japan life.

When I go grocery shopping, which is mostly once a week, there isn’t much of issue despite the aisles being narrower than in American stores.

As a self-proclaimed qazi-minimalist, I hate clothing shopping for its mundane materialism. But for the few department stores that I’ve wandered through, I would highly expect extreme difficulty in finding my clothing size.

Meanwhile, taking a Tokyo commuter train isn’t that much of a problem. Much of the time there is little to none sitting space, to begin with, and I end up standing to my destination.

Overall, I’m doing okay and losing weight in Tokyo, and frankly, that’s good by me.

Just a few week ago at Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Kyoto, Japan
Just a few week ago at Arashiyama Bamboo Forest, Kyoto, Japan
Weight Loss

How Huge is Sig?

Sig Eating Meat on a StickSig Eating Meat on a Stick

The short answer: coming to Japan I weighed in at 147-kilograms (325 lb) and I am 190 cm (6′ 3″) tall.

In the US, I’m a big guy, bigger than most, but not always the biggest in any given situation. It was presumed that in Japan I would seem almost freakishly large. That the size of Japanese living spaces, transportation and the like would pose some real challenges from time to time.

For the most part, that didn’t prove true. I’m often the tallest person in my subway car, but not always. And I don’t feel any more out of proportion than I usually do in the US. There are situations where the proportion of chairs or doorways are not well suited to me, but this is neither the general rule, nor exclusive to me. Plenty of the locals run into the same challenge.

There is one notable exception, my feet. My feet are 32 cm long which translates to a size 16 US shoe. While on my feet, most folks don’t take notice of them because on me, they look pretty normal, but when I take them off and put them next to other peoples shoes I do get some serious double takes with wide eyes. My realtor was quite certain they were the largest shoes she’d seen in her life.

Americans are notoriously fat, and compared to what I am used to, the Japanese are rather fit and slightly built. But there is wide variation. I’m not always the fattest person I can find here, though again, I’m fatter than most. In the US I’m often told I’m not truly fat, but I don’t think that’s how the Japanese see me. Mind you, this doesn’t bother me, it’s the honest truth and I’m not ashamed about it.

Sumo Body

Amusingly, the body type I’m closest to is that of a Sumo wrestler. I have a big, strong frame with heavy legs and broad shoulders all wrapped up in a layer of flab. Make no mistake, they are in much better shape than I, they train vigorously every day. But I may have missed my athletic calling in life by being born in the states rather than Japan.

Sumo wrestlers gather in a circle around the gyōji (referee) in the dohyō-iri (ring-entering ceremony).
These guys are huge! But so am I.