Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Staying Fit in Japan

There are two popular misconceptions about being healthy in Japan: ALL Japanese foods are healthy, and foreigners lose weight while living in Japan. Both are false, although they hold a bit of truth.

Japanese cuisine, although very lean and delicious, has quite a few fattening elements to it: white rice, lots of fried vegetables and meats, loads of red meat, and well, wonderful sweets and desserts and bakery items. As a general rule, I noticed that among foreigners, boys tend to lose weight, while girls gain some. I'm not sure why, but I have a slight suspicion that girls have a hard time staying away from the scrumptious Japanese sweets...

Thankfully I did not gain any weight since I moved here, mostly because I love running and even though I love sweets and baked goods, I balance it out, and I don't drink very much. Here are my tips for staying fit and healthy in Japan.

Step away from the rice

I could survive solely on pasta and bread for a week straight and not gain a single pound, but if I do the same with white rice, I'll quickly get chunky. Maybe my body does not process rice too well, since I grew up on a bread and pasta diet. I'm thinking our metabolism is not used to white rice, so we should be careful and not eat it three times per day. Perhaps three times per week is a better option.

{Ramen... nom nom nom}

(Less) Bottoms Up

If you don't already drink, Japan will make you drink. Not only is it a drinking culture, as most events are centered around alcohol consumption, but living abroad on your own can make you party a lot harder on the weekends. And, believe me, after teaching some crazy classes and dealing with culture shock, you'll sometimes need a (strong) cocktail. Yet, alcohol is fattening, so be careful and limit yourself on the weekends. Also, less drinking means more money!

{Less drinking also means more room for delicious rice cakes.. mmmm... wait... does not make sense..}

Ship Shape

Exercise. Gyms can be very expensive in Japan, but there are tons of other options. Community centers, swimming pools, riding your bicycle, going running, or taking classes. Japan is also famous for its martial arts, so it can be an interesting way to stay in shape.

{Sneakers and an iPod. Go running.}

Snack Attack

With conbini (convenience stores) and vending machines on every street corner, it can be difficult to resist a quick Fanta Grape and a plethora of weird-flavoured Kit Kats (cheese, anyone?!). Thankfully I live in the countryside and the nearest conbini is a bike ride away, so I'm usually too lazy to actually get that coveted candy bar. That being said, conbinis are full of healthy fare such as salads, green tea, and nice bento boxes, so it's possible to make wise decisions.

{Ginger Ale Kit Kat, anyone?}

Turning Japanese

In general, the Japanese lead a rather healthy lifestyle. Overweight people are a rare sight, and elderly people are in better shape than most of us, so it's inspiring. Also, when everyone else around you is tiny, when the clothes are tiny, and the apartments tiny... it's motivation enough. I think it can be easy to remain healthy (or become healthier) in Japan, where sushi, soy beans and green tea abound, and where beautiful mountains only want to be hiked.

{Okay, the Japanese are healthy, but NOT environmentally friendly...}


French lover said...

What a great post :D

Kelly said...

this is such an interesting post! i know that a ton of people are convinced that all Japanese foods are healthy. i like seeing what you do to stay in shape in a foreign place!

Anait said...

mmmmmmmm those rice cakes look delicious! I'm not a big fan of rice, but the sweets would be so hard to resist!!!

LH said...

great post. It's funny because I've had the same experience with rice/pasta/bread in Korea.

Leni said...

Thanks for the info. I just moved here. I'm trying to find the best way to stay fit here. Running is definitely an option.

Mantis Hugo said...

I like to have pasta, noodles and rice. But I don't eat them often. My diet involves lots of green salad, wheat, and green vegetables for the most part. I also prefer eating fruits when I visit some foreign place. Fruit is the best thing I can get without fearing of getting stomach problems.

Mantis Hugo
My Blog: Noni Juice - What Exactly Is It?