Boring Post About Dieting

Boring Post About Dieting

Nothing is as boring as talking about dieting.  Well, maybe Instagram photos of workouts and pictures of marijuana. But, I am going to talk about dieting. It will cause ennui. I ask for polite indulgence. I have lost more than 25 pounds, and it is an all-consuming endeavor.

Japanese people are slim.  The rates of obesity here are far less than in America. (They are growing though. Thanks, McDonald’s!) People are not shy about mentioning weight — gains and losses.  If you are fat, your Japanese friends will happily tell you. A friend of mine who is Japanese-American (raised in America) returned to Tokyo after a year’s absence and was told, in no uncertain terms, that they had reached their “maximum fatness”. Another friend, who was in a very popular rock group, was asked by a Japanese reporter at a crowded press conference why he had gained so much weight between his band’s two albums.  I have no proof, no studies, but I would suspect that overweight people are discriminated against in Japan — their weight a reflection of some moral failure.

As a foreigner, I believe that people saw my weight as part and parcel of my otherness.  It still didn’t stop them from mentioning my increasing girth any time they saw me — “Oh Jeremy, you have gotten so fat!” So. I had to do something about it.  One part vanity. One part health.  I decided to cut all carbs out — no noodles, no pasta, no bread, no rice.  No Starches — Goodbye Potatoes! Fuck you legumes! Zero sugar.  No fruits. Beer.  My loving pal beer.  Cold, frosty, delicious. Au revoir!  Take a hike fried foods!  I cut all my portion sizes in half.  I jettisoned red meat in favor of chicken and fish. For three days I ate only a vegetable soup made up of cabbage, onions, garlic, and cauliflower.  I massively increased my water consumption. I started a daily exercise routine and cut out bike riding in favor of walking. When ten o’ clock arrived, my lips were sealed — YOU WILL NOT PASS!!! I used the past tense there, but this is how I am living now.  I have been super strict with a few exceptions (a few gyoza here, some pork skewers there). I can now fit into the size 32 jeans I bought in Japan 15 years ago when my wife and I got married.

This has not been an easy task.  There is something unfair with all these skinny, Tokyo people because they eat all the things that I have marked as forbidden.  And, they eat a lot of it!  Late night ramen!  Bowls of rice with EVERYTHING!  Huge mugs of beer.  Tonkatsu. Fried oysters, tuna, mackerel, chicken. Soba noodles. Tempura.  Udon with curry!  It is a bit of a secret, but Japanese food often contains sugar whether it be the use of mirin or just plain old granulated sugar. I read an article that attempted to explain how Asian populations stay skinny while eating a large number of carbs. One point they mentioned was that Asian populations eat far less refined sugars than Americans.  Hmm.  This does not seem right to me.  So far as I can tell, Japanese people (especially women) have an enormous sweet tooth.  Bakeries are EVERYWHERE — most of them selling a variety of sweet goods; the basic white bread most people eat is made with milk and sugar.  Department stores have whole floors devoted to cakes and cookies.  Cakes?!?!?  In New York, people eat some cake, sure.  But in Tokyo, cake — weird old-fashioned seeming cakes — is a huge thing.  Schoolgirls wait in hour-long lines for pancakes covered in whipped cream, chocolate, and other sweetness.

My wife has been known to drop a few weird, pseudo-scientific (I think!) facts about the Japanese physiology.  When it comes to skinniness she told me that Japanese people have shorter intestines than Westerners — meaning food gets metabolized quicker.  She also mentioned something about stomach shape.  I am not so sure about any of this.  Japanese people, in general, have slighter builds than westerners.  They definitely have slighter builds than my heritage of fire-plug-like peasants creeping out of the Pale of Settlement.  In terms of reality, what Japanese people have are smaller portions. While some restaurants offer giant amounts of food, the typical plate is far smaller than a US restaurant.  When I first got to Japan, I was a little baffled at the supermarkets.  Basic items like chicken, fish, and pork are packaged in smaller amounts than what I was used to.  Even bags of pasta, cans of tomatoes are a third of their American counterparts.  Japanese ice cream treats are miniatures to an American mindset.  You can buy a beer in the grocery that fits in your hand as if you were Andre the Giant.

My wife eats chocolate like a beggar hoarding pennies. If she gets a chocolate bar, she eats one square at a time, saving the excess in the refrigerator where it tortures the rest of the family. Her purse is filled with treats — individually wrapped, small bites of sugary goodness.  She will eat just one. Never have I seen a pile of wrappers left on a table or in a bag as evidence of a temporary fit of pure piggishness.  I suspect that many Nippon people are similar.  They may well indulge in a 3 am bowl of pork fat ramen (with extra noodles!), but in their day-to-day life, they simply eat less than Americans: one piece of salmon, a bowl of rice, some pickles. In the most drunken, over-ordering, indulgent izakaya meals, no one wants to be the person that eats that last piece of karage.  Even beer.  Most of my Japanese friends will start a meal with a giant beer and quickly move on to shochu or sake. Rarely do you see someone drinking one frosty mug after another.

When this diet is over, when I no longer need to look at a piece of bread as the devil’s loaf, I need to practice this fine art of restraint.  I have a teenaged son who is growing and super-hungry.  When I cook, I cook a lot. A second helping of pasta was commonplace, a third…sure why not? Come home late after DJing, whatever left-over pasta there was — into my belly. I need to fully enjoy indulgence and temper it with parsimony. One plate of pasta. One piece of fried chicken. One bowl of curry udon. A tonkatsu lunch.  Once in a while, the occasional freak-out. This is the goal. I don’t mean to body-shame or criticize bigger people.  I do not think of extra weight as a sign of slavishness. For me?  I am 50 now and I think it is healthier if I am lighter.  I also appreciate fitting into clothes better.  And if my hair recedes, my beard is white and lines grow ever more etched into my visage, at least I imagine that I look more youthful 25 pounds down.   If I can learn to fight against all my instincts and wait at a red light when no cars are in sight, I can manage this bit of food mindfulness.




2 Replies to “Boring Post About Dieting”

  1. Oh man. I feel this. What I struggle with is the knowledge that I will never be able to eat portion sizes as I once did, unless I want those portions to consist mainly of salads and veggies. So much of what I like won’t keep hunger away as well as whole foods will (and so help me god, autocorrect, stop forcing me to capitalize ‘whole’ and ‘foods’). Anyway, I wish you luck. And congratulations on the loss!

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