Why are Japanese people healthier than Westerners?

I just came back from a three week holiday in Japan. My husband and I had a terrific time touring that amazing country. One of the things we noticed was how much thinner Japanese people were than the typical kiwi back home in New Zealand.

I watched carefully and took notice, and here are some of the reasons I think Japanese people are leaner and healthier:

Japanese people walk more. In Tokyo we walked a lot. Pretty much everyone takes trains to get about, and there’s intrinsically a lot more walking when you take public transportation than when you drive.

Healthy food is affordable and available everywhere. Even the 7-Elevens (which are everywhere) had healthy, real food available very cheaply. For example, hot meat satays, packaged fish and noodles, salads – all were available everywhere, and cheap. By comparison, about the only quick and easy food available in New Zealand is either junky chains (McDonald’s, Wendy’s etc) or pies and chips at the local convenience stores. Even proper restaurants tend to serve chips with everything.

Food portions are smaller but higher in protein. The meals we had were all definitely smaller than back home, but were also higher in protein, so they filled you up.

Soup is a common part of meals. Miso and clear soups are commonly part of every meal. This helps fill you up with few calories. And it’s very tasty!

Sugar is not in everything. Food tastes sweet coming back home. That’d be all the added sugars. Don’t get me wrong – the Japanese love sweet stuff – but they tend to have sugar as cakes, and not in main dishes.

Junk food is not on every corner, like it is here in New Zealand. You had to hunt for a McDonald’s – and why would you want one anyway, when the local food is so much better! Whereas here in New Zealand, junk is everywhere. It’s actually quite hard to find something healthy at lunchtime.

Japanese meals are NOT based on wheat, seed oils and sugar. These three ingredients are the basis of Western food, and they’re all killers. Japanese people tend to eat lots of rice, vegetables and real meat instead.

Eating is a cultural exercise in Japan. They take pride in their food being tasty, healthy and fresh. By comparison, New Zealanders tend to focus on cheap, easy and fast. The difference attitudes are clearly visible on the waistlines of the two populations.

I loved being in Japan and can’t wait to go back! In the meantime, I’m taking some tips from the Japanese on how to eat well and healthy.

Japanese food is awesome!

Dinner in a typical small restaurant in Tokyo. Yum yum!


Putting on muscle, losing the flab…

Training is going well for this 50+ mum down here in New Zealand. I’m dropping flab nice and steadily, and I’m getting quite muscular.

Getting more muscular 🙂

My shoulders are really coming along, and I’m even putting on bulk on my legs…which is very hard for me to do as I’m very tall and long-legged, so I have to work really hard to make it look like there’s any muscle at all on my legs!

My tummy is trimming down and, while I’ve still got a long way to go, I’m fairly confident I’ll be stage-ready a year from now.

Then all I’ve got to do is summon up the nerve to do it. Those teeny tiny sparkly bikinis scare the crap out of me! (If you’re a 50+ mum reading this, you’ll know exactly what I mean!)

Bodybuilding is an odd sport. The amount of effort that goes into preparation is unbelievable…and it’s a lot harder when you’re an old chick like me.

But I figure that everything I’m doing is improving my health, my strength and my wellbeing…and that’s why I’m doing this.

You see, I want to prove what an older woman can do in this sport, completely drug-free. I believe women’s bodybuilding can really benefit the women who do it, we just need to embrace the work ethic and push through the challenge of fine-tuning an older female body.

So yes, give me a year and we’ll see where I’m at. Hopefully I’ll be winning on stage in a lot of tan and a sparkly bikini! 🙂

I used to be a size 20, now I’m a size 14

I’m continuing with Overeaters Anonymous, and I’m continuing to lose the weight.

These days I’m dropping about 2-3 kilograms (about 6-8 pounds) a month.

It’s coming off easily, I’m not starving myself.

In fact, I’d say I’m eating better than I ever did before I started at OA.

Altogether, I’ve dropped from a size 20 down to a size 14 so far… and I think I’ve probably got a way to go yet.

As you’ll know if you’ve followed this blog for a while, I tried pretty much every diet there was before Overeaters Anonymous. None of them worked, because the problem wasn’t my body, it was my mind.

I didn’t realise that.

I had no idea that most of my habits were keeping me fat, such as:

  • Eating a wide variety of foods. Variety encourages overeating. We humans manage our appetites better when we eat from a much smaller variety of foods, eating the same (or similar) foods over and over again for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  • Skipping meals, then snacking later in the day because I hadn’t eaten enough. This was common for me. Skip breakfast, then eat cookies at work. Skip lunch, and eat boxes of muesli bars the moment I got home because I was starving. Because I wasn’t giving myself three square meals a day I was hungry throughout the day, fixating on food and endlessly snacking on junky treats.
  • Being ashamed to go to the gym because I was fat. Yeah, that doesn’t make sense at all! It took a lot of courage to return to the gym but you know what? What strangers think of you doesn’t matter. Your health and wellness matter. I sucked up the shame (and maybe sucked in my tummy wobbles a bit) and returned to the gym. Six months later I’m building muscle and strength, and my mental well-being is fantastic.
  • Not understanding proper portion control. A proper portion is sometimes much, much less than we expect. I think one portion of Doritos is eleven chips! I mean, who eats eleven chips then puts the bag away? Nobody, that’s who! I’m learning that the size of my plate matters as much, maybe more, as what’s on the plate. I leave a space between items on my plate, I eat more slowly, and I find even though I’m eating much less it’s always enough.
  • Not understanding PROTEIN v FAT v REAL CARBS. Protein fills you up and provides long-term satiety. Fat provides great mouth-feel and taste. Carbs provide bulk. So each meal I make sure I focus on high protein, a little bit of fat, and real carbs to help with fullness. By “real carbs” I mean vegetables and fruit, plus a bit of rice and oats. Bread isn’t food; it’s candy. And pasta is just junk. Both bread and pasta will fill your stomach, but they won’t keep you full. Plus, they’re addictive and you’ll crave them more. I avoid both.

It’s a learning curve! In my next post I’ll talk about what I’m eating day to day on a fairly tight budget, now I’m putting my health first.

The real reasons you can’t sleep at night

When I was obese, I had problems sleeping. Most obese people do.

Now, I’m no doctor, but since I started losing significant amounts of weight and moved down into a healthier weight range, my sleep quality has been terrific.

My typical night used to be spending several hours awake, tossing and turning, and eventually giving up trying to sleep until I finally zonked out half an hour before my alarm would go off.

It sucked.

These days I go to bed around 10:30 and sleep straight through until 6:30 when my alarm goes off. Almost every night. My sleep quality is unbelievable and I feel awake and refreshed when I get up.

So here’s what I think made the difference:

1. My blood sugar. Since losing weight my blood sugar has normalised. I’m no longer headed towards pre-diabetes. I’m well again.

2. Reduced screen time. I put my phone up by nine. It really helps settle my brain. I think screens are bad for sleep.

3. I’m physically tired. Going to the gym daily tires me out. It helps me sleep.

Getting good quality sleep is so important and impacts everything from your mood and your relationships to how long you’re likely to live and your likelihood of getting cancer.

I’m loving the great sleep. I figured the changes I made that helped me get great sleep were worth sharing 😁

Stopping the binges by eating protein? It works.

Have you ever noticed how when you start eating carby snacks you can’t stop? Betcha can’t eat just one…

Same with fatty treats. Given the chance, I think I could easily eat my own body weight in chocolate.

Protein is different. No matter how I try, I can’t eat too much chicken, or beef, or eggs. It fills me up.

More critically, I’ve noticed the best way to stop the binges, when things look like they’re about to spiral out of control, is to eat protein.

Protein stops a binge dead in its tracks.

Doesn’t matter if it’s a protein bar, or a piece of meat, or some pre-cooked chicken breast. It stops the binge. It kills the cravings and crazy eating.

Give it a try, next time you’re about to work your way through a family sized bag of cookies. Pause, and eat a protein bar instead.

It works. And you won’t need the cookie.

Personal bests – and sticking to the plan

Yesterday I managed 70 kgs (154 pounds) on bench press. Not bad for an old chick!

I also managed 100 kgs (220 pounds) on the hammer strength decline press machine. Another personal best.

I was really pleased with both.

I’m putting on a lot of muscle at the moment, and the fat is coming off. My stomach is almost flat, and I’m no longer embarrassed to be seen in light summer clothes.

I can thank Overeaters Anonymous for so much of this. They’ve given me support through everything, a sensible approach to food, and a plan to follow that got me away from the binge eating and overly large portions. OA is a part of my life now, because it works. Add in regular exercise and sensible eating, and I’m a completely different person to who I was a couple of years ago.

Success doesn’t come from fad diets, or from eating well for a short time until you reach your goal weight, then you’re “done”. Success comes from genuine change – reaching a point where you don’t want to go back to those old habits and old ways of being.

I don’t want to ever go back. I’m happy where I am now. Sticking to the plan is easy, because I’m happiest when I do.

Well, I was a dumbass…

On Friday I thought it would be a great idea to have some chips (fries) from the local fish and chip shop with my steak.

After all, the kids were having them. Plus, I’d been good all week. Diet and exercise had both been great, and I was feeling positive.

But now, Sunday evening, I’m still suffering from that decision. I came out in rashes and my skin has been tight and sore ever since. My digestion feels off, and I’m wishing I’d never eaten them.

I’ve heard that once you clean up your diet, you have less tolerance for junk. I’m starting to think that might be true.

Either way, I don’t want to eat hot chips again. I’ll pass next time.

Can some people just not eat carbs?

Carbs – processed carbs – don’t work for my body.

Foods like rice, potatoes and quinoa are okay – although they’re quite addictive and I really have to be careful with my intake.

Processed carbs are completely different. Pastries, biscuits, bread, pasta – these kinds of foods are hugely addictive for me. I start eating them, and my body has no idea when to stop.

I could quite easily each a couple of loaves of bread and it would only be when my stomach actually hurt because it was so overloaded that I would realise I’d had enough.

Carbs are cheap, plentiful and useful, especially if you’re on a budget with a bunch of kids to feed, but if you’re overweight they can be a huge impediment to losing weight.

These days I see overweight people on the street, and I don’t think “that’s a greedy person”. I think “that’s a carbohydrate addict”.

I’m starting to doubt whether it’s even possible to become overweight without basing your diet on carbs.

I think this is why poor people are fatter in Western society – carbs are cheap, so the poor eat more carbs. Then they get fat. Then they get sicker, fatter and poorer. A vicious cycle.

So these days I avoid carbs and the fat is pouring off me. I’ve upped my protein intake, found cheap veggies I enjoy, and I’m feeling and looking so much healthier.

Avoiding carbs works.

What happens to your body when you get fit and lose weight

Pretty much everyone wants to lose weight to look better. But hardly anyone talks about the changes in your body that can make you feel better when you start to get fit and lose weight after years of, well, sitting on your arse.

So let me talk about a few of the changes I’ve experienced.

I sleep better. I used to suffer from the three a.m. nasties. You know – waking at three in the morning, and not finally falling asleep again until ten minutes before my alarm was due to go off. These days a proper night’s sleep is the default, not the exception.

I’m in a better mood. My family and friends are less likely to catch grumpy me, and far more likely to catch serene, content me. The difference is striking.

My skin and allergies are better. I’ve struggled with asthma, allergies and eczema all my life. These days you wouldn’t know it. Rashes are rare, I don’t need an inhaler (unless I come across a dog or a rabbit), and I barely touch antihistamines. My eyes are no longer puffy and red in the mornings either.

I don’t get earwax buildup any more. An odd change, but really noticeable.

I don’t get tartar build-up on my teeth any more. Another weird improvement. Go figure. I always thought tartar had something to do with water quality and getting old, but apparently it’s bodily wellness. Who knew?

I’m looking okay these days, for an old bird. I’ve more improvement to make, but I’m on my way to wellness.

Change comes from persistence. As does wellness. We don’t become healthier from one meal, or one “good day” but from real transformation repeated daily, over and over again every day of our lives.

We can get better. Those of us who are obese can become fit and well again. The slide into poor health and misery is not inevitable. It takes commitment and support from family, friends and groups such as Overeaters Anonymous, but we can do it. We just need to believe in ourselves, and believe we are worth the effort necessary to change.

Fishing on Lake Monowai, Southland, New Zealand

We’ve had amazing summer weather lately. So on the weekend, my husband and I headed down to Southland, and we went fishing with a good friend who has a boat, on Lake Monowai.

I could talk about how beautiful it was, but they say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Perfect fishing weather.

There was just a tiny bit of chop, but mostly it was smooth with just a hint of wind.

I don’t really know much about fishing, so I was content to let the men take control, and relax and enjoy the sunshine and fresh air.

Thank goodness for sunblock. Even with the 50+ on, I got a bit red.

We caught some rainbow trout, which are a really delicious fish, but more than anything, we just enjoyed getting out into the sun. Southern New Zealand is very sparsely populated, so you don’t have to worry about crowds of other people or boatloads of tourists. There was just us and a couple of other little boats on the entire lake.

Southern New Zealand is probably one of the most beautiful places in the world.

So that was my weekend. Fresh air, fishing and relaxing.

Not too shabby!

Why can’t summer last all year?

I’m really loving summer right now. I’m getting up at 6 am, going to the gym, showering, then off to work.

Following up with more gym in the evenings, then dinner – which is easy as it’s usually steak and salad, or a barbecue chicken and salad. So nothing much to prepare.

Then evenings I get to relax.

It’s warm, it’s sunny, we don’t need heaters and fireplaces going, and it’s not miserable and cold outside, and nobody is sick.

Any time I want (and I often do) I can go for a walk outside, or just enjoy the sunshine streaming in through our open windows.

These are the best kinds of days.

My bodybuilding program

Below is my current plan at the gym. I lift heavy, and most exercises are 5 sets of 6 repetitions.

Once I find I can do 5 X 6, I increase the load. I have some micro plates which are really useful for this – they fit an Olympic bar and come in .25 and .5 kg increments. Very useful for female lifters and bodybuilders.

Rest days at present are usually Saturday and Sunday. Others days I go for walks, and may occasionally add in some light cardio on the bike or rower.

DAY 1 (upper body):
• Bench
• Rope push down
• Machine seated fly’s
• Machine rear delt flys
• Shoulder press machine
• Hammer strength decline press
• Barbell curls

DAY 2 (lower body):
• Front squats
• Romanian deadlifts
• Leg press
• Seated calf raises
• Leg extensions
• Lying leg curls

DAY 3 (upper body):
• Deadlift
• Dumbbell row
• T bar row
• Lat pulldown
• Front raises
• Side raises
• Barbell row
• Dumbbell fly’s

DAY 4 (lower body):
• Squats
• Leg press
• Leg press calf raises
• Leg extensions
• Lying leg curls
• Hip abductors
• Glute ham raise
• Glute bridges

DAY 5 (upper body):
• Overhead press
• Dumbbell shoulder press
• Dumbbell press
• Dumbbell incline press
• Hammer curls
• Preacher curls
• Kettle bell shrugs