Arriving home from Asia, one of the most common phrases I heard was 'They are all so skinny over there'. Having now visited Japan, I see how a culture of healthy living, excellent public transportation, and food quality over quantity leads to some of the lowest obesity rates around the globe. I don't think its simply good genes that make this possible, but several lifestyle and cultural choices that lead to slimmer waistlines. Below I have shared some of the secrets to maintaining a healthy weight, while improving your overall food experience and finding more pleasure in what you eat everyday.
#1. They Don't Supersize
One thing I noticed each timed I dined out in Tokyo was the lack of leftovers or to-go boxes in restaurants. Instead of massive portions, meals were perfectly portioned to leave diners feeling full and satisfied. In addition, the culture of Supersizing here in North America was virtually non-existent and to an extend, shamed upon. I visited several Starbucks (mostly for free Wifi and clean bathrooms since a regular black coffee cost $3) and was amazed at how small the drink were. In Tokyo, the prices for drinks are clearly marked at short, tall grande and venti. You can order a short coffee back home, but its not listed on their display because it not common. In Tokyo, everyone orders short or tall drinks, sitting leisurely while enjoying their creations! I only saw one person with a grande and it was a plain green tea!
#2. Meal Time= Family Time
One of my biggest pet peeves is cell phones at the table, I HATE when I am out with a group of people or date night and the cell phones start to get pulled out, it makes me feel extremely unappreciated and unimportant. In Tokyo, meal time is a chance to catch up with friends, or if dining alone, a time to sit back, relax and savour all the delicious fresh food. Trust me, I looked long and hard, and I never once saw anyone pull out their phone in a restaurant. Furthermore, they don't stand'n'stuff. Even when people buy street food, they will sit in the market, beer or sake in hand, and enjoy their food with friends. I never saw anyone rushing around stuffing fastfood into their face. Since eating and drinking is strictly forbidden on the subway, I also saw no mindless eating when commuting to and from work.
#3. Say Good-bye to your car
A Japanese Minivan is a Mom on a bike with a baby on her chest, a toddler in the front basket and a child in the seat strapped to the back. Although I saw very few gyms in Tokyo, I saw very few inactive people. Everyone walks, bikes or stands on the subway as a means for transportation. In Tokyo, the sidewalks are very wide and pedestrians and bikes travel along side by side, safe from the cars on the road. This means loading up the family on the bike and pedalling hard to get you and your family from A to Z. If you take the subway to work, it likely means walking 10 minutes to a stop, standing for an hour on the subway (there are very very few seats, I never got one once!), transferring between lines at a station and then walking to work. Their subway stations are massive, changing from one line to another can mean walking almost a kilometre underground and climbing several flights of stairs to reach your train.
#4. They drinks lots of UNSWEETENED green tea
I almost never buy iced tea in Canada because the first two ingredients are often sugar and water, with actual tea coming in somewhere near the end. In Tokyo, I saw people everywhere drinking of bottles of green tea everywhere from their infamous and ubiquitous vending machines. I was hesitant to buy any because I hate sugar in my tea and I had no idea what I was buying since the ingredients were listed in Japanese. Finally, I convinced myself it can't be that bad and was pleasantly surprised to find out that every brand I tried was nothing more than 100% green tea and water. This made for a delicious and refreshing treat every afternoon in the hot sun. When you go for lunch or dinner to a restaurant, it is also customary to serve your green tea alongside your meal. Green tea has several health benefits, and drinking several cups a day has been proven to assist with weight loss. I miss my daily fix of green tea, and I am still searching for a bottle of green tea in Canada that doesn't contain processed sugar and preservatives.
All in all, I really enjoyed my time in Asia, the people, scenery, food and transportation systems are all top notch. It's very sad to think about how much better Toronto could be if we had built a more robust subway system and safer bike lanes around the city. Now back home, I am trying to keep up with some of my healthy habits from the Japanese. I remove my phone from the dining table when eating, am trying to bike as much as possible not that summer has arrived, and I am making big batches of tea in the evening and letting sit overnight in my fridge so I had iced tea ready to go the next day. When eating out, I remind myself of our gigantic portions sizes here in North America and try to only eat until almost full, then ask the server to bring me a box and take the rest home for later.
Below is a picture of selections from the 'Japanese' section of the breakfast buffet at my hotel. (American section was white bread and butter, corn flakes, milk and orange juice). I opted instead for iced and hot unsweetened green tea, salad, miso soup, veggies and grilled salmon, not a bad way to start off your day!