Tips For Healthier Eating and Weight Loss – Inspired By Japan

I recently got back from a trip to Japan and I couldn’t have had a more wonderful time. Of the many reasons I was excited to go (primarily to see friends and to train in my Martial Art), I knew that I would also have the opportunity to reset my eating habits…and I was really looking forward to that.

The truth is, I’m one of the healthiest eaters I know – it isn’t only about my wanting to achieve specific results (though that’s part of it), but also because my body is very finicky about what it needs and wants. For example, if I eat processed foods I actually feel ill – lethargic, puffy, stomach ache, the whole bit. Complex carbohydrates are fine but simple ones have the same negative effects. And then there’s those times where I wait too long (in excess of two or three hours) to eat – I get puffy, abdominal pain, headaches… It’s awful! I always do my best to manage it, and believe it’s my body expecting / needing food, but not having any.

Therefore…traveling for me can sometimes be anxiety-inducing because I’m concerned I’ll not feel as good as I do when I’m able to follow my at-home regime. I knew, however, that Japanese people eat very fresh foods and very well. I packed a plethora of snacks just in case (and remarkably didn’t need them all) but I knew I’d be able to find some healthy options (yes, even in spite of lots of noodles and tempura!)

If I eat “so well,” then why did I want a reset? I historically can eat massive portions…and there are several reasons that’s not the greatest idea. Giant portions, notorious (even – ugh! – celebrated in the US) can mean the following:

  • Missing Satiety Signals – Eating beyond the point of fullness causes us to lose touch with the neural reflex we are hard-wired to have (in other words, our “satiety signals”)
  • Excess Calories – As a result of missing our cue, we continue to eat which equates to a lot of extra calories our bodies don’t need
  • Reinforcing Bad Habits – We also, therefore, reinforce the habit of overeating
  • A Bigger Stomach – And overeating over an extended period (not just holidays, but longer-term habitually eating of too-large portions) actually can extend the stomach. BAD NEWS

Going to Japan was a welcome change – I knew that my schedule wouldn’t permit me to necessarily eat as frequently, or eat as large meals as I am accustomed to. I was THRILLED that would be the case because I felt like I need a kick in the butt to get me going.

After coming home…I feel like I’m in better shape. On top of that? My stomach didn’t hurt ONCE! I felt better in Japan that I do at home…and I feel better at home than anywhere else. For me, that’s miraculous. 

So what if you AREN’T taking a trip but you want to lose weight, or to reset your own less-than-healthy habits, you ask? Here are a few tips that can help you on the path, without you ending up starving…

1. UTENSILS CAN CHANGE THE GAME

Yes, seriously… Switching to chopsticks, a la the Japanese, will slow you (and your chompers!) down. If chopsticks feel like too much of a struggle, try a smaller utensil! Try using a much smaller fork or spoon and you will find that you are also forced to slow things down, allowing for the proper, full chewing of food as we are meant to do. You will also take less in each bite, which will ensure you can enjoy and taste what you are having…not just stuff your face and ingest mindlessly.

2. PICK YOUR DISH / BOWL / GLASS WISELY

As with smaller utensils, a smaller serving dish (bowl, plate, cup, what have you) can significantly help your cause. I typically use a large bowl…which always ends up with me needing to fill it to the brim. When I use a smaller bowl and fill that, I not only have the illusion of a lot of food, but I am eating less…which gives me the chance to get full, and not overstuff myself with extra calories.

3. GIVE YOURSELF A MINUTE

We often will “still feel hungry” after a meal. That’s great but it isn’t always an accurate assessment – our body needs a couple of minutes (20 is often suggested) to register our meal fully. If after that time you are still hungry, try a glass of water, wait a few more minutes, and then have a piece of fruit or a healthy (small) snack. No one ever NEEDED a caloric, unhealthy dessert, let’s be honest. There are healthy and delicious options out there to keep you on track (and of course, once in a while, it’s okay to indulge. We are talking about the larger picture and consistency here.)

4. LISTEN!

Listen to your body. When you take your time (the three points above can help you!) you are more apt to hear the “OKAY! WE’RE FULL! Don’t need more nutrients right now!” signal. STOP when you are feeling / hearing that alarm bell – you can always have more later on (leftovers are delicious! 🙂 ) And, if your out, you can always ask to take the rest home – forcing food down your gullet is never a good thing.

5. FOCUS ON THE GOAL AND BENEFITS – YOU WANT TO LOSE / MAINTAIN FOR A GREAT REASON

There are a ton of reasons why eating healthy is important, and why you should make the effort. It isn’t only about how we look – it’s about FEELING great about ourselves and internally. It’s about aging well and staving off unnecessary ailments that do not have to be associated with growing older.

It’s also about operating at a higher level and being able to not only function well, but optimally…at work, at home, in our extracurricular activities etc.. You deserve to feel great on every level! To deny ourselves that opportunity or to make excuses is a huge disservice to ourselves, and the body we have been given.

Having watched my almost-87-year-old Grandmaster demonstrate Martial Arts techniques this past week was inspiring and beyond – his grace, the fluidity and power in his movement, his accuracy… I want to be like that at 87…and so I take FULL responsibility of treating my body and mind as well as I can NOW, so I can get to that point too.

PS: My Grandmaster paints during the break in class. Sips his tea and keeps his mind and body active. AWESOME.

The American way of life when it comes to food is one I’m not ultra fond of. I was when I was about 12 and figure skating hours a week…I could do it then. But I have to accept the reality that I’m NOT that active, not that young, and therefore I don’t have that metabolism. That’s OKAY. It just means I have to approach eating a little bit differently – food is one of the fun aspects of life! We don’t have to be miserable or miss out at all. But it is important to recognize that the fuel we put in the tank matters…and that no one else is responsible for our health except us.

I loved having the opportunity to shift my habits a bit, and I’m working on the very tips I outlined here. We know ourselves better than anyone – how we feel, how our clothes fit, how we are doing overall. A doctor can certainly tell us, but I don’t want to wait to hear something bad from someone certified! I’d rather take the bull by the horns…

There’s inspiration everywhere – the Japanese are a culture of healthy bodies, and it’s noteworthy. A mediterranean approach is another wonderful way of life also…and that’s really the key here. It’s a WAY OF LIFE. There are some incredibly healthy cultures out there (Japanese is consistently among the top ten), so it’s worth taking a look. America is a phenomenal place to be for many reasons, but we aren’t as great when it comes to health…and a monstrous portion of that comes from what / when / how the population ingests food.

 

SaveSave

When Then Stars Conspire…

It may take a great leap of faith when all lights seem to have extinguished, but the stars are ever conspiring in your favor, way up there in the dark. . .

Sometimes you just need to find a little hope deep inside, and to trust the timing of the Universe.

Miracles happen all the time, just like an infinite, glittering snow storm once upon a March. . . Or perhaps a prosperous, full-of-good-fortune moon (which you will see when you look up tonight).

I remember surrendering to possibility, amidst a time of great uncertainty. And, just like that, my wildest dreams were surpassed.

On Eating Disorders And Being An Athlete In The Midst…

I appreciated receiving this article, written by Karen Crouse, which speaks to a very real problem in sports. It is also – I should point out – scarcely relegated to figure skating (the topic of the article) and related performing or aesthetic sports such as dancing, bodybuilding, and the like.  Rather, it has a much broader (and frankly insidious) grip on athletes around the globe. 

Eating disorders were something I grew up knowing plenty about – I was classically trained in ballet for over ten years, competitively figure skated for about sixteen years, and danced competitively in International Latin and American Smooth ballroom for seven years. In those arenas, thin is ALWAYS in.

Yikes.

Can weight make a difference in performance? Yes, absolutely. When it comes to one’s joints, or one’s ability to do the particularly acrobatic and athletic jumps and spins, it’s important we are at a weight healthy for our frame. Figure skating, for one, is a high impact sport and that takes a toll even on a healthy body. When we are unhealthy, those negative side effects can be multiplied many fold. However, a lot of it – a sometimes far heftier percentage – is about the “look.” And, when it becomes about our appearance, things can go downhill very quickly…

It isn’t only that I, like many athletes, was “young and impressionable” at the time – top athletes generally ARE on the younger side (remember that part about impact on the body?) Athletes begin training early, so there is certainly danger in implanting these injurious notions early on.

What is also a real issue, however, is that a focus on a person’s “weight” can suddenly have bearing on whether or not you are even “considered” for a winning position – that will change your tune pretty quick if you have goals of any kind. (Deny politics play a role in results? You’re kidding yourself!)

In ballroom, for example, if you aren’t groomed properly, you simply aren’t taken seriously. Period. It’s as easy as that. I’m not putting it down, I was in it…and LOVED it. But it was a horrible hassle, and I knew I didn’t really have a choice. Before a competition I needed to be:

  • Spray tanned…TWICE (because my pale skin wasn’t in)
  • Have my nails done (as in, they needed to be long and noticeable)
  • Have my hair professionally done every time I competed (multiple days, means days of hair-doing)
  • Professional makeup (fortunately I did this myself, but then half my suitcase was makeup I had to lug)
  • Make sure I was as fit as could be (wearing next to nothing / very revealing costumes…yes, people would notice if you gained a little extra. And they wouldn’t be shy about mentioning it)

Those things were prerequisites.  Then you added to that judge preferences like wearing tan fishnets or stockings (okay, no big deal, that helped “pull me in” a little so I stayed slim in that tiny costume…) But it was rough because if you didn’t take those “suggestions” you often were out of the running…before you even took the floor. No, I’m not kidding. Figure skating was a little less harsh on that front, but the pressure to “lose a little” was definitely an undercurrent.

I remember going to skating camp at Simsbury’s International Skating Center of Connecticut. I was in my mid to later teens (definitely the mesomorph of the group!) and I recall – very clearly – the younger skaters being worried about gaining weight. They wouldn’t eat ice cream, they would ask for coffee (at that age?!) with skim milk… They wouldn’t have chips…. Even back at our dorms, some would skip breakfast because they didn’t want to have too much (more Lucky Charms and Golden Grahams for me?)

Let me be clear, I am ALL about healthy, clean eating – it’s not about how I look so much as how it makes my body feel. My body is a “finely-tuned machine,” according to my doc, and it tells me what it needs. But when you are FIGURE SKATING…for HOURS A DAY…you burn more than a Clydesdale! I mean, it was craziness!!! These kids were WAY too young to worry about weight, not a single one had any inkling of a problem (which could impact joints, as athletic as skating can be), and they couldn’t enjoy themselves as a result – it was heartbreaking!

Now a days, the pressures are – apparently – still there. It was eye-opening to read that Brian Boitano (an idol I watched win his gold when I was ten years-old) was very much subjected to this, and wasn’t actually at peak performance (very likely) at that time. Hard to believe if you saw those jumps! It’s also saddening to hear that Adam Rippon has struggled with this as well. I love that they are open about it because eating disorders carry a lot of shame with them – speaking up and making it known that we are not alone can be enough to save someone afflicted from a life of suffering.

My disorders – Anorexia and Exercise Bulimia / Anorexia Athetica – were a result of something very different, but they nearly devoured me whole too. I thankfully managed to cruise through my sports both unscathed and unapologetically…but I was acutely aware of the oft-unspoken-about illnesses in the background. Having suffered through it later, knowing full well how damaging and dangerous such sickness can be, was testament to how powerful these diseases are… 

For many of athletes, body image is tightly wound around performance. . .which is tightly bound to our identities. Sometimes – to add fuel to the fire – that can be perpetuated by the people we look up to or rely on in the sport, as well as tied to our future success.

It’s a struggle to see the “good” sometimes – to see how strong we are, how well we are doing… It’s even harder to recognize…and then ADMIT…when we aren’t fueling ourselves the way we need to. I recently took back to the ice (on a VERY minor scale) but I’ll tell you…my legs are different. I can see it, I can feel it, and my body is asking for more carbohydrates and food. And…that’s what I give it if I need to. But like Adam Rippon, the mind will make a point to call out that we are doing something different – It’s like an internal guilt trip from the Ghost of Athletics Past!

Eating disorders are terrifying – like other addictive illnesses, they have the power to completely derail us, if not end our lives completely. While I refrain from “talking politics,” and don’t much care for celebrities shouting out their messages at the top of their lungs…there is some benefit in this particular arena. It is important to be honest and open because eating disorders are often highly isolating – we begin to decay on our own, and keep everyone at a distance while we whither away. The knowledge that we aren’t alone in our struggles it might help others find the strength and courage to seek treatment – one life saved is one life saved!

Truth be told, having had no one to look to during my own…? I would have LOVED to have this kind of hope to grab onto… 

 

SaveSaveSaveSaveSaveSave

What Are The Odds…? Sharing Our Stories And Offering Kindness In Return.

I received this note along with a purchase I made on eBay and it absolutely warmed my heart. I’d say “what are the odds?!” but then I really do believe the Universe finds away to align things for the good…

I wrote this lovely woman a note in return to let her know her words fell into loving hands, and to offer words of support…which she so readily deserves. She is hoping to help her son “chase his dreams” to which I said how blessed he is to have her, and that as a team they will succeed.  

I then shared this Audrey Hepburn quotation:

The world is made a much smaller and warmer place when kind hearts lead the way. 

SaveSaveSaveSave