9 Practical Weight­ Management Tips Inspired by Japan

by Aleisha Fetters
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9 Practical Weight­ Management Tips Inspired by Japan

When it comes to living the longest, and the healthiest, the Japanese are Number 1 — quite literally. Children born in Japan today enjoy the best life expectancy of any country in the world: 84 years, according to the World Health Organization.

Think the U.S. is close behind? You’d be wrong: The average life expectancy stateside is 79 years. And you’d have to drop down the list by nearly three dozen places to find the U.S. even with nations like Cuba, Lebanon and Costa Rica.

Japan’s secret is, in large part, the diet. A recent study by Japan’s National Centre for Global Health and Medicine found that people who stick to the United Nations’ Japanese dietary guidelines have a lower risk of all-cause mortality, including cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

Here’s another comparison: Compared to 32 percent of Americans, only 3.6 percent of Japanese adults are obese. And Japanese adults are nearly three times less likely to be overweight than Americans, according to joint research from the University of Minnesota and Japan’s Masahiko Gemma Waseda University.

Here’s a look at the best-kept secrets of Japanese living, and how you can put them to use for better health and weight loss.


Japan’s reliance on plant-based protein, especially soy, pays off in terms of weight loss, according to Katie Ferraro, RD, MPH, an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco and the University of San Diego. Intake of soy protein — found in tofu, edamame, soybeans and tempeh — has been linked to weight loss, even when caloric intake doesn’t change. Researchers believe soy protein may influence hormonal levels and, thus, metabolic rate, to encourage weight loss.


The typical Japanese food pattern consists of three meals per day and an “oyatsu,” or afternoon snack. “Compare that to the U.S., where snacks make up about 25 percent of average calorie intake and are generally snack foods of low nutritive value,” adds Ferraro. In Japan, snacks can range from rice balls to candy, but they usually come in small portions so they don’t tip the caloric scales. Plus, when it comes to less-than-healthy foods, an “all things in moderation” approach prevent the food deprivation that leads to rebound binges.


In Japan, beef, poultry and pork is extremely expensive — but the price tag translates into serious health benefits. People turn to fish for their primary source of animal protein, Ferrero says. In fact, most studies put Japan among the top three nations in the world in terms of fish consumption. “Fish is a great lean protein source that is low in saturated fat and also comes packed with vitamins and anti-inflammatory substances like omega-3 fatty acids,” says nutrition coach Amy Dix. Those compounds may promote healthy weight management, as vitamin deficiencies can compromise energy levels and metabolic rate while research in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has linked inflammation and weight gain.


The Japanese island of Okinawa stresses a cultural habit known as hara hachi bu, which suggests that people should eat until they are 80 percent full. Dix considers this a tried-and-true weight-loss tip she passes on to her clients. “By stopping eating before we’re completely stuffed, we give our brain time to catch up with our belly,” she says. Most experts believe it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to register when your stomach is full. So by giving yourself this 80 percent buffer, you reduce the likelihood that you’ll overeat during any given meal. This also explains why research consistently shows that eating slowly promotes weight loss: it gives your brain time to register when you’re full — before you’re stuffed.


The Japanese diet doesn’t exist in a vacuum. In Japan, people don’t typically hit the gym like Americans do, but over all, they are still more active, according to Dix, who points out Japanese walk far more as a regular part of their lives due to the high costs of cars and the easy accessibility of public transportation. That simple extra daily movement impacts bone health, cardiovascular health, mental well being and body composition, among other health benefits.


Tea isn’t just a calorie-free alternative to the sugar-packed beverages consumed by many Americans, it’s also packed with antioxidants that can aid in weight loss and overall health management, says Dix. Green tea in particular is rich in epigallocatechin gallate (a.k.a. EGCG), which research published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise shows can boost your workout performance by increasing how much oxygen your body can use as fuel per minute.



Along with fermented soy, pickled foods are also a big part of the Japanese diet, which impacts gut health, according to Dix. While the gut microbiome is still a relatively new area of study, a 2015 study published in the journal Cell suggests that healthy changes in gut bacteria are linked to the conversion of energy-storing white fat to energy-burning brown fat. The result: weight loss.


Or, just make soup the focus of your meal as it often is in Japan, Ferraro says. Eating more soup (as long as it’s not cream-based) is a solid weight-loss strategy, as it’s not just lower in calories than most solid foods, but also incredibly filling. Research published in Appetite even shows that eating a bowl of low-cal soup as a pre-meal “appetizer” reduces people’s total caloric intake to promote weight loss.


The Japanese might not count their macronutrient and caloric intake like Americans tend to do, but they still do a great job at balancing carbohydrates, protein and fat at every meal, says Dix. Rice is certainly common in most Japanese meals, but contrary to what we see in Japanese restaurants here in the States, the serving sizes are often very small. Plus, that rice comes coupled with slow-to-digest, satiating ingredients like fibrous veggies and protein- and fat-rich fish and seafood. That’s why, even though people in Japan tend to eat much more rice than the average American, they have far fewer problems with blood sugar control.


  • Lizzy

    I love the “eat more fish” because it’s a healthy, delicious alternative but I do advise buying responsibly! If you can’t find out HOW and WHERE the fish was caught, you may want to consider buying fish from someone else. Our oceans are being fished far too often and some fish are in danger; too many out and not enough time to let them replenish. There are other issues but I’ve lectured for too long!

    Please shop responsibly!

    • robinbishop34

      Most fish sold in the U.S. is farmed in hatcheries.

      • KB

        Citation? I don’t think this is true.

      • Scott

        I just had a friend visit such a hatchery. She said she would never eat fish again after seeing the horrid conditions they are kept in. Fish may be a healthy alternative to meat, but it is still torture and murder. Plant based is the way to go.

    • Stephen Walker

      I worked for Sysco Food service for 6 years and most seafood consumed in restaurants is farmed raised mostly from Asia. Mostly shrimp, tilapia, catfish, and scallops. Iceland and Russia provide most of the cod in the world which is wild caught and farm raised. Wild caught shrimp comes from the Gulf Coast and salmon from Alaskan waters.

      Wild caught products will always have more flavor and nutrients than farm raised.

      • Sue Brown

        What about contaminants?

  • littledee55

    I was always taught to chew each bite 25 times. So I was full at that 80 percent mark. I have brought that into my adult life and beg my husband who, as a child never knew where his next meal was coming from, fills his plate high and wolfs it down. Because of our schedules, I am not always there to tell him to slow down. I am trying to work on that. But that is all excellent advice from the Japanese way of eating and living.

    • Aieomi

      I’d probably go insane counting how many times I chew something.

      • Laura Elizabeth Beal

        It is probably only hard to get into the habit. Like most things it is hard to change the way we do things but if it works it is worth trying. 🙂

  • toodamnninja

    What dish is that in the image? It looks great! I’ve seen this image used a couple of times on this blog but never sourced so i can’t track it down…

  • Cole Myers

    “linked to weight loss, even when caloric intake doesn’t change.”Strong and misleading statement. The conclusions of one study by rats doesn’t extrapolate to the effects of soy on humans.

    • RiaMaRia

      Fermented soy is the way to go. Not the American version (processed), which has a negative effect on hormonal balance and fertility. Dairy product as well. i.e Greek yogurt

      • Gabe Berdugo

        If you can get passed the smell, fermented soy isn’t bad at all.

  • robinbishop34

    These are all good tips as long as a person simply stays in a reasonable calorie deficit below their individual TDEE (to lose weight). As long as you do that, you simply cannot overeat, regardless of how fast you consume a meal or how many times you chew it.

  • Oletros

    When Switzerland are the second nation with highest life expectancy and they are totally different from Japan perhaps those points means nothing

  • Valeri Kazanli

    How can you eat soy in the United States when it is 100 per cent genetically modified? Consequently, tofu, edamame, soybeans and tempeh come from the source – 100 per cent GMO soy. I buy my soy sauce from a Japanese store and it is 10 times more expensive than Chinese or American soy sauce.

    • darchoarse 82

      I have a question- does this include from the Japanese/ Korean markets that sell in America?

  • robinbishop34

    I know a lot of men who weight train avoid soy because of it’s possible link to estrogen levels increasing.

  • ohepi

    A person who is allergic to, or lives with someone who is allergic to fish is just totally screwed, aren’t they?

  • Deanna

    Forgot to mention the fact that whole grains in the form of rice, wheat and buckwheat are eaten almost every day as well as starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and squash. This article is missing essential facts. Seafood & Meats are looked at as side dishes not main courses to “fill up on”. Japanese diets are high in vegetables, rice, starchy veggies.

    • Lorre

      Atleast they live longer there than here in the US. That’s the main point of it. People are overly obese here in the US with a lot of gelato issues.

  • Gabe Berdugo

    I was in Japan this spring. I was rather surprised by the portion sizes. They feed you pretty well over there. And they’re pretty heavy handed with simple carbs. I do agree with the walking. I went to bed tired every night because of all the walking I did.

  • Scott

    All sounds great except the soy part. Soy in Japan may be fine, but almost all soy in this country is contaminated with Monsanto’s Round Up. It is full of pesticides. Soy also produces estrogen in men. Not good. Follow the rest of the steps listed above if you want, but skip the soy.

    • Brit S

      What is your opinion on men drinking dairy milk if you’re worried about high estrogen levels in men? There have been recent studies to debunk the soy leads to excess estrogen myth anyways. I do not agree with monstanto by any means, they’re awful but so is every big business in America, including the sugar, meat and dairy companies. Pesticides and antibiotics are laced in a lot of food that we get.

  • keepyourpower

    Soy? You HAVE to be kidding!

  • 0ldEag1e

    Japan’s secret is that they don’t keep accurate records. That probably accounts for most of the rest of the world as well.

  • Nancy Corsaro, L.Ac.

    It must be stressed that the ONLY types of soy to use are the fermented types, as in tofu or tempe. Please do not use the soy processed foods such as soy ‘meats’ and such. Soy milk is another no-no. Remember, processed foods, regardless of what they’re made from, are not ‘real’ food. If one eats whole, unprocessed foods, weight can be lost. And yes, portion control is key!

  • darchoarse 82

    How about a new and real study for this? I’d like to see new research. With all the new foods in this Country- I’d like to see what changes have been made with food.
    Then have research from Japan and the rest of the world- regarding weight loss and eating clean.
    What diets truly work? Pros and Cons, for each one.

  • darchoarse 82

    With all of these new exercise techniques- why can’t I find Crossfit, HIIT, Cize or PiYo- ? Can someone put these into the database?

  • DLC

    What does she mean by ‘even with nations like Cuba, Lebanon and Costa Rica’?

    • Stephanie Diemer

      Presumably she thinks those countries are shitholes or something.