Japan Today
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Beat weight gain after moving to Japan with these Tokyo dietitian approved tips

By Victoria Lindsay

“When did you move to Japan?” might seem like an odd question to ask my patients seeking weight loss guidance. In my experience as a Tokyo dietitian, however, the root cause of many of my patients’ weight gain issues is a move abroad. Combine the stress of moving across the world with an unfamiliar food environment, and it’s no surprise that shifting your life to Japan can act as a weight gain accelerator.

While I avoid focusing on weight alone as a measure of health, gaining weight after a move is often linked to issues with diet quality, food access and one’s relationship to food.

Regardless of whether the scale changes after a move or not, below are my top tips to help new residents improve their diets and find sustainable solutions to their nutrition problems.

Problem #1: You’re eating all of your meals out

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For food lovers, a move to Japan can initially seem like a dream come true.

From cheap and delicious street food to one of the highest numbers of Michelin-starred restaurants worldwide, the options for good food are dizzying. Yet it is this abundance of options that can cause a problem for some of my patients. The urge to dine out and try all of the new, delicious food can lead some of my patients to do exactly that, but for all of their meals.

While I support the idea of exploring Japanese cuisine, it’s difficult to ensure adequate intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other nutrient-dense foods if you’re only dining out. Although there are restaurants serving more healthful options, most diners are more excited for less nutrient-dense foods that may be fried or high in sugar.


To start, I assure my patients that all foods can fit into a balanced diet and encourage them not to take the extreme approach of banning all restaurant food. Doing so only leads to feeling overly restricted, which usually results in binge eating over the long term.

Instead, we work together to come up with a better balance of eating out and eating in. To come up with this, we often talk about meals that are easy and nutritious to make at home quickly.

If cooking at home isn’tt a realistic option, we also discuss more nutrient-dense options they can choose at restaurants or talk about restaurants that serve healthier fare. Through these approaches, we can create a balance of foods that satisfy the need for both fun and improved nutrition.

Problem #2: You’re not familiar with the Japanese food environment

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While some people come to Japan excited to eat the local food, others arrive feeling less enthusiastic and a lot more overwhelmed. Walking through a local grocery store can take a frustrating turn when you don’t know what to buy or where to find food you’re used to eating. Although international grocery stores can be found in larger cities, these tend to be expensive and may not be convenient. This can cause some patients to give up trying to understand the local cuisine and resort to eating basic, unbalanced meals or fast food.


Although it takes effort and an adventurous spirit, learning the basics of Japanese home cooking is easier than ever. In addition to the plethora of YouTube cooking videos, I often recommend the Just One Cookbook website and ebooks. The author, Namiko Hirasawa Chen, writes recipes and instructions that are very foreigner-friendly and takes the time to explain Japanese cooking methods, kitchen tools, and ingredients in an easy and accessible way.

In addition to learning about local foods, I encourage my patients to find recipes from their home country that use ingredients they can find here. For example, searching a website for recipes that use foods like rice, salmon, or eggplant might yield a recipe that would be suitable to be made with ingredients found here. While it may not turn out the same as it might in your home country, the results are often better than expected.

Problem #3: You find it hard to recalibrate your portion sizes

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When people eat, they often use several cues to help them determine how much food they need. Some of these cues are external, such as using the portion size of foods served to you, reading nutrition labels for calorie information, or imitating how others around you eat. This means that for those who rely on external cues, moving to a new country where you can’t read food labels or aren’t sure about your portion sizes can cause uncertainty and result in under or overeating.


While it’s okay to use some external cues to guide your food intake, learning to use your body’s internal hunger cues is important.

Ancient Japanese wisdom also supports this idea in the form of hara hachi bu. This traditional practice, which loosely translates to “eat until you are eighty percent full,” is used by the Japanese as a reminder to tune into your body’s hunger and satiety signals and stop eating before you reach total fullness. This concept is especially popular in Okinawa, where the island’s residents are notorious for their long lifespans and low rates of obesity and chronic disease.

With this in mind, I work with my patients to help them become more intuitive eaters.

Upon practicing more mindful eating, many patients are shocked to realize how often they were eating past their ideal fullness levels because they were bored, busy or distracted. While it takes time to get used to trusting your body to regulate your food intake, embracing the traditional wisdom of hara hachi bu can promote a healthy and balanced relationship with food.

Although it can be difficult at first, maintaining a healthy weight and diet after moving to Japan is possible when armed with the right knowledge, resources and support. By blending the above strategies with a positive mindset, you can enjoy all that Japan has to offer while supporting your health and nutrition too.

Victoria Lindsay, MS RD, is a registered dietitian and nutrition consultant working at Tokyo Medical & Surgical Clinic and her Tokyo-based private practice. To get in touch, please visit: www.victorialindsayrd.com.

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Nah....it's the beer sold everywhere thats turned me into a fattie.

10 ( +10 / -0 )

Funny thing is that when I went to Japan I ate a lot of Japanese food (wasn't interested in going all the way there to eat at McDonalds). Went to bars with my friends, drank beer and ate all kinds of bar food, tried out the local stuff (I lived close to Nagoya in a small city called Komaki), ate at ramen places, and ate and ate and ate. When I got back to the states my friends were astonished at how thin I was. I guess since I ate typical Japanese portions of stuff I didn't get fat.

Now, coming to this site a lot I learned that all the American food I avoided was really Japanese style. Wish I had know that. But, c'est la vie. (Still on the thin side. A lot of Japanese restaurants and bakeries where I live.)

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Too much rice has been known to create soft bellies.

2 ( +9 / -7 )

The obesity rate is very low.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

I find it much easier to keep me weight down here than back home. When I visit U.K. I’m shifted at the portion sizes, lol

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Based on my JET program experience, only the Caucasian women gain weight when coming to Japan. I think it could be stress related.

3 ( +7 / -4 )


Certainly in the past,but I as a bloke also put on 10kg,mainly due to eating MOS,Macs and Denny's!

Luckily,I trained a lot,so it became muscle.

I think most ALTs coming here nowadays are more, should I say,of a more sedentary persuasion.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

I lost quite a lot of weight when I first came to Japan, partly due to the smaller portion sizes and also from walking everywhere.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

If you eat Japanese food, and so Japanese food portion size, you are certainly more going to get thinner than more fat.

Obesity is all matter of activity and food quality. Eat oily daily staying mostly in your sofa, get fat. No magic involved.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

A normal Japanese diet is usually a good way to keep the weight down. Avoid too much white bread, beer and fried things and you'll probably even loose some weight while in Japan.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

When I wrestled in high school I often had to make weight and drop 10 pounds in a day or so. My go to tricks were to put a garbage bag over my upper body and take a 30 minute jog in the Florida heat. Boom! 5 pounds gone. Second is to eat whatever you want then go to the toilet and vomit it up. Works well once you are used to it. Some guys used and suggested ex-lax chocolate laxatives but I didn't want to try that route once I learned the side effect of "leakage". Where there is a will there is a way.

-4 ( +1 / -5 )

Solution is not rocket science...eat less, exercise more.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

When I moved to Japan, I lost weight because I had no car and I have to use a bike and walk everywhere. To really get in extra steps I walk up escalators and down and speed up my walking when outdoors. So even if you are eating western and or Japanese food there really is no need to gain weight.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Although it can be difficult at first, maintaining a healthy weight and diet after moving to Japan is possible when armed with the right knowledge, resources and support. 

True, and this can be accomplished without weight loss drugs, with their extremely risky and dangerous side effects.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

True, and this can be accomplished without weight loss drugs, with their extremely risky and dangerous side effects.

Pharmacological help is precisely what resources and support may mean for some patients. Some people do not need any support, but for others not having it means failure in changing their lifestyle, which is what is actually risky and dangerous, not the drugs that prevent this failure.

You have previously claimed the FDA failed when it approved the drugs for their use on weight loss, but you have never been able to argue about this supposed failure, that would mean the FDA was correct in doing it and your claim proved incorrect. Wegovy is also covered by insurance in Japan, which means that the Japanese authorities recognize its value as a safe and effective way to fight obesity.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Pharmacological help is precisely what resources and support may mean for some patients. Some people do not need any support, but for others not having it means failure in changing their lifestyle, which is what is actually risky and dangerous, not the drugs that prevent this failure.

That opinion of yours is totally irrelevant to the fact that weight loss drugs have risky and dangerous side effects, according to medical experts' opinions:

Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro and Zepbound all carry a risk of side effects.

The most common side effects for all four drugs include:





Heartburn and acid reflux (including burping).



-3 ( +0 / -3 )

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