The Shochu Diet started on a lark. I’d seen some photos of myself from a friend’s wedding and realized I’d gained more weight than I had imagined. It wasn’t so much that my weight had climbed, but that my fitness had declined. I’m normally very active with cycling, soccer, and tennis, but a broken fib lead to a torn meniscus in my right knee, which slowed my summer down considerably.
I looked back at my Wii Fit history and found that on September 1, 2010 I had weighed 169 lbs. Exactly one year later I weighed 177 lbs. That’s not a terrible weight for someone my height (5’9”), but it’s pretty close to the most I’ve ever weighed (180 lbs).
My usual yearly cycle over the past decade has been weight loss in the summer with higher activity – down to ~170 lbs – and weight gain in the winter with lower activity – up to ~175. Not a huge fluctuation. Clearly something was amiss in 2011.
As we age, our metabolism slows down, which means if we maintain the same diet and exercise routine, we’ll slowly add weight over time. To counter this insidious pattern we need to either reduce our calorie intake or add to our exercise program. This isn’t an easy thing to balance and it’s not an obvious process since it happens so slowly. In my experience, every 2 to 3 years I realize that I’m just as active as ever, but my jeans are a little tighter. The first time or two I noticed this, it only took a slight adjustment to my diet to make a difference.
This time seemed different. I saw those pictures in July, but even with some modest dietary changes I didn’t see any decrease in weight over the next month or so. The lack of exercise from my sore knee had really slowed me down.
Back when I discovered shochu at a Japanese tavern in New York City, I read up about the spirit. I tend to research things like this, mainly out of curiosity. I was surprised to find that shochu had substantially lower calorie content than other alcoholic beverages. This intrigued me, but I didn’t really put two and two together. It simply became a joke among my friends – “only 35 calories per serving!”
But when I started blogging about shochu this summer, I remembered this health benefit. I decided to do a little experiment. Try to keep my calorie intake and exercise level the same while replacing high calorie beer & wine with low calorie shochu. I picked September 1st as the start of this diet since it always feels like the end of summer and I didn’t want to coast through winter and find myself needing new trousers.
But a funny thing happened. The shochu diet doesn’t necessarily work in isolation. Even if I was still eating my usual portions, the kinds of foods I was eating had changed a lot. This started with the shift toward Japanese cuisine needed to dine with friends while having access to shochu. While I think this will eventually change, I’ve never seen shochu on the menu of a non-Asian restaurant.
The Japanese diet is full of real food rather than processed foods. This no doubt helps, because our bodies are designed to optimally process natural foods rather than high calorie food-products. Read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food to understand a bit more about this distinction.
As I shifted my diet toward a more Asian one, I also found myself craving certain Japanese dishes rather than western meals. I found myself picking Japanese restaurants instead of barbeque or burger joints. Not for the shochu necessarily, but because I really enjoy the food. Given that the Japanese have the highest life expectancy of any country on earth, I think this may be a good choice for my health as well.
I’ve heard it takes 21 days to make a habit. I’ve now been on this diet for 79 days. That’s not a habit. That’s a lifestyle change.
I’m writing this entry as I fly to California for the Thanksgiving holidays. What did I want to know before flying out there? Where can I get shochu & where are the good Japanese restaurants? To the best I can tell there’s little of any shochu available in Palm Springs so I packed my own: Toki no Kokouin (a Japonica rice shochu) and Jinkoo (an imo sweet potato shochu) sit down in the cargo hold of the jet.
So the diet is working. In 11 weeks I’ve lost 12.2 lbs. I don’t know how that pace compares to other diet options since I’ve never actually been “on a diet” before, but I best most dieters don’t have nearly as much fun losing weight.
While it looks like I may be plateauing a little, I’m getting close to my goal of a 15 lb weight loss. It just might take a little longer to get those last 3 lbs than it took the first 12.
Another real test will be Thanksgiving at my mother’s house. Stay tuned.