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Eight years ago, Katheryn Gronauer moved to Tokyo from the US.

“When I first came here I was really confused because all the women around me were so slim and also a head shorter than me.”

Strolling past all the cafes in Omotesando, Katheryn couldn’t help but notice the petite-sized Japanese women gossiping with friends over desserts like whipped cream-topped strawberry shortcake, drinking something fattening like ‘royal milk tea’.

She thought to herself,

‘How do they do it? Is it possible to eat all your favorite desserts and still stay thin?’

Could she have her cake and eat it too?

Katheryn felt like she had tried every possible diet, she exercised to exhaustion, and failed. It wasn’t until moving to Japan that she lost 40 pounds.

The one question I just had to ask her was, “What’s Japanese women’s secret to staying so slim?”

She didn’t just rationalize, telling herself that this Far Eastern island of S-sized women must have some Asian genetic predisposition for metabolizing white rice, batter-dipped, panko-crust fried katsu, and Asahi Super Dry.

Instead of blindly accepting the story written by her genes, with the determination to fit into her jeans, Katheryn headed to the bookstore looking for answers.

In Japan, she discovered the secret to being able to eat chocolate cake, pizza, and all of her favorite foods and still fit into her dress and look hot.

Katheryn Gronauer, a former obsessive-dieter turned small dress-wearing cake-eater, integrative health coach, blogger, speaker, writer for Huffington Post, Women’s Health, MindBodyGreen, and more, and author of her brand new book ‘Confessions of a Yo-yo Dieter‘, is on a mission to share her knowledge with as many women as possible.

(Funny enough, it turned out that we’re almost neighbors- I interviewed her at the pizza place ten steps from the stairs going up to my apartment.)

 

Do you feel burnt out from dieting and overwhelmed with what to do next? 

Katheryn will show you that you can live a life where you feel amazing in your body and enjoy a social life with food.

You can click on each topic below. Her responses to questions 6, 8, and 13 are my favorites.

1. MEET KATHERYN

I really admire you, seeing you on Facebook, how you put yourself out there. You’re saying you want to do public speaking engagements, you create a discussion group for women… You come across as very confident, courageous, an independent woman. How did you become that person, or has it always been inside you? Is that your character?

I definitely felt like I had a message that I really wanted to share with people and I felt like the only way I could get that message out was through creating content that people could read or getting in front of people to speak. I really felt that the motivating factor was the core message that I want to share and just being able to share the things I have learned since being in Japan.

Yeah, I guess that at the end of the day, from the outside, it looks like there’s a lot of public speaking events, blogs, and different things I’ve been doing, working on.

2. BEFORE SHE LOST 40 LBS

What’s your drive? How do you want to impact the world?

I’ll get into a little of my background story. I used to be 40 pounds overweight. And I felt like I had tried literally every single diet I could have possibly done. And even though I felt like I was doing everything, on the side I was also binging. I was also eating things and saying [to myself], ‘I had already exercised so now I can afford the calories so I can eat something.’

And I constantly felt like I knew a lot more information than my friends but they didn’t have as many issues with their weight or with their body as I did. They were the type of people who could only have a couple of bites of a piece of pizza and be totally fine.

And me, I’m like, ‘IT’S PIZZA! It’s there- you have to eat the whole thing! This is your moment, your opportunity! You’ve been waiting all week for this.’

“Come on, guys! It’s pizza!” (LOL)

I felt if I didn’t finish it, I’d have to wait an entire week for my next cheat day or something like that. And I just kind of felt like I was really struggling and that I would basically have to spend the whole rest of my life monitoring myself if I wanted to feel good in my body but also find some way to engage with life. I constantly felt like I was trying to choose one thing or the other. Do I either focus on my diet and be healthy or do I engage with life and leave all that on the side and not really think about it?

3. THE DIETER’S DILEMMA

So that’s what the picture of you on your website and social media is- you holding in one hand a dress and one hand chocolate cake. Can you explain that?

I wanted to show the dilemma that dieters face. Where it’s like, on one hand, do you eat what you want to eat or do you try to make an effort and wear what you want to wear? Do I try to fit into my dress and ignore the cake or do I give up fitting in the dress and go for the chocolate cake?

I felt like we want to have both but we don’t really know how to integrate them. And even if you’re healthy, you’ve done every single thing right, and you even feel like you’re allowed to have something in moderation, the second you have a few bites you still feel like you’ve ruined everything that you’ve done. I felt that I didn’t know how to not have that type of guilt.

So that was the main focus and the idea behind that picture.

4. LOSING WEIGHT, THE MINDSHIFT

How has your thinking changed when you’re choosing between the cake and the dress, compared to the old you?

Compared to the old me….Ooh, that’s a really deep question because I feel like after learning so many things since coming to Japan, I just realized how I can become a little more settled with the foods that I really enjoy. I found things like alternative ingredients that you can use when you’re making your favorite desserts to make them healthier. I still pretty much eat a very similar way to how I did when I was overweight but I would say that the core ingredients are much better for my body. And then on the weekends, if I happen to be out with friends or something like that, and I don’t really have the best options, I just enjoy myself. And I would say the biggest difference, between when I was overweight and now, is that I don’t have as strong cravings like I used to. So I am that type of person now who can just have a couple bites of chocolate cake.

One of those people that everyone else hates. (LOL)

Yeah, exactly.

But whereas before, that was really hard for me.

I was in Hawaii over Christmas and I love papaya. And when you’re in Hawaii, it’s your chance to eat papaya, but now I can take a couple bites. Before I had to have it every day because I didn’t want to waste my opportunity of having papaya in Hawaii.

5.  COMING TO JAPAN, FIRST IMPRESSION

When you first arrived in Tokyo, you said that you were 40 pounds overweight, a yoyo dieter. What was that experience like?

When I first came here I was really confused because all the women around me were so slim and also a head shorter than me. I felt like I had walked into the world of very petite people. And you know, being in Tokyo, even the doors are smaller, the chairs are smaller, the desks are smaller. Everything is just one size smaller.

I remember thinking to myself, ‘What are they doing differently?’ Even though I was trying to find the answer, I felt like on the surface a lot things didn’t make sense to me. Sometimes you can pass by a cafe and you’ll see two Japanese women gossiping about their week over strawberry shortcake and some milk tea or something. Or you see them eating shabu-shabu beef and they clearly seem to be enjoying themselves having a very wide variety of foods.

I wasn’t seeing women anxious to go to a Crossfit class or doing any really high intensity training. Nobody is walking around in spandex carrying their two liter bottle of water on their arm.

There was a lot of things I didn’t see on the surface, but for some reason, they seem to know how to make it work. I remember thinking, ‘Is it their genetics or is there actually something else going on that I don’t know about?’

6. JAPANESE WOMEN’S SECRET TO STAYING THIN 

So why do Japanese women tend to be so slim?

Oh, how much time do you have? (LOL)

Until they kick us out of here.

I guess the first thing I’ll say is, if you look at the Japanese teishoku [a traditional Japanese-style meal], they eat a little bit of everything. And your body needs a bit of everything. I think most diets out there are always arguing one thing is better than something else- you need to cut this out or add that in. I feel like a lot of diets just talk specifically about nutritional density but they don’t really look at other things like seasons. Japanese teishoku incorporates a lot of different seasonal changes. Japanese people also look at things like temperature, making sure you eat a lot of warm meals. Their meals are a lot more hydrating.

In America, maybe you eat a sandwich which is with bread, which is dry. All the water has been baked out. Whereas in Japan, you have rice and miso soup. It’s a lot more hydrating for your body. There are a lot of factors around the teishoku that are giving people a wide variety of nutrition. It’s giving them a wide variety of flavors so it’s very satisfying. And it’s helping them digest the foods a lot better too. I really think that there’s some type of formula that they figured out around teishoku that is really beneficial.

I’ve never really thought about food being hydrating or dehydrating. I read your post about coffee and tea after I wrote to you saying, ‘There’s coffee and tea at the place [where we’re going to do the interview]. Coffee and tea are… dehydrating. I learned a lot about that from you. Those things, as a Westerner, you never think about.

In the West, you’re always hearing people say, “Make sure you drink your water. Get hydrated.” There’s a difference between drinking water and getting hydrated. Getting hydrated means you have enough fluids that you need. Whereas drinking water is actually having water. But if you’re dehydrated, the first place to look at is the actual meals you eat. Are the meals I’m actually eating drying and dehydrating or are they actually hydrating and have a lot of moisture.

I think that since coming here a lot of things have given me a totally different perspective of the same information. Even though I used to hear people say, “Stay hydrated,” I assumed that meant drink more water. But since coming to Japan, I realize, ‘Oh, maybe that just means the meals themselves need to have high water content.’

Just little different mindset shifts, I guess you could say, around different concepts…

7. HYDRATION VS. DRINKING WATER

You said, “Don’t drink water while you are eating.” What do you do, have tea afterwards like a Japanese meal?

Well, first off, it’s not like I completely avoid water. If I’m thirsty I’ll have a few sips.The point is, if you’re in an area like America, you usually get a really tall glass of ice cold water. And people are always drinking that down right before their meal comes. They’re drinking that a lot while having their meal. And that can really disrupt the digestive process. Because Japanese meals are already really hydrating- for example, you’re having some soup, some wet rice- I think people don’t feel the need to “wash their meal down” as much.

And just making sure you have your water in between meals and making sure you are staying hydrated that way. That’s fine, without interrupting your digestion.

It makes sense because we grew up eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It’s so sticky and dry that you have to drink something to get it down the hatch.

8. CLOTHES SHOPPING IN JAPAN- NOT MY SIZE (>-<)

I loved your article in the Huffington Post about what not being able to zip your pants up meant to you and also the experience of shopping for clothes in Tokyo. Could you share that story and what it meant to you?

I noticed that when I was shopping in Japanese clothing stores, nothing really fit me. They have a clothing size which is called ‘free size’, I guess what it’s called, which means one-size-fits-all. One size fits everybody who’s Japanese, but not me.

I remember before coming to Japan, though, I felt like being able to zip up my pants was a sign of self worth. If I was able to zip my pants up that morning, then it was going to be a good day. But if I couldn’t, then I must have done something wrong and I’m a horrible person.

When I came to Japan, it was the first time that I didn’t understand a lot of things about the sizes. I wound up going to European shops to find things that were in bigger sizes that I could wear. But I didn’t really understand their numbering or size system. So I was only focused on getting clothes that actually fit my body well instead of just focusing on making sure I could squeeze into the size that I thought I should be.

A size M or a size S…

Yeah, exactly. That in itself, I feel like it was really freeing. It was the first time I could focus on how it fit and how I looked and how I felt in the clothes instead of just worrying about the size.

That’s so interesting because you would think the opposite would happen where you’d feel sad that you couldn’t fit into any clothes.

I have heard some women say that they wish they could shop at Japanese clothing stores and fit into smaller things. But I feel like when collectively the entire population of people is smaller, it just makes me feel like, ‘Ok, this just wasn’t really designed for me. I can find something else.’

Whereas in America, there’s such a blend of people there that you’re not really sure. You think you should be able to fit into it even if it might be designed for a different type of body. So I just felt like there was a very clear understanding: these are for Japanese style bodies and then European shops or American shops, those are the ones that are for me.

I like how you wrote “It’s like going into a store for little kids or for teens. Of course I can’t fit into those clothes. It’s not for me.”

9. MIND + BODY

On Mindbodygreen, you’re a regular contributor for them, it said that you are an integrative health coach. What exactly does that mean?

Integrative basically means you talk both about any type of mental or emotional things that people are going through along with the physical health. We’re making sure that whatever things you’re implementing in your lifestyle actually resonate with what you want to do.

I think that one of the biggest problems that people have with diets is not the information that they have. Most people know that vegetables are good for you. Most people know that drinking water is good or hydrating is good. Most people know they should get some type of exercise. That’s pretty straightforward. But I think that the way that they do it and the way they integrate it with their lifestyle, that’s where people need a lot of help. Sometimes there’s other factors that stand in the way of being healthy. Sometimes it can be emotions, sometimes it can be your work schedule. There are other factors in your lifestyle that need to be addressed.

10. ON LOSING 40 POUNDS

When you lost the 40 pounds, how did life change for you, specifically, how people treated you or how you felt about yourself?

I would say both: how I felt myself and how I was treated was very different. I remember, literally, I felt like my body was so light that I was bouncing down the streets. I was just so happy and so full of energy, and I remember thinking, ‘Why don’t more people know about this?’

As far as how people treated me, I remember dating really changed. I used to be the type of person, like if I went out to a bar or out somewhere with friends, usually if a guy approached me, it would be because he wants to talk to my friend, to get my friend’s number or something. Once I started trying to get out and start dating more here, people were talking to me, and I was like “Oh, I’m sorry, my friend’s in the bathroom. She’ll be out soon.”

And then they’re like, “No, no, no. I want to talk to you before she comes back.”

And I’m like, “Oh, me? Really?”

“Yeah.”

It was definitely really strange. I think probably one of the biggest things that’s hard about changing your body is how your identity changes too. If you constantly think of yourself as an overweight person and you look in the mirror, and you’re like, ‘Wait. What I see reflected doesn’t match that image.’ That’s also really challenging to change too. Your mindset has to change along with how your body is changing.

My mindset was I didn’t want to be a guy going to Gold’s Gym, spending two hours every day, looking at myself in the mirror and measuring the amount of food I eat every day, drinking protein shakes. 

But then I read what Tim Ferriss said, that if you get in good shape, especially for men, it gives you confidence. If you can improve your body, you can take that and apply it to the rest of your life, the feeling of growth and progress.

I also think you pointed out something that most people don’t notice too, or don’t consciously notice, is that you know that you want to get healthy, but that doesn’t mean you want to be the type of person who spends hours in the gym and constantly monitors your food all the time. You don’t want to adopt that lifestyle just to be healthy. You want to find some way you can do it where you don’t have to think about it that much.

11. A GIRL ON BLISS

Your website is called: “Girl on Bliss”. Are you that girl on bliss, after you dropped the weight?

You know, my website actually started out as just a blog. And I was actually drawing cartoons when I first started. And I drew this photo of a girl who was like lounging on a cloud with a cookie. So I was thinking of something like being on cloud nine.

12. CHALLENGES FOR WOMEN

Looking at your website, it looks like all your clients are women. What challenges do women face? I’m completely naive when it comes to dieting [for women].

I would say for women, a lot of it is more around image and self-identity. A big reason why they want to change their body is because they know they want to look good and present themselves well. Like in the workforce, for example, you want your clients to take you seriously, you want your boss to think that you’re good at your job.

Also, I would say the age range of the people I usually talk to are still in the dating range too so they’re really concerned about finding someone to date. I think image is definitely a big part of it. And feeling around for getting comfortable with who you want to be. It’s not just wanting to be healthy, but I feel it goes a little bit beyond that.

It’s funny you say that I’m helping mostly women. I did intentionally start out just to help women but I’ve been getting inquiries from men too, especially men who are interested in martial arts or anything that involves a type of Eastern yin and yang type of concepts. They seemed to be really interested in the material too.

13. FOOD ENERGETICS

Speaking of yin and yang, could you explain what Food Energetics is?

Ok, I wonder if I can explain this in a nutshell.

There was a point in time when people didn’t have diet science. They didn’t know what calories were, or protein, carbs, and all these different things.They had to use some type of other system to figure out how to rebalance a poor body condition, just to become healthy again. One way of looking at it is to understand how nature works. Usually if you look at Eastern concepts, there’s always this concept of yin and yang or that there’s two parts that create a whole. If you’re out of balance, then you want to make sure you’re adding more, or maybe taking away some other part to help create balance again.

They also say that this kind of balance or energy is also found in foods.You might notice that something like a piece of spinach grows upwards and out of the ground. Whereas, something like a carrot grows downwards into the ground. So the idea is that if you eat things like leafy greens, they’re going to give you more uplifting energy. Whereas, if you eat things that are root vegetables that grow down into the ground, they’re going to give you more relaxing, calm energy.

I think from a scientific perspective, people are kind of like, “Hey, a carrot’s a carrot, spinach is spinach, you know, whatever. As long as you get your nutrition, it’s fine.” But the thing that I find the most interesting is that if you start to look at food on a scale of how it grows, from high up in trees to things growing out of the ground, all the way down to things that grow down into the ground, we’re talking from high to low, you’re actually getting a full nutritional variety from one extreme to the other. For example, you might notice that foods that grows high up into trees, like in tropical areas like bananas and mangos, they’re usually much higher in vitamins and also higher in electrolytes, you know, so they’re really good for hydration.

Coconuts…

Yeah, exactly. Coconuts. They’re really moist, have a lot of fluid. Whereas, something that grows down into the ground, like a root vegetable, it’s a lot dryer, it has more mineral content because it grows in the actual soil. It usually grows in colder environments, which means it can help your body stay warm and acclimate it to your climate. So there’s a lot of climate, nature, and seasons that are involved. I think once you start to understanding how nature flows, from spring to summer to fall to winter, then you can really start to understand what kinds of foods to pick for your body.

Everything in nature is affecting your body chemistry. Even when you go to bed at night, when the sun’s down and you wake up in the morning and the sun is up, that’s affecting your body chemistry. Starting at that point, very broad, with nature, can actually really help you make a lot of sense with what to put on your plate.

It’s stuff I’ve never thought about. That’s really interesting.

14. THE TWO TYPES OF DIETS

You have your foot in both worlds, more than 7 years in Japan…

Yeah, so I’ve been here over eight years now.

With that unique perspective, what are the big differences between eating in Japan or Asia, compared to the West?

There are basically two different ways you can look at a diet. There’s the broad way, which is as we said, is things like seasons and nature. And then there’s also the very descriptive, detailed way.

If I just take a carrot. The broad way of looking at a carrot is saying, ‘Where does the carrot grow? What time of year does it grow? What does it taste like? How is it cooked? What is the texture? These are things that we can actually feel with our senses. We can understand what type of energy we feel from carrots in that way.

The more detailed way is looking at it from a nutritional perspective. We’re looking inside the carrot itself, at vitamin content, calorie content, protein, carbs, all those different things. But those are things, while they make logical sense, they’re not something that we can sense with our bodies. You can’t eat a carrot and automatically know how many calories you had and how much vitamin A you had. You have to go onto Google and type in the quantity you had and try to formulize some type of understanding of what type of nutritional content you got.

Going back to your question, I think the biggest difference from looking at diet from Western ways and Eastern ways is that in the West they usually focus only on the details. And I think people can get really confused when you’re over-analyzing details because it’s hard to figure out how to put them together when you can’t even sense it yourself. Whereas in the East, they tend to focus a lot more on broad terms like nature, like making sure you’re eating seasonal vegetables, temperature- making sure if your body is cold, you’re eating something that’s warm to help you with your circulation. And just focusing on things like that can help restore your body’s balance without having to be overly analytical about the details.

15. LOGICAL VS. INTUITIVE DIET

You wrote that there are logical diets and intuitive diets. Is that what that is?

Yes, well, slightly different, I would say. Logical diets are about counting, measuring, and weighing, protein, carbs, calories, and all those things. Intuitive diet is more about eating and seeing how you feel. And I do think that some types of principles like macrobiotics can help with that but I feel like you kind of need to understand a little bit of both. Because if you only eat and see how you feel, then you’re always just reacting to whatever situation you’re in. Maybe you’re in a situation where you’re at work and not really hungry to eat lunch at 12:00 but that’s the only time you have to eat lunch. So how can we really understand what our intuition is if we’re constantly in a situation that’s not really the most natural according to how we would want to live on a daily basis.

Having a little bit of both of the information really helps.

16. THE MOST IMPORTANT LESSON

Being in Japan, what’s been one of the most important lessons or eye-openers for you that you got because you’re in Japan?

I guess for me, I would definitely say macrobiotics. Macrobiotics is basically a system that people use to organize their food based on Food Energetics. In Food Energetics we talked about how food can have warming or cooling properties. Macrobiotics is actually about putting them on your plate in a way that is energetically balanced.

For me, I happened to stumble upon a book on macrobiotics in a bookstore here in Japan. For whatever reason, I don’t know, this book was in English. This is like the only English book in the entire bookstore. But I just happened to be in that section, and I happened to see something and it was written in English. And I was like, ‘What’s this?’, and I opened up the book and I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is what I was looking for.’ And it wasn’t just like a light bulb moment, when I was like ‘Oh, aha’. It was more like the sun turned on. It was like this really big, ‘Oh my gosh. I’ve been thinking about things totally wrong for all this time. So yah, I would definitely say that was my biggest ‘aha’.

Do you believe it was destiny?

Absolutely. Yeah, I was looking for it, and I happened to be there, and there happened to be an English book, and it was just all meant to work out.

I feel like you have a couple of those experiences in your life that you just can’t explain it. Or that quote, “What you’re looking for is looking for you.”

17. THE KEY TO LONG TERM WEIGHT LOSS

Back in the US, what are the commonly held ‘diet rules’ that you believe won’t actually help you lose weight?

I would say probably a lot of diets in general. Like if you do a diet, it’s probably going to help you with weight loss. As far as long term weight loss, I think people are only really going to understand what works for them if they also analyze what’s happening in their lifestyle, how your lifestyle impacts the choices you have to make.

So what I mean by that, for example, when I moved to Japan, I started losing weight a bit naturally. And if I was just to do a comparison, I was walking a bit more than I was when I was in the US. I was definitely eating more varieties of foods. I was so engaged with and stimulated by everything around me that I wasn’t emotionally eating along the side. So I just felt emotionally fulfilled and I felt like I was in the right place where I needed to be. But if I was back in the US, where I was in a situation where I only can drive my car everywhere, then that in itself means if I want to be healthy in America with getting exercise then I need to actually schedule into my day a time where I spend for exercise. Whereas, where I am now, living in a city, it’s already built into the lifestyle. And don’t even have to think at the end of the day, ‘Do I need to go to the gym or not?’ because I already know based on the errands or activities I do, I’ve already gotten 45 minutes to an hour of walking for that entire day.

I think if people don’t understand how the major components of their lifestyle are affecting the choices that they have, then they’re probably going to always be trying to find a way around those big components.

18. ANXIETIES WHEN EATING WITH OTHERS

This question is just for me. Now I found it easy a lot easier eating the way I want to eat when I’m by myself.  But when I’m with family, friends, or traveling, then it still gets stressful for me. It’s not organic, it’s carbs…

I would say that you’re probably right at the cusp before you feel completely comfortable with what you’re eating. Because I also had that experience too where when you get really involved with learning about organic foods and veganism and all these different concepts, all of those beliefs are in your head. And you’re like, ‘Wow, this is amazing. You feel much better. You know that it’s better for sustainability and the environment, and feels good to you. All of these things are floating around in your head.

But then if you get into situations like you’re flying on an airplane and you have airplane food or you’re stuck in a situation with family- there’s just nothing around you. Or you go visit your family- there’s no Whole Foods. That can be a lot of anxiety in itself.

But I think, at the end of the day, if you really understand the concept of balance, like understanding what kinds of foods in general that you’re looking at for having for dinner, let’s say, no matter what situation you’re in, you’re probably going be able to find things that you need. Because anywhere you travel to, they’re always going to have vegetables. There’s always going to be some kind of fermented food that you can have. There’s always going to be some type of grain. So you will be able to get the mix as long as you understand those different types of categories and that type of thing you can apply when you’re there.

I had the experience over Christmas where I was blogging in the morning about, the quote was “the meat in the U.S. is toxic.” And then it’s Christmas, so my dad wants prime rib from Costco like we always have for Christmas.

‘It’s Kauai and they have grass-fed beef.’ And it stressed me out all day. Because I didn’t want to eat that meat. Right after you learn the information, I get so obsessed about it.

Yeah, I can definitely see it being harder being in the U.S. If I read that, I wouldn’t want to eat hormone raised meat or anything like that too.

Or after you watch Food Inc. [on Netflix] and then you don’t want to go buy a Purdue chicken.

Yeah, you don’t know how it was raised. America is a bit tricky.

But we do have the Whole Foods, The Trader Joe’s…

I mean, ideally, as long as you’re having a mix of a good balanced meal, no matter where you are, it should be fine. But yeah, in America it’s different because you don’t really know quite what’s in it.

We’re lucky here, being in Japan.

Yah, we are. We don’t have to think that much about it.