Reimagining Indulgent Eating: A Journey to Health through Japanese Perspective

by Ella

In today’s discussion of health and food, the concept of ‘indulgent food’ is often deeply ingrained with perceptions of high-calorie, oversized portions, and culinary extravagance. For many, this association has been a source of complicated relationships with food, a struggle familiar to those of us raised in the United States. However, an enlightening shift in perspective occurred when one individual, now writing and educating on Japanese health practices, relocated to Japan.

The clash of perceptions began with a simple question: What comes to mind when you think of indulgent food? In Western societies, it typically conjures images of decadent chocolate cake, succulent burgers, mammoth steaks, or mountains of fries. Fast-food and ice cream advertisements reinforce this notion, often equating indulgence with calorific excess. Yet, a transformative experience awaited in Japan.


Upon returning home one day, the author’s Japanese grandmother brimmed with excitement, promising a delightful surprise. The anticipation mounted as thoughts of strawberry shortcake, cream puffs, or gourmet chocolates danced through the author’s mind. However, the revelation was anything but conventional – a single, fresh melon.


Initial disappointment quickly gave way to astonishment as the grandmother presented the melon. Its sweet, almost perfumed aroma tantalized the senses. The moment the author took a bite, the fruit’s juicy, ripe perfection melted in their mouth.


Residing in Japan, the author soon discerned that indulgence transcended the Western calorie-centric lens. In Japan, it was defined by seasonality, freshness, locality, and craftsmanship. Luxurious food gifts often comprised boxes of fruits, vegetables, and seafood. Special occasions were marked by sashimi from the market or exquisitely sweet, artisanal grapes for dessert.


This revelation instilled a profound understanding of what constitutes wholesome eating. While there is certainly nothing inherently wrong with savoring cakes, burgers, or fries, there exists a prevailing narrative in Western countries that associates indulgent food exclusively with unhealthiness.

When calorie-dense foods dominate our idea of ‘treating ourselves,’ anything to the contrary becomes an act of deprivation. Opting for fruit over cake or relishing steamed fish instead of steak can feel like self-restraint. Such restraint, the author realized, is not merely unsustainable but can also induce stress and shame, fostering the belief that enjoyment of alternate options is somehow ‘wrong.’

This is not to suggest that sugary or calorie-dense foods cannot be part of a healthy lifestyle. However, when indulgence is perceived through the prisms of quality and taste, it expands the very definition of eating well. It underscores the idea that indulgent food and healthy food are not mutually exclusive, and treating ourselves need not be an act of shame.

In embracing this paradigm shift, individuals can move beyond perpetual dieting and adopt a lifestyle marked by holistic health and enjoyment of food without guilt.



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