How bento lunches helped me lose 30+ lbs (so far)

When I got married to a Swiss guy more than a decade ago, one of his friends in Germany sent him a letter congratulating him for ‘catching a beautiful Asian gazelle’. The Swiss guy told me this while rolling on the floor laughing, where I kicked him hard. Ah, the point is not that I’m a spouse abuser, but that I’m nowhere near being gracefully gazelle-like. Going against the stereotype of the skinny Asian chick, I’ve always been on the round and (I like to think, maybe I’m delusional) cute side rather than sylph like.

This has bothered me of course off and on over the years, but I’ve never been good at sticking to any kind of diet. I just love to eat tasty food too much, and I also love to cook. This is where bento lunches come in.

Earlier this year I decided that I needed to Do Something about the weight issue. Two key parts of that strategy were eating 3 meals a day, and portion control. I’ve always been a no-breakfast, anything-for-lunch, and starving-by-dinner eater, which all of the literature I read on the subject told was not good. So, I decided that I needed to start making bento.

According to my height and activity level, 1800 to 2100 calories is optimal for a slow but steady weight loss. So I aimed for making bento lunches that came in at around 600 calories or under. There’s an occasional 800 calorie or so splurge, and some lower-calorie mini-bento options for the days ‘after’. I based the menus on whole grains, especially brown rice, lots of vegetables, and lean proteins.

But more important than the calorie count is that the bentos focused my attention on variety and portion size. Assembling a meal that will fit tightly and attractively in a small box requires a higher level of attention than laying food out on open plates. It’s also rather fun, once you get used to it.

Making bento for lunch is not the only reason I’ve managed to lose some weight (I hate to say this but exercise really is a key) but it certainly is one of the cornerstones of my success so far, and will continue to be so.

See also: Skinny bento vs. Not-so-skinny bento

(Update, September 2009: Due to some crazy stress this year I did gain back some weight, but since July I’ve been back to bento-ing, and the weight is dropping slowly but steadily again. Go me!)

For more bento recipes, ideas and tips, subscribe to Just Bento via your newsreader or by email (more about subscriptions).

And visit our sister site, Just Hungry for great Japanese home recipes and more.

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Exercise indeed...

To this day I have only encountered one diet that actually seems to produce consistent results for anyone who tries it. Seems to be a secret well kept though, since if it was made public knowledge the whole diet industry and tabloid Sunday lifestyle magazines would lose significant income.

It is really simple, very straight forward, and I have decided to call it ELRM: Eat Less, Run More.

// Manne

Re: Exercise indeed...

Walking is better for weight loss than running. An hour of strolling is ideal. Thus, shopping at the mall (without stopping much, just looking) is the ideal activity for losing weight.
Two hours of ofwalking, even better.
A few hills? wonderful.
See the cogent explanation of metabolism at the beginning of The Zone Diet book ....

Congrats!

Because you cook food yourself, you also appreciate it more. You also know to use less oil and butter, which is difficult to control when dining out.

Love the calorie counting!

I recently lost 50 lbs (I was 160, which isn’t a lot, unless you count in the fact that I’m barely five feet tall and that my doctor recommended it). I did pretty much what you do…slow weight loss by controlling calories and exercising…

Good for you! And I’m glad you put the calorie count on the bento boxes, mostly because it makes it easy to adjust and gives me new ideas for lower calorie and healthier options…

I’m not really into diets

I’m not really into diets - i hate the way you end up feeling when you eat something you shouldn’t … but … i must say that the whole bento box thing has me thinking about what i’m eating and since lunch is so very much the one meal i could just go out and buy some rich pastry type food for, by packing a bento (which is the envy of the rest of the teachers at school) i’m more interested in eating my own lunch and i’m eating less calories yet feeling much fuller - mine are always snack size things to eat from home made sushi (with pepper and avocado slivers) to fruit - i’m not SERIOUSLY trying to loose weight - but i am watching what i eat …

i’m also finding that when i’m having a snack dinner at home i make up a bento …

thank you

Hello, I’m a 27 year old girl, half french half chinese, but I only have Japan in my heart…You could call me an otaku…assuming assumin… Anyway I just discovered your sites while browsing “Lunch in a box”; I’ve always been a round shaped girl, I love eating, I’m so into sugar junk food, but lately with japanese bentos, I discovered one could make and eat delicious food without it being too sugared or fat. Please keep going I’ll be rooting for you from where I am. I hope to lose weight and for that, I’m going to follow your advices and recipes. By the way, could I use some of your photos and recipes for my personal use???

Sore ja, mate ne! Bento daisuki (0)/

photos and recipes

creamy_amande, as a fellow round Asian girl, I know where you are coming from! As for using the photos and recipes, if you put it on another site or so, you can use them as long as you give the correct attribution. If it’s just for your personal use such as printing them out, go head!

‘catching a beautiful

‘catching a beautiful Asian gazelle’?? WTH? You don’t hear Asian people saying, “So you caught yourself a big European bear.” I’m sure your husband’s friend didn’t mean to be offensive but Asian women are not “caught”. Sorry, just had to rant a little ‘cause what your husband’s friend said got me all worked up. Anyways. I love the site. Hope the bento diet will have the effect you desire. I look forward to reading future posts. Hopefully my bento making will have some effect on my waistline.

actually...

…after seeing photos of my Swiss husband, a couple of my Japanese friends did refer to my ‘swiss teddybear’ :) But I know what you mean…it is/was a bit insulting, but he was an elderly gentleman and so on so I guess I could excuse him… (or else I could always sit on him with my ungazelle like ass and crush him! haha)

Thank you for this website.

Thank you for this website. The information, attention to detail and the variety of food choices are truly a gem. What a wonderful concept for portion control!

Jumping on “Bento -box -diet” bandwagon—-check Committing to trying most of your bento recipes—-check Telling my friends about your website—-check

I’m glad you find the site

I’m glad you find the site useful :)

thanks for your inspiring site

so now i’m off to make my lunch more enjoyable after being the no-breakfast, no-lunch and eat till you burst-dinner person for so long (esp since i started working). heheh when working it’s hard to realize that lunch is to be eaten at a table and not infront of your pc and should be something more subtantial than dry crackers/fast food.

out of curiosity, it seems to me that with bento, lunch is the main course or? or do you also do bento for dinner and keep the portions same as for your lunch? i look forward to read more from your sit, and to hell the stereotype that all asians are skinny and petite!

greetings from a fellow asian!

dinner

Hi cheryl! I don’t usually make a bento for dinner - I just have whatever I/we feel like, though I do watch the portions (when I’m paying attention…which is like 80% of the time to be honest :)) I was a lunch skipper too, and I find that having a bento lunch really cuts down on the late-in-the-day hunger pains, which is a good thing! (I do sometimes eat part of what I made for my lunch bento for breakfast though)

thanks for your reply! well

thanks for your reply! well I was making my first bento (the bento box i bought “made in china” holds ~1L!!! so i ended with a tupperware of 800ml, will look out for 500 ml containers tomorrow as mine is more like diet needs and portion control) and for sure portion size is a bit tricky. haha but i found it enjoyable and creative esp figuring out how to arrange things and portions.

i’m not into the “decorative” side yet. now i wonder if eating in a 500 ml box for dinner might help as well..500 ml is SO tiny though and from the pictures I always thought the bento boxes were bigger!! kudos to you and other bento users for fitting that much (in variety as well) in such a small box!

and off subject you’re from switzerland? lucky you! my bf is from there too, the french part :D

Sure, using a bento box for

Sure, using a bento box for portion control for dinner should be very helpful if you’re trying to lose weight. Good luck!

Yes I do live in Switzerland (though I’m not from here :) )

What size bento?

I only just found this site, but was wondering what size bento you use? I’ve finally found two to order, but fear that mine may be a bit larger than needed.

Cheers.

soupy

I rotate a couple of bentos

I rotate a couple of bentos that range in size from 500 ml capacity to around 650ml. The number of ml. roughly corresponds to the no. of calories (if they are packed very tightly in the Japanese manner) they can hold, though that can always be controlled by what type of food you pack. See this page also for some more ideas on using bento boxes for weight loss!

Same here!!!

haha I just purchased some Urara bento stuff just for this purpose. My eating habits since getting a job where I sit down all day are atrocious and need to be put in check. And being half Korean, nothing’s better than going back to your roots right?! LOL But I did buy all that cute stuff because I’m a graphics person and making it cute is half the pleasure of eating it! ^_^ This is a wonderful site you have here by the way!!! Great reference for me!

Thanks for the great info!

I’m a ballet dancer and weight is important in my profession, so I’ve been thinking about going back to my Japanese roots and eating healthy bentos for lunch. Your site is very informative and interesting, and I’m feeling super inspired now! Thanks a bunch!

Great website!

I’ve found your site when typing “Bento Recipes” in a search engine and I think it is simply great! I love cooking (and it can show on my weight) and I’ve know found a way to make healthy, colourful and tasty meals… I must admit that I was “short” on ideas when I decided to start making bento lunches but thanks to your website, it’s no more a problem for me.

And my bento box always impress people I eat with! ^_^

You're right on Portion Control

Like when I make my own lunch, I tend to eat less and whatever I can’t finish, I eat later.

Can you take bento to school?

Hi~!
i recently found your website after searching for "japanese recipes" (well actually I was directed to your Just Hungry sister site!) and I found it very helpful! especially all of the tips you put in for making bentos. I had bought a bento box for myself quite awhile ago but had no idea how to go about making food that fit in the small container! I eneded up being to hasty when making my lucnh and forgot to let it cool it was all soggy and gross by the time lunch came around! ): so I gave up on bento for awhile but after stumbling on your site I was inspired to try again! so I was wondering if you had any tips for a high school student with not that much time to make healthy bento lunches in the morning? :)

Re: Can you take bento to school?

Hi Naka. First of all, congratulations on starting your bento journey in high school! You'll find a lot of tips all around the site, but you might find what I wrote for Week 1 of the just completed Bento Challenge useful. (You might want to read through the rest of the weeks too - the links are in the left hand sidebar.) The most important things to do to make bentos fast in the morning are

- Plan ahead! This helps you be super organized so you don't waste time waffling around in the morning. It also helps with your shopping!
- If you can, set out your bento making and packing gear ready to go (mise en place)
- Try to have at least a couple of pre-made components (or as we like to call it, bento stash or johbisai), and/or reusable leftovers.
- Keep it simple. Aim for 1 carb, 1 protein, 1 vegetable to start with. This is actually the pattern for most of my everyday bentos.
- Don't get too hung up on decorating your bento. If you have time, sure, but if not, it's the taste and nutrition that's more important!
- Practive makes perfect! The first few times it might be hard to make things fast, but you'll get better as you go along!

Good luck and happy bentoing!

Re: How bento lunches helped me lose 30+ lbs (so far)

I just found this site today, and I am enjoying it immensely. I enjoy cooking, and bento seems to be healthy and fun. I would like to eat in a more healthy manner, and using bento does keep me focused on portion control. :-) Also so many of the bento containers seem to be so cute, I look forward to packing a healthy lunch. I just bought a Vivo green and blue square bento, and I have a feeling I may be collecting more....;-))

But most of all, the friendly and supportive atmosphere on the site and forum is very nice.

Re: How bento lunches helped me lose 30+ lbs (so far)

Welcome to the site! I'm glad you find it useful :)

Re: How bento lunches helped me lose 30+ lbs (so far)

Hello Maki!
Congratulations for your amazing website!
I was just browsing the web looking for a shumai recipe and found your website. OMG! It is a gem! The pictures are beautiful and the recipes are very clearly explained. I can't wait to go back home to try the vegan tofu shumai. I have just bought the shumai skin and the tofu from the Japanese grocery store (that is why I was looking for a recipe...) and will probably rush back after work to see if they have the egg molds and the bento boxes! I had never heard of them before and will definitely use them! What a great idea! It is not a bad idea for me to eat smaller portions for my lunches, too....:-)
Thanks and regards.

Re: How bento lunches helped me lose 30+ lbs (so far)

Hi Vanessa, I'm glad you like the site, and welcome to the wonderful world of bento-ing :)

Re: How bento lunches helped me lose 30+ lbs (so far)

Awesome website! LOVE IT!!! =)

How do you heat up your bentos? I want to avoid using the macrowave as much as I can so I'm wondering... =)

Thanks!!

Re: How bento lunches helped me lose 30+ lbs (so far)

Hi Priscilla. I usually do not heat up my bentos, since they are supposed to be eaten (and taste good) at room temperature. None of the featured bentos on this site require any heating, though a couple use thermal bentos to keep the contents warm (and a couple require keeping cool with an ice pack).

4 lbs lost (2 kgs) in one week!!

Dear Maki,

I felt compelled to write about how marvellous and exiting this site is... I love the detail of the recipes and how I can learn more about Japanese food and culture whilst making delicious and nutritious meals!

I only discovered your site for the first time 6 days ago, and started the bento challenge. I have already lost 2kg and looking great! Since I don't need to loose a lot of weight (6kg in total), I was happy to see that I don't have daunting weeks and months of torturing myself ahead of me to achieve my goal!

I live in the UK, and I was also pleased to see that the shop I thought would have Japanese food + accessories (Seoul Plaza in Cambridge in particular) was on your Just Hungry site!

I wish you all the best in your weight loss and cooking adventures, and I look forward to reading more recipes and helpful advice :-).

Thanks!!!

Re: 4 lbs lost (2 kgs) in one week!!

Congratulations on your weight loss Axelle, and I'm glad the site has been useful to you :)

Re: How bento lunches helped me lose 30+ lbs (so far)

Hi Maki,

I would love to know what your beginning weight was but I know its none of my business. I am attempting to lose 10lbs in the next 5 weeks because this is healthy weight loss using a diet of 1210 calories and one hour of active exercise/day. Bento lunches seem to be a great idea because it looks like it will force me to make smaller portions. I will start next week as I have already done my grocery shopping for this week. I'm going to use the recipes offer here and for now use small containers until I get a bento box (I know the lunchbox is not important but I still want one!).

Sunny

Losing 1 lb a week with bentos

I'm in Week Four of my complete kitchen remodel and with minimal cooking facilities, bentos have been the easiest way to prepare, transport and clean up our evening meal. DH and I are eating well and I am losing approximately 1 lb a week without exercise (unless you count hovering over the contractor). We each have an 800 ml single-tier box for room temp meals and a two-tier box for when we have items that need to be reheated. (His is 900 ml and mine is 580 ml.) When I think the box doesn't look dense enough, I add a small side box of salad, fruit or dessert. We've got six weeks before I'll have my new kitchen ready for launch, so I'm hoping to lose another 5-6 lbs. But with Christmas and New Years in the the middle of all this, I may actually have to exercise! ^_^

Re: How bento lunches helped me lose 30+ lbs (so far)

Congrats on you weight loss! I myself lost over 75 pounds by cutting back on all of the sodas I was drinking everyday. I never realized what I was doing until I started having trouble trying my shoes. After that I knew I had to do something before it got worse. The doctor told me that I had high blood pressure and that turned my life around!

This is great!

This sounds like fun and I'm so happy for you! I recently started going to the gym, but I find that I still binge eat when I come home, because I can "justify" that since I just ran a whole bunch, I can eat whatever I want!

Anyway, I got here searching for Japanese food ideas (I LOVE Japanese food and it is sadly unavailable where I'm from; I've been to Japan twice and I always miss it when I'm home!) and this looks like a great idea. Plus those bento boxes are so cute!!

Thanks for the inspiration!

Re: How bento lunches helped me lose 30+ lbs (so far)

maki wrote:

When I got married to a Swiss guy more than a decade ago, one of his friends in Germany sent him a letter congratulating him for 'catching a beautiful Asian gazelle'. The Swiss guy told me this while rolling on the floor laughing, where I kicked him hard. Ah, the point is not that I'm a spouse abuser, but that I'm nowhere near being gracefully gazelle-like. Going against the stereotype of the skinny Asian chick, I've always been on the round and (I like to think, maybe I'm delusional) cute side rather than sylph like.

This has bothered me of course off and on over the years, but I've never been good at sticking to any kind of diet. I just love to eat tasty food too much, and I also love to cook. This is where bento lunches come in.

Earlier this year I decided that I needed to Do Something about the weight issue. Two key parts of that strategy were eating 3 meals a day, and portion control. I've always been a no-breakfast, anything-for-lunch, and starving-by-dinner eater, which all of the literature I read on the subject told was not good. So, I decided that I needed to start making bento.

According to my height and activity level, 1800 to 2100 calories is optimal for a slow but steady weight loss. So I aimed for making bento lunches that came in at around 600 calories or under. There's an occasional 800 calorie or so splurge, and some lower-calorie mini-bento options for the days 'after'. I based the menus on whole grains, especially brown rice, lots of vegetables, and lean proteins.

But more important than the calorie count is that the bentos focused my attention on variety and portion size. Assembling a meal that will fit tightly and attractively in a small box requires a higher level of attention than laying food out on open plates. It's also rather fun, once you get used to it.

Making bento for lunch is not the only reason I've managed to lose some weight (I hate to say this but exercise really is a key) but it certainly is one of the cornerstones of my success so far, and will continue to be so.

See also: Skinny bento vs. Not-so-skinny bento

(_Update, September 2009_: Due to some crazy stress this year I did gain back some weight, but since July I've been back to bento-ing, and the weight is dropping slowly but steadily again. Go me!)

I just have to say this was really inspiring. I discovered your website a while ago and was using the recipes as a way to fill my Japaneses bento addiction . However since I am overweight (obese to be exact) i want to be able to lose weight to with my bento lunch. However over the many times i tried doing this, i just cant stick with it. I really need some more guidance . sooooo i was wondering if you would help me with it. I just want to know if there is anyway you could help me make some kind of plan to lose a drastic amount of weight.
thanks >__<

Re: How bento lunches helped me lose 30+ lbs (so far)

I LOOOOVE your site ! It's so helpful and great! I can't believe your the first I've seen do this and do a great job of it ! The site is organized and easy to use and when I read this I felt compelled to try a bento diet to :) do you think you could help me ?

Selena

Re: How bento lunches helped me lose 30+ lbs (so far)

Selena wrote:

I LOOOOVE your site ! It's so helpful and great! I can't believe your the first I've seen do this and do a great job of it ! The site is organized and easy to use and when I read this I felt compelled to try a bento diet to :) do you think you could help me ?

Selena

I think following the advice given.... carefully choose the size of your bento box, fill it with lowfat, nutritious goodies, and enjoy is the way to go. Check out the flickr pool for bento boxes and try and copy the ones you like.

In addition, drink lots of water, and schedule in time to exercise as many days of the week as you can. Bento isn't really a diet.

Re: How bento lunches helped me lose 30+ lbs (so far)

I could stand to lose 30 lbs and then some. I will give this a try, I need to do something . Great help thanks

Re: How bento lunches helped me lose 30+ lbs (so far)

When I do my 3 day diet, I always pack all three daytime meals in my Kotobuki Bentos. I use the egg molds and other fun bento accessories to make my lunch fun to look at , because it gets boring week after week eating the same things for 3 days during the week--

I actually created this website http://www.thereal3daydiet.com where I incorporate bento tenets for a diet/lifestyle/eating habit changing method that has helped me lose weight fast after each three of my children. The 1st time I went from 165-125, the 2nd time, I cant remember the weight but went from a Size 14 to Size 8, then got pregnant rather quickly, and this time I lost 30 lbs so far, from 169-139. I created the site just to help people interested in controlling portion size and overall eating less and healthier. I started the diet when my mother got it from a coworker who was going in for heart surgery and their DR gave them a meal plan to lose 10 lbs the 3 days before the surgery. I tell you it is the only diet I have ever done, I innately do not believe in fad diets, but this works!!

I like to incorporate packing and cutting my items in cute shapes. Each meal has 3-4 items, 4 times a day. Each item has about max 120 Calories. You stay around a 1200-1600 cal diet, but its more about these items in the diet that work together. Best part, it's cheap and easy to prepare. Check out my site, not spamming, I don't make money or anything from it, but I just challenge anyone to try it-It works and works FAST!! I always start losing the 10 lbs a week, some comes back, then I plateau and need some sort of other eating habit shock. But this totally helps me maintain. This time I have been doing it 4 months but lost my first 18 lbs in 3 weeks. Another great thing you actually get a lot of food, like she said ,Pack the bento with things that fill you. My fillers have low cals but are super filling(broccoli, carrot, egg white, tuna, ,,,) The portion sizes really help to shrink your stomach-I used to down 5 tacos or 3 burgers now I am full after 1. Love The Real 3 Day Diet using bento techniques to make it SUPER CUTE and FUN TO EAT!!http://www.thereal3daydiet.com

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