How Ichiju Sansai Helped Me Get Healthy — and Heal My Relationship With Food

Kaki’s Minimalist Japanese Kitchen program teaches the Japanese meal template to getting fit without eliminating anything

Photo by Richard Iwaki on Unsplash

An overview of the course

MJK is organized into 7 modules. As soon as you pay, the whole program is available, so you’re free to do the entire program in one day if you want. (I wouldn’t recommend that, though.)

MJK is different from other diet programs

Although MJK is all about food, it doesn’t feel like a “diet program.” Other methods I’ve tried have felt restrictive or even punitive, and made me feel like I was not good enough. MJK does have guidelines to follow, but the tone of the program is gentle. It’s not about having control over yourself all the time or eliminating foods that it deems “bad.” It’s not about counting calories, working out for 90 minutes per day, or eating bland food because the goal isn’t weight loss. It’s about true nourishment, body and soul.

My experience

I purposely wanted to space out the modules into the intended 7 days, so I did Module 1 on day 1, Module 2 on day 2, but when I got to Module 4 — the actual cooking part — I stalled for 2 weeks. I had chosen what dishes I wanted to cook, and I had even purchased the ingredients, but I was not able to get into the kitchen for some reason.

Photo by author. The tori renkon recipe (I had to substitute jicama for the lotus root since that’s not available in my area) with broccoli and miso soup. For this first meal, I only made one okazu (side dish) instead of two.

The joy I felt from this meal was the joy of deeply nourishing myself.

I’ve always said that food is love, but this is the first time I’ve ever felt that love in a healthy way. I thought indulging in unhealthy foods was loving myself, but it was actually perpetuating a cycle of guilt and shame around food — and not valuing myself.

7 reasons why ichiju sansai is well worth the effort

I found that the investment in planning, cooking, and washing dishes is absolutely worth it. MJK has had lasting benefits that I’m happy to report — and all this without giving up white rice or anything else!

1. My complex relationship with food has simplified.

MJK catalyzed major shifts in my relationship with food. I had classified some foods as “naughty” and others as “good,” then I would feel guilty for not eating enough good foods and feel like I should be punished for eating too many naughty foods. But now I don’t really worry about what I’m “supposed” to eat because eating a balanced variety of foods as taught in MJK is what makes me feel at my best.

2. I eat more fruits and vegetables.

Since this has been my goal for many years without success, I’m thrilled to report that I actually eat more vegetables. Before MJK, I ate vegetables 2 to 3 times per month on average (sad, right?!) and fruits even less, but after MJK, I eat vegetables with at least 1 meal per day plus fruit as snacks.

3. I snack less, but if I do snack, I snack better.

After the pantry cleaning exercise, I buy fewer foods that live in the pantry. I only buy the foods I know we will actually eat rather than impulsively buying random packages and letting them sit in the cabinet to get stale or spoil.

4. Indulgent food is not as fun.

Whenever I cooked an ichiju sansai meal, I found that joy was a consistent component, and when I indulged in the junk food that I used to enjoy so much, I discovered a stark contrast in the way I felt afterwards. I realized that nachos may be fine once in a while, but much like with shopping, indulgence isn’t the same as joy or happiness.

5. I lost weight and feel invigorated.

Along with feeling more energetic and chipper overall, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my clothes fit more comfortably without changing anything else about my lifestyle. Although I didn’t think to take my measurements before starting the program, I can zip up jeans now that I couldn’t 2 months ago.

6. My husband and I cook together.

I’d forgotten about it, but I wrote in Assignment 1 that I wanted to have more balance in cooking duties with my husband, so I’m happy to report that this unexpectedly happened!

7. It created a positive feedback loop.

The loop looks like this: (1) I eat nutritious meals with ichiju sansai and snack on fruits, then (2) I experience all the wonderful benefits listed above, which (3) makes me want to continue cooking with ichiju sansai.

3 tips before you enroll

If you’re interested in trying ichiju sansai or MJK, here are some things to keep in mind about ichiju sansai in general and the program.

Adjust the recipes for your own needs

Kaki includes enough recipes that you feel like you have options but not so many that it’s overwhelming. The recipes aren’t generally difficult in terms of technical skill, but the meal looks fancy because of the great variety. And once you make the food, you can eat leftovers for a few days so you don’t have to cook every day.

Be willing to invest extra effort for sustainable changes

Ichiju sansai is about making sustainable, lasting changes for your health. In other words, ichiju sansai and MJK are not a quick fix or crash diet, so be prepared to invest some time and energy, and maybe some money depending on what tools you already have. I used to only cook a protein and one other dish, most often a carbohydrate of some sort, so for me, ichiju sansai took a little more planning with the addition of a soup and 1 or 2 vegetable dishes for each meal.

Be prepared to use — and wash — more dishes

I choose to serve my ichiju sansai meals in different bowls because I enjoy the aesthetic, and having many different dishes emphasizes the variety. The smaller dishes also help with portion control; because they are full, it seems like you’re getting a lot! I know it’s a visual trick, but it works in certain circumstances, and the smaller portions help stretch the meals out more.

Minor quibbles

I only have a few small notes about the program:

  1. I edit writing for work, so I spotted a few typos and other minor issues with consistency in the presentations. The errors aren’t so frequent that they’re distracting; it’s just something that I notice because of the work that I do and because I’m a writer.
  2. Some of the info overlapped with public blogs. For a paid program, I expected entirely exclusive content.

Closing thoughts

I’ve been pleasantly surprised by MJK’s effect on how I see and experience food. MJK helped me heal and unlearn some well-meaning but misguided ideas about what and how I need to eat to feel good and be healthy. Rather than thinking of food as a tool to force my body into a certain size and shape, I now see it as a way to deeply love and nourish myself.

Subscribe Expert in my lived experience. Truth teller. Evidence-based writer. Self-changer. Lifelong learner. Employee at femtech start

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