Japan's Banana Diet Strips Store Shelves

Fumiko Satake, a 29-year-old Tokyo wife, picked up one bunch of green bananas at a supermarket in downtown Tokyo -- not because she preferred unripe bananas, but because that was all she could get her hands on.

"I came to the store early today so that I could get bananas," Satake sighed. "And there are hardly any here. It has been this way for the past few months."

The banana has long been a fruit of choice for many Japanese. In 2007, the Japanese consumed 970,000 tons of bananas. But a new diet has swept across the nation and become the culprit for the sudden spike in banana consumption, and a shortage at grocery stores.

"My husband has lost about six pounds since he started the morning banana diet a few months ago," Satake said. "I am not sure how much the fruit did for me, but my husband has been following this diet and he needs his bananas."

The morning banana diet debuted on a few TV shows over the past six months. During one program that aired in September, a Japanese singer said she lost roughly 15 pounds in one and a half months on the banana diet.

The basic instructions are simple. Eat as many bananas as you want in the morning with room-temperature water. Enjoy a regular lunch and dinner (but finish dinner before 8 p.m.) and try to go to bed before midnight. You could snack in between meals (not right after each meal) and even have alcohol -- as long as it's in moderation.

"I never imagined my posting on the Internet could change so many peoples' lives," said Hitoshi Watanabe, a 31-year-old former employee at a printing company in Tokyo.

Watanabe managed to lose 38 pounds by using the diet regimen that his wife, Sumiko designed for him.

"I started to gain weight as I started to work full time after college," Watanabe said. "I guess a combination of overtime, late dinner, lack of exercise and stress all contributed to my weight gain."

Watanabe tried to exercise and lost a few pounds, but then hit a plateau.

"I did not know what else to do," he said.

A Diet Easy to Live With

Sumiko, a 31-year-old pharmacist, studied preventive medicine and came up with the method for her then-boyfriend.

"I just wanted something that would not torture me," said Watanabe. "Bananas are rich in vitamins and minerals, but low in calories. They also contain properties which fight the build-up of acids. They are readily available and reasonably priced. And you do not need any utensils to eat them. It is just so easy and I thought I could give it a try."

Watanabe lost four pounds in the first month and kept losing similar amounts each month until he lost a total of 38 pounds in less than one year.

"I did not know losing weight could be this easy," Watanabe said. "So, I just wanted to share this with other people."

That was when he put the banana diet information on mixi, the largest social networking service in Japan, where registered users can access information both from computers and cell phones. "I did not know so many people would show an interest. The response was just overwhelming."

Watanabe certainly did not mean to create a banana shortage all over Japan, but that is exactly what the nation experienced.

Akihiro Takenaka, a produce manager of a Tokyo supermarket, Ozeki, said the demands for bananas are still high and the supply simply cannot catch up.

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