If you’ve never heard of the principle of hara hachi bu, it’s time I introduced you. This concept is your secret to weight management & living longer, and it’s actually quite simple.
Hara hachi bu is the simple but powerful Okinawan cultural habit of calorie control, and here’s what it translates to: eat only until you are 80% full. Sounds simple, yes? But do you regularly practice this concept?
According to the website bluezones.com, Okinawa, Japan is one of the world’s Blue Zones regions, or exceptional hot spots where people live extraordinarily long and healthy lives. Okinawans over the age of 65 hold the world’s highest life expectancy, with men there expected to live to about 84, and women expected to live to almost age 90. According to bluezones.com, the Okinawans have much lower rates of diseases that kill Americans, such as cardiovascular disease, breast and prostate cancer and dementia.
Back to hara hachi bu. This principle is actually a centuries old, Confucian-inspired adage, and one that Okinawans begin every meal with as a reminder to stop eating when their stomachs are 80% full. It’s a cultural practice of self-imposed calorie restriction and mindful eating that they use to maintain weight and increase their longevity, or lifespan.
Does the fact that the Okinawans eat fewer calories than Americans do, have to do with them following the hara hachi bu concept? It seems so.
So why is hara hachi bu not being practiced in the US? Our culture certainly doesn’t encourage it. Our portions are oversized, our plates are too large and there are buffets on every corner. Our culture also perpetuates more of what we call mindless eating: we eat in front of the television, the computer or the phone. Everything is done quickly in the US, including eating. We aren’t allowing our bodies time to register what we are eating and how much, therefore we couldn’t possibly be able to identify when we are just full, but not too much.
Additionally, many of us turn to overeating as a way to feel comforted when we are stressed from daily life. Too much food, too much booze is how so many of us try to cope. Hint: it’s not helping us to cope; that’s what meditation is for.
So the concept of hara hachi bu simply means we bring more mindfulness into our eating. Instead of grabbing a burger on the go, we wait until we can take a few moments to sit, with a plate and napkin, and we disconnect from the rest of the world long enough to properly eat our meal in a way that allows us to connect with our body. We slow down and enjoy the meal, enjoy the things going on around us, enjoy the scenery. And we pay attention to when our body starts to feel full. 80% full, to be exact.
Here’s how I suggest putting hara hachi bu into practice:
Eat on smaller plates.
Instead of the super sized plates that are so popular in the US, choose a salad plate to eat from. If you’re eating in a restaurant, chances are the portion is enough for two, if not three meals. Immediately half the portion of food on your plate, push it over to the side or ask the server to box it up for you right away. Take it home and save it for another meal.
Start with a green salad.
Fill up some of the space in your stomach first with a green salad dressed with lemon juice or a simple vinaigrette. Raw greens and veggies are water- and nutrient-dense, and will help you feel fullness more quickly. This is my top trick when dining out at a restaurant.
Eat more slowly.
It takes about 20 minutes for your body to start to register fullness and satiety. If you normally eat your meal in less than 10 minutes, you aren’t allowing yourself time to feel full. Slow down, and pay more attention to your body’s cues. You’ll learn more about your body and the way it works. Become more aware of and in tune with your body’s own hunger and satiety cues.
Put away all distractions.
It seems crazy I know, but put your phone down while you’re eating. Focus on your food, the way it looks and the way it smells, the spices and seasonings you pick up in the flavors. Focus on your surroundings. If you’re at a restaurant, watch the servers and the people. If you’re at home with family or friends, focus on conversation. Focus on your body, your chewing, your stomach and how full and satisfied it feels. Focus on relaxing your shoulders, sitting up tall with your spine erect and your core muscles engaged to hold it up. The key point here: focus. Zoning out on your phone or your computer is a way for you to distract yourself, which leads to mindless eating. We want to create more mindfulness in our bodies and as we eat. No more zoning out.
Stop eating when you are 80% full.
Ancient wisdom in Japan dictates that one should never eat to fill one’s belly 100%. Overeating is actually very unhealthy for our digestive system, and drains our energy levels as the body has to work harder to digest the food. Overeating within a couple of hours of bedtime also results in a poor night’s sleep, and regularly overeating ages you faster.
I suggest silently saying the phrase to yourself when you sit down to eat, “Hara hachi bu.” This will serve as a reminder for you to pay close attention to your body as you eat slowly, to pay attention to the signals your body will give you when it’s approaching satiety and fullness. Then, when you start to feel like you’re at that 80% full point, say it out loud to yourself or to the person/s you’re dining with, “I’m finished.” Stating it out loud is powerful.