Hara hachi bu
Updated: Mar 31
Don't ask me how to pronounce it, but hara hachi bu is a Japanese term that roughly translates to eat until you are 80% full. The Okinawan, one of the "blue-zone" cultures known for longevity, practice this on a regular basis. Many studies have shown that reduced calorie intake and longevity are tightly correlated, or put another way, if you want to live longer, eat less.
Fasting is something that was regularly practiced in many ancient cultures and is still a part of some religions. Our hunter gatherer ancestors would likely have had fasting periods, when food was scarce, they were unsuccessful in the days hunt, there was drought, heat waves, etc. Fortunately, we don't experience these types of hardships any more. Food is never more than a few feet or a couple blocks away, and unfortunately, this can be a problem.
The constant availability of food makes it easy to over consume and or consume when we aren't really hungry.
In the book, Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer from the People Who've Lived the Longest, Brian Wansink says,
"There is a significant calorie gap between when an American says, "I'm full" and an Okinawan says, "I'm no longer hungry." We gain weight insidiously, not stuffing ourselves, but eating a little bit too much each day - mindlessly."
Eating to 80% full is a simple way of reducing calorie intake without fasting or feeling deprived. The practice is pretty straightforward - instead of eating to full, eat to almost full. Pause a couple times throughout your meal and check-in on your fullness level. When you feel satisfied and almost full, stop. That's it. Don't get too caught up in the details, there's no magic formula and it will be different for everyone.
Tips for eating to 80% full:
Eat slowly. Eating faster results in eating more. Slow down and allow your body to respond to cues, which tell us we are no longer hungry.
Focus on the food, eat mindfully. Turn off the TV, put down your phone, don't sit at your computer. We are more likely to eat to full, or beyond full, when distracted by something else. How many times have you sat in front of the TV with a snack - a bowl of popcorn, a bag of chips, or a handful of cookies and suddenly realized you'd eaten the whole thing and had very little memory of doing so?
Use smaller dishes. Serving yourself less food is easier when you eat on smaller plates and use tall, narrow glasses. You'll eat less without even noticing or thinking about it.
Don't clean your plate. Despite what your mother may have drilled into you when you were a child, don't feel compelled to eat everything, unless of course we're talking about vegetables… but we'll save that discussion for another time. :) Pay special attention when dining out as restaurant meals are often 1.5 to 2 times larger than what you may eat at home.
Don't wait till you are starving before eating. If you sit down to a meal and are really hungry, the chances of overeating are greater. Because you are so hungry, you're likely to eat faster, which means you'll fill up before your body can communicate with your mind to tell you that you're full and to stop.
A bonus: if you are prone to digestive issues - gas, reflux, heartburn, bloating, etc. you may find that your symptoms naturally reduce by eating just a bit less.
The beauty of this lifestyle habit is that you can practice it anytime, anywhere, with any food. You can do this just as easily when enjoying your favorite indulgence as when eating a balanced meal.
How would it feel to leave the table feeling "just right"? Not too full and not still hungry? How might you approach your indulgences differently with this mindset?