Lots of people resolve to lose weight throughout a given year, and they try all sorts of diet to do so. I’m not going to debate the merits of losing weight here, but if that’s your thing, I have a very practical suggestion to help. It is a lifestyle called hara hachi bu, from the Japanese island of Okinawa, home of the largest populations of people aged over 100 (centenarians).
What is hara hachi bu?
Literally, hara hachi bu means “eat until 80% full”. The name is misleading because that’s when you stop eating, not how you go around feeling all day! I call hara hachi bu a lifestyle rather than a diet because it’s how you live all the time, not how you force yourself to eat less some of the time.
Why is hara hachi bu effective?
It is effective because your stomach takes 20 minutes to tell you that you are full. That is, by the time you feel full, it’s been 20 minutes too late so you have overeaten. Stopping at feeling 80% full will get you to eat what you need to eat to be full so you don’t deprive yourself of calories you need to function, but prevent you from overeating. You will feel full soon enough doing hara hachi bu, just not at the time you stop eating when you will only feel 80% full.
How am I supposed to know when I’m 80% full?
There’s no way to tell you what 80% full feels like so you would know when to stop. Yet, therein actually lies the secret to making this lifestyle practical! You know what you generally eat. The next time you eat something you’ve eaten before, and chances are that is quite often, eat about 4 fifths (80%) of what you normally would. So maybe 4 fifths of a plate or a bowl, or a plate and half instead of two plates (75% but close enough to a plate and 60% of another plate).
Eating about 3 quarters (75%) or 5 sixths (83%) would also work if you do each some of the time as it averages out close to 80%. It’s not always easy to divide out something by fifths. Sometimes, it’s easier to divide it by four or six. For example, for a fast food meal, eat everything except half of either your burger, fries or drink (2 and a half parts of 3 is equal to 5 parts of 6 or 83%). Or if you only had a burger and fries, skip half the burger or fries (eat 3 parts of 4 or 75%).
When it’s with food where you can’t control the portions, like a fast food meal rather than getting soup at home where you can get exactly what you want, throw out the extra or save it for later. I hate to suggest wasting food when a lot of the world is starving, but if it’s better you don’t eat it, then don’t. You only get ill on it and add to the world’s problems, not help resolve some of it!
Of course, for anything you make at home that you’ve made before, you can either adjust the portions accordingly in making it, or eat accordingly, though I don’t suggest you waste the leftovers. Just save it for the next meal or another meal soon. In making food, you might not want to trim everything to 80% of what you used to use, or are suggested to use by a recipe. But certainly trim the main bases and staples like rice, pasta, bread, meats, etc. It might be harder in baking where proportions and amounts are so critical, but in those cases, make it, then eat 80% of what you would normally and save the rest for later.
If you’re not sure how much you had eaten of something, err on the side of caution to eat less. If you don’t, or don’t want to, and ate till you were stuffed, remember how much that was and eat about 80% next time. It’s OK to go over some time, but try to minimize that.
Can I eat anything in hara hachi bu?
No. Of course, not. Bad food will be bad in any lifestyle or diet you undertake. The true hara hachi bu “menu” calls for emphasis on vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes (soy foods) and fish with limited amounts of lean meats servings. You should try to maximize the food you consume in these food groups. However, if you can’t and that’s going to ruin your ability to keep this lifestyle, just eat 80% of what you’re normally eating. That’s a practical, but huge, step in the right direction. Even if you ate McDonald’s all the time, eating 80% of the McDonald’s you’ve been eating will still do wonders for your health! That’s why I think hara hachi bu is so practical. You can adapt it right into your current way of life.
What else can I do to succeed with hara hachi bu?
Successfully changing is a matter of making the change into a habit. Making a habit out of change is best done when the change is small and manageable. That is, take it one step at a time. So if you have to, do hara hachi bu for one meal a day until you can do two every second or third day. Then two every day. Then progress similarly to three (if you eat more than three meals a day), or all meals a day. Or maybe do it for every meal except 7 a week, with freedom to choose where to take the 7 so it doesn’t have to be one a day. Set your deadlines when you will progress to each new level, though. Don’t just say you’ll do it, cause human nature says you more likely won’t.
Then there is the psychology of eating. It’s often things around us that influences us to eat more. Lots of studies have been done on these tips, but try some of these where and when you can to help you eat less without knowing:
- Eat with smaller plates, bowls and spoons, or use salad plates instead of dinner plates.
- Make the path to get more food a bit longer or more convoluted than now.
- Don’t go down the junk food aisles, or don’t buy junk food if it’s mixed in with other stuff.
- Don’t allow junk food in your house or apartment.
- Don’t remove bones from sight if you eat things with bones, like chicken wings.
- Eat with fewer people when you can
(yes, it’s true we eat more in the company of more people, but don’t ruin your social life over it).
Are there other benefits to hara hachi bu?
Besides what should roughly be 80% less in food bills, and all the benefits that come with weight loss like self-esteem, fitting into old clothing that was smaller, etc. there is also a brain benefit. Overeating actually ages the brain faster. Hara hachi bu slows that down, improving memory and learning capacity in the process and deterring Alzheimer’s to some extent. How this works has to do with the Creb 1 protein, which’s activity is increased when you are not overeating, which, in turns, improves your memory and learning capacity (Independent, Dec 20 2011).
Now, to be honest, it isn’t purely this lifestyle that gives Okinawans their relatively large population of centenarians. Genetics built up over the years, quite likely influenced by this lifestyle, and possibly a less risky lifestyle compared to those in other cultures, probably also contribute to that population. You won’t get the first benefit if you aren’t from there. You may have better or worse odds on the second factor pending your lifestyle to this point and onward. However, this lifestyle in a given individual’s life still helps. Besides, the more immediate benefits of weight loss, self-esteem, smaller food budgets, etc. are probably a lot more appealing to most people.
Let me and others know how you fare with this and if you have additional tips!