Thursday, September 6, 2012

Do you Hara Hachi Bu? Understanding the art of eating until 80% full

Hara hachi bu is a practice culturally associated with the people inhabiting a small group of islands south of the main islands of Japan called Okinawa. Hara hachi bu is a simple rule used by Okinawans whereby they eat until they fill about 80% of their stomach’s capacity. The literal meaning of hara hachi bu is approximately “stomach full to eights parts of ten”.

The idea itself sounds pretty basic, but likely not as simple as it sounds to incorporate regularly – but it may be aided with an explanation.

You may be familiar with that feeling after a delicious monster holiday feast (say at Thanksgiving or Christmas as an example) where you think to yourself, “Yep, still got room for just one more slice of pumpkin pie.” So you pile it in, maybe have an extra one or two for good measure on top of that, and feel nice and pleasantly full and content.

…Fast-forward to an hour or so later and you are so incredibly stuffed full, you feel like you are ten months pregnant, and ready to burst at the seams! So what the heck is up with that?

Your stomach has stretch receptors, which trigger hormones that indicate your level of satiety. The catch to this is that there is a delay of about 20 minutes before you actually experience this sensation. Starting to make sense?

So, basically, you already WERE that full when you took that extra helping or two, and that put you even past that point, but you just were not capable of feeling the sensation of complete beyond-over-stuffed-ness until your body processed it 20 minutes later!

Use this concept in mind in order to stick to Hara hachi bu. If you eat every meal until you are just 80% full, your stomach will be perfectly full (ie. not overstuffed) shortly thereafter. Try it out for a few days, and you will get the hang of it. Your health and longevity will thank you for it.

Okinawans are one of the only societies who incorporate a type of calorie-restriction as part of their ingrained culture. Could this be the secret to their long lives? I’m sure it plays an important role**.

Keep in mind that Okinawans still have the highest per capita of centenarians (people who live until 100 or older) in the world. Hard to believe, but almost a THIRD of their population lives until one hundred years of age. How many 100 year olds do you know where you live?

Some people tell me that they don’t want to live too long because they will be old, frail and miserable. This is all a matter of perspective because 80 year olds are generally much more spry and energetic in Japan, and are not perceived as being “really old” as they are in North America. If you believe it, you will be it. Start re-framing how you view aging.

Do you hara hachi bu? If not, now you can.

As they say in Japan…Ganbatte!! (“Be strong & good luck with this endeavour!!”)

** NB: Keep in mind that Okinawans also eat a diet chock full of fish, vegetables, seasonal fruit, whole grains, seaweed, fermented foods (like miso & natto, both made from fermented soybeans) and have a regular intake of quality green tea (ie. not from Tim Horton’s). Also, very importantly, Okinawans live with a feeling of ikigai, which translates to something like “having a purpose” rather than focusing on an end goal of retiring and relaxing at a certain age. The feeling of ikigai is incorporated into even seemingly mundane daily activities, but they are regarded in the big picture as having a larger more meaningful purpose.

All I’m trying to say here is that it takes more than just hara hachi bu to get you to live to a hundred. You can eat Kraft Dinner for every meal until you are 80% full, but this likely won’t extend your life. :)

Makoto Trotter

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