October 03, 2022
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Try this method to tame overeating
Hara Hachi Bu is a Japanese term meaning “Eat until you’re 80% full”. It originated in the city of Okinawa, one of the world’s blue zones regions, or exceptional hot spots where people live extraordinarily long and healthy lives. People there use this advice as a way to control their eating habits. Interestingly, they have one of the lowest rates of illness from heart disease, cancer, and stroke, and a fairly long life expectancy.
Hara Hachi Bu: Stop eating when you’re 80% full
Psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD, says this approach is helpful because it instructs you to stop eating when you feel only slightly full.
If you’ve ever been lucky enough to eat with an Okinawan elder, you’ve invariably heard them intone this Confucian-inspired adage before beginning the meal: Hara Hachi Bu – a reminder to stop eating when their stomachs are 80 percent full. This cultural practice of calorie restriction and mindful eating is part of the reason that Okinawa has a higher percentage of centenarians than anywhere else in the world.
The average daily intake of an Okinawan is only about 1,900 calories. According to the Mayo Clinic Calorie Calculator, an average-sized 40-year-old woman only needs 1,500 to 1,700 calories per day to maintain a healthy body weight, unless she participates in physical exercise most days of the week. For men, 1,900 to 2,150 calories are needed to maintain an average-sized frame.
“This is good advice for overeaters who are learning how to fill their stomachs only just enough,” Dr. Albers says. “Aiming for 80% full will likely help you get a good gauge on this.”
How Hara Hachi Bu works
When you look at your plate, decide how much might make you feel full, and then estimate what 80% of that amount would look like. Perhaps it’s two-thirds of the food on your plate. Aim to feel satisfied and not hungry anymore, rather than full. There is a significant calorie gap between ‘I’m full’ and ‘I’m no longer hungry.’
Speed also contributes to mindless overeating. Your stomach takes 20 minutes to digest your food. By that time, you’ve already left the table.
“Slow down while eating, and give your body time to register how much you’ve eaten,” Dr. Albers suggests. “If you eat quickly and stop at what you think is 80% full, you may actually be 100% full and not know it since your body hasn’t caught up yet with your mind.”
The 80% approach is also an important skill for undereaters, who may tend to feel too full or bloated when they eat a large meal. Feeling too full is a significant trigger of discomfort, negative feelings and the urge to purge.
“If you struggle with undereating, try eating smaller portions more often to help you cope with this feeling,” Dr. Albers says. “Aiming for 80% full should avoid triggering the ‘too full’ sensation.”
How to put Hara Hachi Bu into practice
Simple changes in everyday eating habits can help put the secret of Hara Hachi Bu into practice for improved health or for weight loss. Anyone can make changes to their eating patterns or environment, enjoy food, and learn to eat only until they are 80 percent full. Get started with these easy tips.
Eating faster results in eating more. Slow down to allow your body to respond to cues, which tell us we are no longer hungry.
Turn off the TV and the computer. If you’re going to eat, just eat. You’ll eat more slowly, consume less and savor the food more.
Choose to eat on smaller plates and use tall, narrow glasses. You’re likely to eat significantly less without even thinking about it.
Dr. Albers says it’s time to get out of the all-or-nothing mentality with portions.
“It’s hard to leave behind food that’s already on your plate, even when you know it might be more than you’re hungry for,” she says.
If you frequently find yourself mindlessly eating portions that are too big, start by just leaving one bite behind on your plate! Dr. Albers says then, once you have really got the hang of it, try leaving two bites.
“But don’t do this until you get comfortable with leaving behind one bite,” she cautions. “It’s easier to scale back in baby steps to a portion that meets your hunger than it is to begin by cutting portions in half. Pay attention to your thoughts and your body’s response to this approach.”
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