Hara hachi bu: Less is more

This post is the first in a series of two.

Hara hachi bu is a Japanese expression and a traditional custom from the Islands of Okinawa, Japan. It means to eat until 80% full. Saying hara hachi bu before a meal, is a healthy reminder to stop eating just before you feel completely full.

Hara hachi bu is smart eating. It takes about 20 minutes for our stomach’s stretch receptors to signal our brain that it is full. Our bodies are equipped with their own metabolism. It is up to us to listen to our bodies, eat slowly and stop eating when we feel full, but not too full.

When your stomach has extra space to digest a meal, it performs better. It can churn, turn and break down foods more efficiently. However, a stomach that is repeatedly stretched after eating gets bigger and requires more food to reach a level of fullness. Eating this way can turn digestion into a health problem.

When you practice hara hachi bu, your stomach isn’t stuffed; it won’t stretch beyond its normal size and digestion will be easier. Eating up to 80% capacity helps avoid obesity, acid reflux and metabolic disorders. Okinawans have the lowest levels of free radicals in their blood because they practice hara hachi bu and require less calories to feel satiated. Low levels of free radicals in your system lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer and other age-related diseases.

Here are five reminders:

  • Twenty minutes or so after you begin eating, notice how full you are.
  • Stop eating when you are on the edge of feeling full.
  • Give your body that window of time to figure out what it needs because it can still send hunger signals even if you have eaten plenty.
  • Most people feel fully satiated 15-20 minutes after they stop eating.
  • When you are 80% full you are actually 100% full and your stomach can’t stretch beyond its normal size.

Hara hachi bu is a simple practice that can take you a long way on your journey to health. Natives of the Okinawa Japanese Islands are renowned for their simple and healthy lifestyle. Integrating some of their ancient customs can help us add years to our lives and lives to our years. In the second part of this series, I will discuss the health benefits of the traditional Okinawan’s ways of life. Meanwhile, keep fit, eat well and hara hachi bu!

Photo courtesy of: Yuichi Sakuraba
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Julie Zimmer

Julie has extensive experience in nursing practice and education in a wide range of fields from intensive/coronary care, to medical-surgical to community and public health. Julie has Bachelor Degrees in Psychology and Nursing, and a Master’s Degree in Community Health Nursing Education. She has taught in faculties of nursing and in various communities in Toronto, Canada and in Geneva, Switzerland, and is a consultant to the International Council of Nurses (ICN). Julie also has years of experience teaching English as a foreign language (EFL) in addition to coordinating an English department in a Swiss private school.

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