Hara Hachi Bu: Promote Longevity
Many Americans seem to have an obsession with losing weight. If only they could slim down to fit into a size 2 or look as good as the models on magazine covers. Some even try crash diets and crazy cleanses in an attempt to reach their peak physique. But what if the secret to looking – and feeling! – good was halfway around the globe in Okinawa, Japan?
Okinawa is one of the world’s blue zone regions, a place where people live exceptionally long and healthy lives. There are more centenarians here than anywhere else in the world. Even by Japan’s standards, Okinawans are something of a phenomenon, with a 40% greater chance of living to 100 than their fellow Japanese.
What’s their secret? Part of it may have something to do with the hara hachi bu me, better known as “Hara Hachi Bu”. Ever heard of it? It might just change your life.
The hara hachi bu “diet” is less an eating plan and more a mindset. The Confucian-inspired adage is a reminder to stop eating when you feel 80% full. Elders have passed down this cultural practice for years to encourage mindful eating and a healthy, conservative lifestyle. It may also play an important part in Okinawans living such long and fulfilling lives.
You can apply hara hachi bu to any meal plan or diet. However, Okinawans who follow the precept generally pair it with Japanese cuisine, which includes plenty of healthy foods.
Today, vegetables account for roughly 60% of their diet, grains make up 33%, and soy foods account for 5%. Seafood, pork, alcohol, tea, and spices make up the last 2-3%. Thus, it’s common to find dishes like sake-seared salmon teriyaki and veggie miso soup on dinner tables throughout the city.
Of course, longevity is the most obvious and perhaps noteworthy advantage of the hara hachi bu. However, its adherents often cite a plethora of other benefits, including fewer cases of chronic illnesses like cancer, diabetes, and heart disease. These health problems are common in countries like the U.S., where obesity rates are much higher.
Okinawans also tend to eat fewer calories because they’re more aware of feelings like hunger and satiety. When they start to feel full, they simply stop eating. Subsequently, many lose weight and find it easier to maintain a healthy body mass index (BMI) on this diet.
Many people struggle with eating disorders and unhealthy relationships with food, whether it be dangerously restricting their diets or overeating out of comfort. Reframing your mindset to focus on satisfying your hunger may help you separate food from feelings of shame.
A few simple changes are all it takes to get started with hara hachi bu. Whether you want to lose weight, live longer, or just enjoy a healthy, happy existence, the secret of eating until you’re 80% full can make it happen (Confucius rules was 70% but the Japanese loosened it up a bit).
Try these tips to be more mindful and intentional about what you eat:
- Eat slowly: If you’re used to scarfing down meals in five to 10 minutes, this tip might take some getting used to. It takes about 20 minutes from the time you start eating to recognize feelings of fullness. Chewing slowly and sipping water between bites can help draw out meals so you acknowledge satiety and leave more food on your plate.
- Focus on food: Most Americans would rather eat dinner in front of a screen than at the kitchen table. Yet, limiting distractions so you can focus on savoring your food is the best way to practice mindfulness and determine your 80% full stopping point.
- Use smaller dishware: Contrary to popular belief, this tip is unlikely to trick you into thinking you’re eating bigger portions. However, smaller dishes do hold less food, so this strategy might help if you’re focusing on eating slowly. By the time you’re done eating, a second helping is bound to look less appealing, so you’ll automatically eat less without even feeling like it.
Learning to eat mindfully with the hara hachi bu may take some time, especially if you tend to eat quickly. Be patient with yourself, especially when you first start, and keep practicing! Eventually, recognizing satiety will become second nature and you’ll stop eating without having to think too much about it. That’s when hara hachi bu becomes more than just a diet – it becomes a healthy lifestyle.