When it comes to eating well it may be the Okinawans we should be emulating. Renowned for their long lifespans, the health success of these Japanese islanders comes in part from a practice they call hara hachi bu – eating only until you are 80 percent full.
What does hara hachi bu feel like?
In her cookbook The Most Effective Ways to Live Longer (co-authored with nutritionist Jonny Bowden) wholefoods cook Jeannette Bessinger describes hara hachi bu as eating until “the gnawing edge of hunger goes away, but not until our stomachs are actually filled”. She points out that a normal, healthy stomach is about the size of two closed fists put together. So 80 percent of that is probably not as much as you’d think.
How to hara hachi bu like an expert?
For Dr Joanna McMillan, nutritionist and accredited practising dietitian, hara hachi bu is a useful principle. To do it, she’s learned to tune in to hunger cues. “We are so exposed to the external cues to eat, rather than the internal cues. We eat out a lot, and serving sizes are put out for us. If you’re eating at home how do you decide how much cheese or ham to put on your sandwich? We’re not taught that.”
Once she listens to her body, McMillan decides if she’s hungry or simply something else bored, anxious or even tired. “We often swallow our emotions in food,” she observes. She’s even taught her kids to think 80 percent. When they say, ‘I’m hungry’, McMillan applies the hara hachi bu principle. “I now ask, ‘Are you hungry above the neck or below the neck?’ she says. “I want them to start to listen to their body’s hunger cues.”
When it is time to eat, McMillan ensures she maximises her chances of staying tuned in to her 80 percent limit by paying attention to eating slowly and to the type of food she eats, as high-GI foods don’t send our bodies the correct cues about fullness. “When you eat quickly you don’t give time for the signals released in your gut to go to your brain to tell it to slow down,” she says. She’s also a fan of downsizing plates and bowls. You can always go back for more if you don’t hit 80 percent fullness,” reminds McMillan.