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Okinawa, Japan is known for its healthy people. It’s common for Okinawans to live long, disease-free lives… often until they reach age 100 or greater.

Life on this picturesque island is full of outdoor activities, and people operate at a slowed pace. People farm, fish, and enjoy a subtropical climate throughout the year. There’s even great nightlife and entertainment on the island.

But perhaps one of the most unique driving forces of their healthy lifestyle is the practice of something called “Hara Hachi Bu”…

It’s a lesson from the great teacher and ancient philosopher Confucius, and it instructs us to eat only until we are 80% full. But what is the original reason and idea behind this? Why did Confucius think to do it?

Doing so allows people to eat more slowly and allows them to focus on their food. It reduces the number of calories consumed and prevents you from experiencing that uncomfortable full feeling.

It turns out our food takes about 20 minutes to get to our gut. Because of this delay, it’s easy to overeat and then feel over full.

In fact, Americans grossly overeat… Adult men only need about 2,000 to 2,800 calories and women only need 1,600 to 2,200 calories each day to maintain a healthy weight, depending on your level of activity.

But the average American typically eats a whopping 3,600 calories per day. That’s 50% more calories than needed. All of those extra calories convert into fat that doesn’t get burned off and builds up day after day.

Practicing Hara Hachi Bu will still leave you satisfied after eating and will also help you to live a longer and healthier life. I think everyone should give it a try, just for the experience of having fun with your food.

Here are five tips on how to do it…

1. Eat more slowly.

Chewing each bite at least 20 times helps aid in digestion. Chewing is the first step in the digestive process. It’s here that food gets broken into small pieces and covered in a saliva bath. In the mouth, the nutrients in your food begin to be extracted and absorbed by your body. Chewing effectively helps this process along.

Some say that chewing the average-textured bite 32 times is the way to go. So give yourself the time to really break down your food, savor all the richness of flavor, and maximize the nutrient potential in every bite.

Experts also say that chewing your food quickly will cause you to eat more. Further research shows that slow, proper chewing helps with weight control and reduces post-meal snacking.

It also reduces the possibility of you choking or aspirating (choking on liquid) while eating.

Put your fork down after each bite. Check in with yourself throughout the meal. Ask yourself “Am I 80% full? Am I feeling satisfied yet?”. Share bites of your meal with the other people you’re dining with (but don’t share forks!).

2. Focus on your food and have fun.

Taking time to focus on what you’re eating leads to eating mindfully. When we eat mindfully, we begin to notice the point at which we become satisfied. This helps us to avoid overeating.

Try and pinpoint all the ingredient flavors that went into making your dish. Can you taste that lemon or the ginger that you added to your fish?

If someone else cooked for you, ask them to verify your observations. “Honey, is this cardamom… or cinnamon and nutmeg?”

3. Use small plates and utensils.

Eating on smaller plates and using smaller utensils will trick your brain into thinking that you’re still enjoying a large portion. Our eyes are often far bigger than our stomachs, so filling up a smaller plate will help you keep those extra calories in check.

Your stomach is only about the size of your fist. When empty, it reduces to the capacity for just 2.5 ounces of liquid or food. However, it expands to fit about 1 quart of food prepped for breakdown and digestion.

So don’t overdo it! The average serving size is well over 2.5 ounces… makes you wonder why that’s not more in line with the true size of your gut.

4. Start by leaving just one bite behind on your plate.

Then eventually, leave two bites behind. This will help you get into the habit of filling yourself to just 80%.

If you’re eating things in easy numbers (like one egg or three pieces of bacon), consider “one” of that thing to represent a serving size. Then try and keep your servings modest. Make it a habit to leave a little empty space on your plate.

When eating out, control your portions by taking half of your meal and putting it right in a to-go container… Out of sight, out of mind. This can even help you save money by making two or three meals out of one! If you’re still feeling hungry 20 minutes after you finish eating, then have a few more bites.

5. Like the Okinawans who live to 100, fill up on fresh local foods.

Okinawans eat fresh local ingredients and avoid highly processed foods. Many of them even grow their own fruits and vegetables.

If you want an easy way to start growing your own herbs, fruits, and veggies… you might try purchasing an AeroGarden. No green thumb is required, and this fun little contraption will have you enjoying the fruits of your labor in no time.

The AeroGarden is a hydroponic system that uses LED lights on a timer, so there’s no way to fail. It even connects to an app on your phone that tells you when to add more water and plant food.

One of my research assistants got one for Christmas last year and grew her own indoor lettuce for over 6 months! She plans on growing lavender, chamomile, and mint next and setting them to dry to make homemade tea.

Do what I do and try your best. This is something that I struggle with from time to time… especially when it comes to ice cream.

Let us know how you Hara Hachi Bu by sending us a message to [email protected].

What We’re Reading…

Here’s to our health, wealth, and a great retirement,

Dr. David Eifrig and the Health & Wealth Bulletin Research Team
August 17, 2021