Say What? Say “Hara Hachi Bu” Before Dining

I have always been a fast eater, but not nearly as fast as one of my brothers who was known for his voracious appetite. When we were kids my health conscious mother served him last because if she didn’t, he would gobble up his food in a heart beat and then look expectantly and sometimes even threateningly at our plates. Not surprisingly, he was the only one of the six of us who was overweight as a child. Notably, my brother was not a victim of today’s ubiquitous and addictive salt, sugar, fat trifectas. Rather he became heavy by unconsciously overeating healthy food.

Growing up in a large family meant that you had to protect what you had on your plate, be savvy, and sometimes even sneaky to ensure your share. I can still hear echos of my “sleep til noon” sister’s laments, followed by the rest of our knowing snickers, when she arose late to discover empty cereal boxes, still on the counter, or only the least desirable yet still half eaten rolls remaining.

As I fast forward 40 some years I can see that some of my adult eating habits for better and for worse grew out of my childhood eating habits. On the positive side I value healthy slow food over fast food. On the negative side I am still a fast eater and sweets lover. On top of that I’ve adopted the fairly common habit of eating hastily prepared meals while splitting my attention with emails, phone calls, or TV. Perhaps this pattern is familiar to you. We all have our own eating practices. It’s helpful to discern which of yours support living lean. Have you ever eaten a meal while distracted and then can’t believe that all your food is gone? I have and it’s disappointing. Unconscious eating sets in motion either over or under eating, and often poor digestion. Rarely does it end with the body and soul feeling nourished.

I align with the theory that the problem is not that we enjoy food too much but that in our haste we don’t take the time to enjoy it enough. When we fully savor our food we experience pleasure and also recognize satiety. The practice to counter mindless eating is obviously to learn to eat more consciously, and that begins with intending to be more present while eating and then, with some consistency, gently but firmly steering away from the seduction of distractions. Eating more mindfully is initially challenging because it pushes up against life long habits as well as the paradoxical desire to numb out. Why do we want to miss the best stuff? With patience though mindful eating gradually encourages slower eating, greater savoring, better digestion, and an enhanced mind-body connection.

If you’re like me though you may need a friendly reminder to be mindful about eating. Recently I’ve adopted a pre-meal mantra- “Hari Hachi Bu” which is a Confucian saying that translates to “eat until you are 80% full”. This sage motto is a keystone health practice of the people of Okinawa, one of the Blue Zone, or centenarian rich, regions of the world. The benefit of the 80% full rule is that it helps you set the intentions to be more conscious and to eat in moderation.

When given the slow chance, twenty minutes or so, the body reliably provides signals of satiety. Heeding that feedback often results in less overeating and ultimately in lower body weight. It may be helpful to use a 1 – 10 hunger to fullness scale pre and post meals to train yourself to tune into your body’s messages.

When I remember to say “Hari Hachi Bu” to myself or share the saying when dining with others, it helps slow me down, lighten my mood, and connect more easily. I think it helps my fellow diners to lighten up and connect more too!

Hari Hachi Bu is a great example of one of the practical moderation practices that are inherent to Blue Zone cultures. Studying these long- lived cultures gives us clues to the secrets of healthy aging. For more information about the Blue Zones check out Dan Buettner’s website

You may find that living Hari Hachi Bu is an experiment initially.  What I hope for you is that you ultimately experience the pleasure and sensuousness of food while discovering what your 80% is for you.

Stay Lean,


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