Huffpost Healthy Living
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Irene Rubaum-Keller Headshot

Hara Hachi Bu: Eat Until You Are 80% Full

Posted: Updated:

My husband is one of those naturally thin people. He has been thin his entire life and has never had a problem with food. As someone who has been up and down the scales and until 20 years ago when I lost 50 pounds and learned how to keep it off, flirted with various forms of binging and purging, it has been a fascinating learning experience to watch what this "naturally thin" creature does around food.

Early in our life together, we were at the dinner table and I noticed that he was just sitting there thinking. There was still food on his plate but he had put his fork down and it looked like he was pondering something important. I said,

"What are you doing?"

He said, "I'm thinking about how I will feel if I take one more bite. I think I've had enough but I'm just checking in to make sure."

It was then that I knew for sure that he was from an entirely different planet than me. On my planet, you ate until there was no more food on your plate. I was taught to clean my plate as a child. The reward for doing so was dessert. The amount on my plate was often determined by someone other than me. This style of eating had absolutely nothing to do with what my body needed, how full I was, or how I'd feel if I took one more bite. I never learned to listen to my body when it came to food.

The Japanese practice something that makes such sense that I can't believe we don't start teaching this to our kids. It's called "hara hachi bu". It means, eat until you are 80 percent full. You have probably heard about the Okinawan people and how they often live to 100. They are the longest lived, healthiest people on the planet and they practice hara hachi bu. Of course it helps to eat healthy food as well, but simply learning to eat until you are 80 percent full would do wonders for us Americans.

Most of us have no idea what 80 percent full feels like. We do know that if we eat until we are full, in 20 minutes we are likely to feel too full, as it takes about that long for the stomach to communicate with the brain just how full it is. But how do you tell when you are "80 percent full"? Here is what registered dietician, Susan Dopart, has to say on the subject:

It takes sometimes 15-20 meals to reset the muscle memory of the stomach to get used to less food and people need to trust that will happen. Most are used to eating until full, which is past satiation and which keeps weight on.

Susan suggests eating just half of what you normally eat and then checking in to see how you feel. According to Ms. Dopart, once we begin to feel any stomach pressure we are at the "80 percent full" stage. She also tells her clients to eat until they are no longer hungry, instead of eating until they are full.

Many of my clients say their hunger/satiety mechanism is broken. I understand this, as mine was as well. If you override your body's natural inclination to stop eating when it has had enough, over and over again, I think that natural signal can go into a coma. According to Susan, however, it can wake back up after about 20 meals. I can tell you that after years of maintaining a fifty pound weight loss, mine is working again. However, the challenge now is to listen to it and honor it.

That's it for now. Good luck and let me know how you're doing.

From Our Partners