Hara Hachi Bu (Secret to Japanese Health)
Do you know what it feels like to be 80% full? What about trying to stop eating at 80%?
For a lot of people, this concept, known as hara hachi bu, is completely new. In fact, many of us grew up in households where we were encouraged, or even forced, to stay at the table until we cleaned our plates at dinner.
But really, this practice might just be the secret “hack” to losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight… forever! It’s a handy little trick that has the power to change your relationship with food and your struggle with weight forever.
What is the 80% Rule?
Most of us grow up and live with an abundance of food. We get used to eating big portions, eating often, and eating fast. There’s no wonder we have such high rates of obesity, why people constantly struggling with yo-yo dieting, and why so many just can’t keep the weight off for good.
Hara hachi bu is a Japanese practice that literally means to eat until you’re only 80% full.
This is a pretty common Japanese practice that is still used by Okinawan communities. And think about it: the Japanese are some of the healthiest people in the world with the highest number of people in their 100s. Not only that, the Japanese are also known to eat a few hundred calories less each day than the average recommended amount, plus they have lower average BMI scores than healthy Americans.
Yes, they also eat a healthy high plant-food diet, but there’s something else at play here: not eating until 100% fullness. It works, and it can work for you too.
WHY It Works
How many times do you actually stop in the middle of a meal to think about if you’re still hungry? For most people, that number would be zero times. But to reach a healthy weight, this is something we should all be doing at every meal.
It takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to send signals to the brain that it’s full. But most people eat too fast for this to have time to even register. By the time they do feel full and stop eating, they’ve actually eaten past their natural satiety already. The brain just hasn’t caught up in time. So by the time you stop eating when you’re at 80% full, you’re usually actually already full. But if you stop eating when you feel 80% full, you’ll be avoiding that overly full feeling while also slashing the amount of calories in a healthy, natural way.
How to Tell When You’re 80% Full
Don’t worry—you really don’t need to get bogged down by numbers here. Basically, “80%” just means eating a little bit shy of being completely full. If you eat slowly and mindfully, putting down your utensils between each bite, and stop eating before you feel completely full, that will probably do the trick. Guesstimate the 80% feeling the best you can.
What it really comes down to is learning to listen to your body.
This is also not just about counting calories. It’s about naturally reducing your caloric intake and portion sizes by purely learning to be in tune with your fullness level.
That’s where the second pillar of this 80% practice comes into play: eating slowly. How do you learn what 80% full means and feels like for you? By practicing slow, mindful eating.
When you slo-o-o-w down each time you eating anything—whether it’s a snack, full meal, or dessert, you’re able to stay more in tune with your food and how it affects you. You’ll notice exactly how much you’re eating and learn what your level of satiety is. It will also become easier to recognize when your body is sending signals that it’s beginning to get full. So practice stopping when you feel almost completely full and you’ll be golden.
With this technique in mind and a little practice over time, eating to 80% full becomes a piece of cake (pun intended).
Now, let’s talk the specifics of slow eating. Use these steps as a guide:
Slow Eating Tips
- When you pick up your food (either by hand or utensil), before taking a bite, stop for a moment. Take time to notice the food’s colors, textures, and smells. Really get a good view of what you’re about to eat. Engage your senses.
- Now, take a bite and start chewing—slowly. Notice how the food feels in your mouth as you chew. What specific tastes do you notice? What is so good about the food? Is it sweet? Sour? Savory? Spicy? Be present with it.
- After you swallow that bite, pause. Take a deep, relaxed breath. Check in with yourself and acknowledge how you feel. How does your stomach feel?
- If you decide you’re ready to eat another bite, do it.
- Repeat each step above until you feel as if you might be at around 80% fullness, then let yourself stop eating when you get there.
Ideally, you want to avoid distractions as much as possible so you can be present with your mindful eating. Even if there are other things going on in the background (because, life), make sure that each time you take a new bite, you pause to fully focus on it.
This is the absolute best technique for learning when you’re at that 80%. It’s much harder to overeat when you slow down the process and don’t “check out” (which is what happens when we overeat or binge). Food is meant for enjoyment, so be present to fully enjoy it and feel satisfied by the time you reach that 80%.
Remember, eating slowly is your anchor. If you feel like you’ve gotten off track at any point or feel out of touch with your fullness level, make eating slowly the first thing you come back to.
Besides that, though, there are some more tips and tricks to this trade. Use these to help you:
- Think about how much you would normally eat of whatever you’re eating, then just eat a little bit less than that. In fact, start by eating half of what you normally would, then check in with yourself to see how you feel about more food before continuing.
- Order a size smaller dish than you normally would if you’re eating at a restaurant.
- Use smaller dishes if you’re eating at home. This tricks your brain into thinking you’re eating more if it fills out a smaller plate.
- Plan to leave a few extra bites on your plate than your normally would.
- Plan to do some form of exercise after you eat, such as going for a brisk walk. Thinking about being active right after eating often leads us to stick with a smaller meal (since being really full is too uncomfortable for exercise!)
- Set reminders for yourself to eat slowly, such as an alarm or calendar item on your phone or sticky notes in a place at work or home where you’ll see it often.
- Notice how your stomach feels. As soon as you feel any stomach pressure at all, you’ve reached the 80% fullness level. Stopping here avoid the discomfort of being too full.
- Flip your thinking. Instead of thinking about it as eating until you’re full, think of it as you’re eating until you are no longer hungry. This isn’t a “quick fix” diet—it’s a way of life, and it’s meant to transform you. Let yourself enjoy each bite, slowly, and when you stop, it’s not a punishment; it’s just you acknowledging that you don’t need any more food.
You’ll be amazing at the changes you notice once you’re started using this technique. Think less stomach discomfort with each meal, feeling lighter in your body, less guilt about eating certain foods, more control over your own body and what you eat, and weight loss that will stick and keep you healthy for a lifetime!
Make it an Experiment
Know that if these tips feel really uncomfortable at first, that’s okay! It’s a part of our culture to overeat and to eat with many distractions, so that’s likely become a habit for you. You might feel a lot different when you slow down and are focusing solely on your food, and sometimes that can feel odd at first.
But give it time, and treat this as a fun experiment in finding out more about yourself. Sometimes it can take 15-20 meals before you fully reset the muscle memory of the stomach so that it’s used to eating less food. You just have to give that mechanism time to wake back up! Especially if you’re been used to eating past fullness for a long time. You’ve re-learning what that natural function of the stomach feels like.
Basically, just trust in the process and before you know it, you’ll have turned slow eating and eating to 80% full into a lifelong habit.
Just think what this way of eating can do for you, now and in the long-term! Will you take the challenge to start honoring your hunger and practice eating to 80%? If you can practice this for just the next 21 days, allowing it to become a habit, you will be amazed at how great you feel and the weight you will lose over the next few months!