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Healthy tips for busy people. Get the skinny. Start feeling better.

Hara Hachi Bu… and the Blue Zones

Hara Hachi Bu… and the Blue Zones

by Sam Allen - January 14, 2014

Hara hachi bu is a Confucian teaching that instructs people to eat until they are 80 percent full. Roughly translated to English, it’s “belly 80 percent full.” Think of it this way – don’t eat until you are full; eat until you are no longer hungry. Wow, paradigm shift, anyone? Confucius obviously didn’t tell his kids to clean their plates and rarely supersized his order at McDonald’s.

Maybe this Japanese proverb will get your attention: “eight parts of a full stomach sustain the man; the other two sustain the doctor”. (burp)

I became aware of this concept while reading the book “Blue Zones” by Dan Buettner. The title refers to five areas of the world where people live longer and have an extraordinarily high number of centenarians. As it turns out, those zones are not near the most advanced medical centers, regions of high net wealth, or technology. Rather, all but one of the blue zones are located in rural areas where people ate their vegetables, walked everywhere, and had to be able to get up off the floor a couple of times a day. Most importantly, there are virtually no fat people in the blue zones. By their culture and often due to their environment, folks in the zones don’t overeat. In Sardinia they walk up the mountains to tend goats and drink a little red wine. In Okinawa they spend time with family and tend their gardens. In Costa Rica they work really hard but find time for a little, “frisky business.” Anyway, in the Blue Zones they don’t overeat. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

This brings to mind a recent article about caloric restrictive diets on animals. Lab rats subjected to significant caloric restriction but maintaining adequate vitamin, mineral, and protein intakes not only live longer, healthier lives; they also maintain vitality to an older age and have fewer visible signs of aging, such as white fur, compared to their better-fed siblings. Better yet, the National Health Institute has sponsored the first long-term randomized control trial of human calorie restriction and “metabolic aging.” It’s in its final stages right now (18 months to go) so stay tuned. I bet we’ll see similar findings (after all – rats, humans…you know…).

While portion control may indeed be the hardest component of healthy eating; it is crucial to maintaining a healthy weight. In America, we eat until we’re stuffed. We “get fries with that,” we eat the last piece of sausage whether we want it or not, we choke down a slice of fruit cake so aunt Myrtle won’t get her feelings hurt, and we still clean our plates to assuage all that guilt about those “poor little starving kids.”

Try teaching yourself to use visual cues. For example: your fist is the size of a normal pasta portion. A serving of meat, fish, or poultry is about the same size as your palm, and the length of your thumb should be all the cheese or peanut butter allowed at one sitting. Or, mentally divide a normal dinner plate into four quartered “slices.” Fill two with veggies and fruits, one with grains, and the last with meat or protein, and you are on the right track.

So, when you’re sitting in the drive-thru on the way to Billy’s soccer practice and they ask you if you’d like to add a shake for a dollar, or next Thanksgiving when you’ve been eating for a solid hour but you still haven’t had a “taste” of everything, or when you’re wondering if KC for two will be enough for everybody at the table, or even tonight at 10:00 when you open the refrigerator door because you’re not hungry but you’re bored….

Just say “hara hachi bu.”


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