Skip to content

Indulge & Stay In Shape with the Japanese Concept of “Hara Hachi Bu”

Sometimes, it can seem like enjoying food and losing fat are opposites. That, somehow, you can’t have both. You can have both with the Japanese concept of “hara hachi bu”.

In order to lose fat, you might forgo your favorite foods, or feel like you can’t “indulge” anymore. And, likewise, during a food-centric time of year (like the holidays), you might feel that your health and weight loss goals must be put on the back burner in order to fully enjoy and experience the season.

This year, don’t force yourself to pick between enjoying food and staying in shape.

How to indulge and stay in shape with the Japanese concept of "hara hachi bu"

You can learn how to do both from a Confucian-inspired saying: “hara hachi bu”.

Hara Hachi Bu: Eat Until You Are 8/10 Full

The Japanese saying “hara hachi bu” (or “hara hachi bun me”) roughly translates to “eat until you’re 80% full”. The saying has been around for hundreds of years, and is cited as one of the ideals responsible for the especially long lives of many Japanese, especially Okinawans. According to Blue Zones author, researcher, and traveler Dan Beuttner, in Japan, it is frequently uttered by elders before a meal, as a friendly reminder to eat mindfully.

“Hara hachi bu”

“Hara hachi bu”: Eat until your belly is 80% full

Americans tend to adhere to the idea that they should eat until they feel full, which leads to overeating, and contributes to high rates of obesity and other associated health issues like cardiovascular disease.

In contrast, Okinawans aim to eat until they are no longer hungry. This gentle caloric restriction factors into significantly lower rates of obesity (less than 1/6 that of the U.S.), and impressively low rates of coronary heart disease (less than 1/2 that of the U.S.).

Have you ever been so hungry, that the second food is in front of you, you inhale it? Then, partway through the meal, you’re satisfied enough to set down your utensils and take a couple deep breaths? Notice this moment. Let this moment last for awhile. Maybe, you’re already 80% there.

Tips to Bring Hara Hachi Bu to Your Home

1) Make eating (and conversation) the main attractions

In other words, take away unnecessary distractions. Mindful eating can quickly transform into mindless eating if the TV is playing in the background (where did that whole bowl of popcorn go…?). This tip doubles as part of #5 too, because chatting with your friends and family also leads to slower eating in the first place. And, building social relationships is also associated with increased longevity and happiness, so chat your way to optimal health.

2) Drink water before and during your meal

Have you ever kept eating, thinking you’re hungry, until you suddenly realize you were really just thirsty? Water can take up some space in your stomach, helping you feel full, while also helping with your digestion.

3) Use smaller dishes

Serving yourself up a smaller portion can be challenging at first, but using smaller dishes definitely helps. It makes the portions you do serve up seem much bigger. Remember, if you’re still hungry a few minutes after you’ve stopped eating, you can always go back and serve yourself up some more (or munch on a snack). This also applies to any time you’re eating a snack from a larger bag, always put some in an external dish to avoid eating far more than you intended to.

4) Actually taste your food

This one may seem obvious, but it’s all too easy to forget when life gets busy. Try closing your eyes, describing your tasting experience, paying special attention to smells and textures. Savoring will help you slow down, and can also reveal exquisite new layers in healthy dishes. Actually tasting your dessert will lead to happily eating less of it, and may even lead to you noticing things about it you don’t like so much (perhaps sickly sweet, flat, a little throat-burning…).

5) Eat more slowly

While this final tip will naturally occur if you are doing #1, #2, and #4, it’s worth a separate mention all on its own. When you eat, it takes some serious time (generally ~20 min) for the food to make it to your stomach, and then for “fullness” signaling (satiety hormones) to reach your brain. So, give it that time.

Hopefully, this article gave you some useful ways to harness hara hachi bu over the holidays and beyond. Want a friend, family member, or partner to remind you of this concept at critical meal times? Send this article their way, or share it with your social network by hitting a social icon at the top (or bottom) of this page.