Before restricting yourself, you might want to try hara hachi bu, which translates to “eat until you are 8 parts out of 10 full”
Lead photo by Tino Rischawy/Unsplash+
When it comes to losing weight, the common misconception most have is that you have to start eating clean cold turkey, because somehow all the healthy and organic food automatically means you’ll start burning fat and dropping the numbers on the scale.
For those who are new here, we’ve already covered the relationship between food and calories and weight. Quick recap: You need to burn more calories than you’re consuming to lose weight. Yes, the “good” foods usually translate to a lower calorie intake, so long as you don’t go overboard on them as well.
But for most people, eating squeaky clean is noble but not so sustainable. The strictness may make you want to give up, especially if you’ve been reduced to eating food that isn’t flavorful. Or restricting your calories too much will make you so hungry that you’ll eventually throw your hands up in defeat and binge.
This Japanese-named Confucian teaching is a more mindful approach to eating—the full phrase is “hara hachi bun me,” which means “eat until you are 8 parts out of 10 full” (that’s 80 percent)
So what’s a more reasonable approach? Is there one that doesn’t involve starving yourself to the point of misery?
How about this: May I introduce you to the concept of eating until you’re 80 percent full? This Japanese-named Confucian teaching is a more mindful approach to eating—the full phrase is “hara hachi bun me,” which means “eat until you are 8 parts out of 10 full” (that’s 80 percent). For all of us, that means eating until you’re sufficiently satisfied and not overstuffing yourself and being super full, which we may not realize we tend to do for one reason or another.
Although hara hachi bu has been traced to Chinese Confucianism, the concept’s spread is attributed to the Okinawan Japanese, who are known for their seemingly superhuman longevity. The Okinawans still practice it to this day, amounting to only 1,800 to 1,900 calories per day. (For reference, the average maintenance calorie requirement for a typical man is around 2,000 to 2,200). This results in an average BMI of 18 to 22.
Hara hachi bu is basically calorie restriction but not on a level that’s excessive and disheartening. Instead of meticulously weighing grams of rice, meats, and vegetables and painstakingly calculating and tracking the calories you get from those servings, or sticking solely to certain foods, you can still enjoy what you want to eat and stop when your brain feels satisfied. You won’t get the full amount of calories (and, by extension, all of the macros), but you will have gotten enough and enjoyed your food.
I personally mostly do this with rice, as rice usually ends up being the heaviest (and most calorie-dense) food on the plate. It’s also trained my stomach to be okay with just enough, as eating to being bloated no longer feels good.
Of course, there are cons to this. The first is that there will be some food wastage, as you won’t be eating everything. It’s on you to bear the hassle of always having leftovers, but at least you won’t have to cook as much for your next meal.
Although hara hachi bu has been traced to Chinese Confucianism, the concept’s spread is attributed to the Okinawan Japanese, who are known for their seemingly superhuman longevity
Then there’s the matter of hunger, as this is still calorie restriction. Eating a little less means the body goes through it quicker, and if you’re not used to dieting, you will feel hungrier more often. The temptation to fill those hunger gaps with the calories you were initially avoiding is there and it’s real, and it will take some willpower to resist.
Lastly, for those who are on a steady and progressive weight loss journey, eventually you will need to restrict more calories to lose more weight. The 80 percent threshold is already loose by definition—your 80 percent may be different from my 80 percent, and going by your literal gut feel may not always work the way you need it to.
Because of that, if anything hara hachi bu is a good introduction to the difficult task of calorie restriction. If it’s your first time, this may be an ideal way to ease and slowly condition yourself to eat less than you’re normally used to. It’s also great if you’re just looking for an approach to maintain and keep the pounds off without losing more and more, or to enjoy what may be unhealthy foods without endangering your body too much.
So the next time you sit down to have your favorite meal and you’ve got the calories weighing heavy on your mind, remember: 80 percent is all you need.