Hara Hachi Bu

I’ve been reading a book called The Blue Zones by Dan Buettner. He identified 5 regions on the world that have the highest percentage of centenarians and researched what about their cultures and lifestyles may contribute to their longevity. In Okinawa, he discovered that many older Okinawans recite the phrase “Hara Hachi Bu” prior to eating. It is a Confucion inspired phrase that means eat until you are 80% full. Buettner identifies 2 reasons why this can help improve longevity. Since, it takes 20 minutes for the brain to know that you are full, eating only until 80% means that you will never overeat. The second reason is more interesting. He says that undereating “slows down your metabolism in a way that produces less damaging oxidants – agents that rust your body from within.”

Undereating must take tremendous willpower, especially in today’s society where food is so accessible and plentiful. When food is scarce, undereating must be a necessity to help ration what food there is. Also, preparing food from fresh fruits, vegetables and grains means that it isn’t as easy to eat more if it needs to be prepared. Today, pre-packaged food makes overeating more of a commonality than undereating.

I grew up in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where buffet restaurants were the norm. We were middle class, and I can remember going out to a restaurant called Bonanza every once in a while. It was buffet, and I can’t ever remember leaving there without a belly ache because I overate. How awful I felt. My stomach was full and distended. I had indigestion. It would take a good hour before I started to feel better. No wonder I was overweight as a child. Even now, going to a buffet, I feel as though I need to “get my money’s worth.” Even if my money’s worth is unhealthy and makes me feel bad. For that reason, I avoid buffets. My husband and I very rarely eat out. I’d like to think that it is because I’m such a good cook, but it may also be because we’re frugal and we would just rather be at home. Eating at home helps us not to overeat in several ways. You serve yourself what you think you want to eat rather than have someone else plate it for you. You aren’t paying for that meal, which means there is less obligation to eat what is given to you. You know exactly what ingredients each food items, which means that if there is something that is less healthy, you consciously can choose not to have as much. With restaurant meals, a seemingly healthy dish may have ingredients in it that are very unhealthy. You may feel at liberty to eat as much as you want because it is “healthy”. I’m hopeful that home cooking will keep us healthier and keep our family close as we sit down to family dinners every night.

As for undereating, I’m not sure that I’ll ever get to that point, nor do I really want to do. Food is plentiful here, and we get one life to enjoy it. I will enjoy it in my own way with healthy cooking and homemade meals and treats.

Just another note – as I was using wordpress’s proofreading tool, undereating was identified as not a word – ha!


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