Hara hachi bu: The simple Japanese phrase for a longer and leaner life

An inside look at Japan's famous "Blue Zone".

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Okinawa, Japan, is home to a group of people who are among the healthiest on the planet.

In fact, the Okinawans are found in one of the “Blue Zone” hot spots—regions where people live extraordinarily long and healthy lives. So, what’s their secret?

While they already follow a range of healthy lifestyle practices such as having a close network of friends and a keen sense of purpose, the Okinawans also abide by an old adage before the beginning of every meal—hara hachi bu—which roughly means “eat until you’re 80 per cent full”. Simple, no?

The combination of kilojoule restriction and eating mindfully is part of the reason Okinawa has a higher percentage of centenarians than anywhere else in the world.

Given we tend to ignore the satiating signals our belly sends to our brain when we’re enjoying a tasty meal, the idea of stopping at 80 per cent may seem impossible.

But it doesn’t have to be. Here’s how:

Fill up on plants: Filling up on veggies is a great way to get a boost of nutrients and feel fuller. If you can, aim to fill at least half your plate with a range of colourful veggies.

Eat slowly: When you’re hungry, you can tend to wolf down your food. This doesn’t give your stomach time to digest, which means you miss the cues that you’ve had enough.

Instead, take your time, chew mindfully and you’ll realise you’re full much quicker than usual. Remember, it takes 20 minutes for your body to register you’ve eaten enough!

Why not try some of our other simple steps to put the concept into practice?

How to hara hachi bu

Don’t get hungry. Eating when you’re ravenous will likely end in over-eating. Instead, don’t let yourself get to that level of hunger. Check in with yourself throughout the day and keep healthy snacks on hand, like a handful of nuts or veggie sticks.

Focus on food. If you’re going to eat, just eat. Remove any distractions, like the television or other devices. It will help you eat mindfully because you’ll pay more attention to your food, eat slower and savour each bite.

Resetting your muscle memory. Your stomach gets used to eating a certain amount of food. If you’re used to overly-large meals, your stomach will be too. By slowly reducing the amount you eat at each meal, your stomach will get used to smaller portion sizes and you’ll be less likely to overeat.