Hara Hachi Bu

I don’t know about you, but I come from a generation who were drilled to eat everything on their plate, not being allowed to leave the table until you had finished (whether you liked it or not!) I can remember some serious standoffs where I sat in the dark with cold, congealed fish on my plate (with the threat that I would get it for breakfast!) I vowed never to make my children eat food they really didn’t like – and that’s one thing I have stuck to – what’s the point?  Food is to be enjoyed and savoured.

I suppose our parents had gone through rationing (at least my Dad did) and there was a real emphasis on not wasting food. I still get an immense sense of satisfaction when I use up everything in my fridge! So, something good rubbed off. The problem comes later when this is so ingrained in your psyche that when you are served a large meal – you feel like you have to eat it all. Even in what’s left of British culture, it feels rude to leave food that someone has cooked for you – at least not to have a really good go at making a dent in it! At school, we were offered ‘seconds’ ! and yes, if it was nice I was up to the front!

Maybe because I am working class, we rarely, if ever ate out. No one I knew did. We all ate at home at the mercy of our mothers cooking skills! Back then, it was meat and two veg, followed by pudding on most nights. The difference was, there was no money for snacks (plus it wasn’t really a big thing to snack between meals) and we ran around outside ALL the time. So, for the most part, portion sizes would be quite robust but we did tend to run it off. The difference now is portion sizes have increased and activity has dropped.

Restaurants now serve very large portions and it leaves the patron feeling like they have had value for money (ever wonder why nouvelle cuisine never made it mainstream?!) so there is such a  sense of disappointment when a menu describes the food in such mouthwatering detail and then a tiny plate of food comes out – boo hoo! You look at the plate and then the waitress to see if it is some kind of cruel joke……especially considering the price! (even Dick Turpin wore a mask).

Most restaurants and cafes now, serve their food on extra large plates that are completely full. Some of the worst behaviours I have seen are at some of these ‘all you can eat buffets’  There is just something for people about getting their money’s worth. Even if the food isn’t great, they feel the need to fill their plates and keep going back and then have three or four desserts – I have actually wondered if it is possible to go ‘pop’! As our parents would threaten if we overate. 🙂 So people are getting bigger and bigger and eating more and more – it’s even seen as some sort of accomplishment to eat epic amounts of food.  (If you can eat our belly-busting breakfast you get a free t-shirt and your name on the wall!). Don’t even get me started on people’s behaviour on an all-inclusive holiday………..

As I get older that feeling of being really full …….is horrible. I hate it when I have overeaten and feel bloated, uncomfortable and lethargic. Most people are aware that it takes 20 minutes for the stomach to notify the brain that it is full but we still eat quickly and by the time this happens we are putting down our dessert spoon! And rubbing our expanding stomach.  Have you ever been with a friend and been really engrossed in conversation? looked down to find that you haven’t eaten very much and are actually quite full? That’s because you gave your stomach the time to tell your brain you had eaten enough.

In Japanese culture, there is a Confucian teaching that advises people to eat only until they are approximately 80 per cent full. In Okinawa, Japan, this is a way of life and has contributed to the local people having one of the highest life expectancies in the world and ageing gracefully, retaining their mental and physical faculties well into their 90’s and beyond. The practice of eating until you are just shy of being full has also meant that Okinawans are rarely overweight and they eat a much lower average total amount of calories than Americans or Brits do. When your stomach is not entirely full, it has extra space. This allows the stomach to perform the digestion process quicker.

Okinawans, who have been following this principle for centuries, have the lowest levels of free radicals in their blood. Low level of radicals in your blood means a lower risk of cardiovascular diseases, cancer and other old age related diseases. Of course, their longevity is also combined with the type of food they eat. The Okinawan diet for centuries has been high in anti-oxidants with food such as sweet potato a staple. Older Okinawans don’t eat refined sugars or processed foods.

“The Okinawans have a low risk of arteriosclerosis and stomach cancer, a very low risk of hormone-dependent cancers, such as breast and prostate cancer. They eat three servings of fish a week, on average … plenty of whole grains, vegetables and soy products too, more tofu and more konbu seaweed than anyone else in the world, as well as squid and octopus, which are rich in taurine – that could lower cholesterol and blood pressure.”

So, how to start undoing all the conditioning we have had since childhood to eat everything on our plate? Well, it won’t happen overnight. It will take approximately 15-20 meals of practising Hari Hacha Bu before we can make it a habit. You need to think about eating until just full before each meal – listen to your body, stop before you think you need to. Below are some tips to help you along:

  • Slow down your eating pace!  This will help you listen to your body – stop about halfway through your meal and really think about how much more you need? Are you craving more or is it because it is on your plate?
  • Stop eating when you are no longer hungry, not when you are full  – learn the feeling of being satisfied vs being full.
  • Be more mindful, don’t eat in front of the telly or computer.
  • Avoid getting over hungry – eat regular meals this will mean the temptation to overeat will be reduced.

Give it a little while and you will get back in sync with your body and will slowly reduce the amount of food you need at each meal.

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