Hara hachi bu is a Japanese term that roughly translates to “eat until you’re 80% full.” It sounds simple, I know, but many deeply profound concepts wear a simple shell. This is one of them. Hara hachi bu is sound advice for many reasons. It takes your brain about 20 minutes to register how much your body has eaten, for instance, so stopping when you feel about 80% full means you’ll likely top off around 100%. It also gets you tuning in to every bite rather than yielding to the temptation to mindlessly barrel through a burger.
What Hara Hachi Bu Looks Like in Real Life
For me, though, that 80% is the border over which the battles of will are fought. Here’s a snippet of what my brain sounds like when I’m eating a so-juicy-and-delicious-all-I-can-do-is-close-my-eyes-and-hum burger and I hit my 80% mark.
Willful Me (turning a shoulder to Mindful Me): “Shut up, I'm eating.”
Mindful Me: “You know, you’re just going to feel like crap if you eat the whole thing.”
Willful Me: “I’m not listening, I’m not listening …”
Mindful Me: “Seriously, why don’t you just put the rest down and take it home.”
Willful Me: (suddenly taking faster bites): “But there’s really not enough left to take home.”
Mindful Me: “Then why don’t you just put down those last couple bites so you don’t stuff yourself and you can feel a bit better about this whole thing.”
Willful Me: (holding the last bite in front of my mouth): “But I WANT this burger!”
I’ll bet if you miked everyone's minds at that burger joint you'd hear a lot of other conversations that sound like this.
The problem is, we don’t have much experience in listening to our bodies and stopping when we’re full—much less 80% full. Instead, we’ve just re-engineered our food so that we can eat more and more and more of it (oh, I remember the glee when Snackwells would come out with a new cookie flavor). Or we’ll “lighten” something up with the implicit notion that we can eat more of it.
But that’s missing the point.
When we ignore our body’s cues for the sake of … MORE … we’re snubbing our nose at the complex, wonderful system that connects our brains to our tummies.
FYI, I did feel awful after eating that whole burger. I was nauseous and uncomfortable all night, and was mentally flogging myself with guilt (“what was I THINKING?”). But I had another experience with another burger a few months later that felt entirely different.
I cut the burger in half and luxuriated in every bite of the first half. Then I noticed myself starting to feel full. I waited for a few minutes, sipping my beer, and noticed that I continued to feel more full even without eating more. Sure, I was still eyeing that other half. But I remembered how it had felt when Willful Me had had her way last time and, finally, I pushed my plate away.
“I’m done,” I said.
“Aren’t you going to have any more?” Christopher asked?
“No,” I answered. “I’m done.”
I felt great. I felt respectful. I felt at peace.
How You Can Practice Hara Hachi Bu
I’m not saying I’ve mastered the territory struggle for that 20%, but I have learned a few battle lessons. Here’s what helps me stop when I’m 80% full:
- If you’re at a restaurant and you’ve got a big plate of food, create a smaller portion of it for yourself somewhere on your plate. If you’re at home, start off with a smaller portion. Then let yourself enjoy it with abandon (no guilt allowed!) and less temptation to keep eating.
- If you catch yourself having a conversation like mine above, try to deliberately subvert your Willful Self. Argue back (“you know what, YOU shut up!”). Throw in some hot buttons (“Fine … if you want to feel like a helium balloon all night, go ahead. I’ll bet you’ll feel great at the pool tomorrow too.”). Your Willful Self is not playing by the rules or being rational, so throw in some curve balls to take control away from her.
- Know, KNOW that you are not saving any starving children by eating the second half of your burger. Yes, it’s probably going to go to waste. So next time, you find someone to share it with.
- Take a break. When you start to feel not hungry, just hit the pause button for a few minutes. It will give you time to check in with how you feel and helps disengage the autopilot that your Willful Self may have you on.
- When you’re feeling somewhere around 80%, DECLARE it. Say, out loud, to yourself and/or the table, “I’m done.” It’s powerful.
- Don’t believe your Willful Self when she plays the card of “but if you don’t eat it all, you’ll be hungry again in an hour.” If you get hungry again in an hour, you can have a snack.
Give these a try and let me know if they work for you!