Most likely, you’ve heard of the Okinawans, the Japanese islanders famous for enjoying not only the world’s longest life expectancy, but also the world’s longest health expectancy.
There are many factors that contribute to their exceptional well-being and longevity, like eating a largely plant-based diet, staying physically active and maintaining a strong social network.
And, they don’t have a Clean Your Plate Club.
Instead, they practice hara hachi bu—eating until just 80 percent full.
By stopping at 80 percent capacity, they avoid overeating.
Rapid-Fire Plate Cleaning
Although hara hachi bu sounds simple in theory, putting it into practice can be hard for most of us Americans. Many of us were trained at a young age to clean our plates—especially when rewarded with dessert. We also live in a culture of rapid-fire eating while multitasking, whether it’s watching TV, answering emails, texting friends or driving to work.
If you're not awake at the plate, it’s impossible to sense when your stomach has hit the 80-percent mark. As a result, you may not stop eating until your overstretched stomach starts screaming in pain to get your attention.
Ditch Distracted Dining
If the idea of hara hachi bu sounds intriguing to you, the first step I recommend for building this new habit is dining without distractions. Make your kitchen a screen-free zone. Save the reading material for bedtime. Don’t eat at your desk, in your car or on your couch.
By removing distractions, you’ll be more present with the eating experience and more in touch with your body’s natural hunger and fullness signals.
It’s also helpful to place a note on your table reminding you of your intention.
As it can be hard to gauge when your stomach has reached 80-percent capacity, especially at first, pause throughout your meal to check in with your body. If you no longer feel hungry or if you feel slight stomach pressure, you’ve most likely reached the 80-percent full zone. Honor this sensation by putting down your fork and packing up your leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.
Unfortunately, younger generations of Okinawans who don’t follow their island's traditional ways (e.g., eat a modern Western diet of fast food and processed fare), are living shorter and unhealthier lives. Okinawa serves as a potent reminder of how much we can learn from the wisdom of our elders.