“Eating until 80% Full”
In Japan, the practice of hara hachi bu is common. It is intuitive portion control. It is a way of life. But not only in Japan are there ways of gauging food intake. Across the world there are cultures that share similar traits.
Germany: “Tie the sack before it gets completely full.”
France: “I have no more hunger,” rather than saying, “I am full.”
India: “Drink your food and chew your drink.” A proverb meaning to eat so slowly that your food becomes liquid and to enjoy your drink and taste it thoroughly as if you were chewing food.
The premise behind eating until 80% full is that we build appetite awareness. Once learned, this is vastly more powerful than calorie counting. The reason being is that now you have internal control measures (satisfaction, appetite, mood) vs external control measures (calorie counting).
The body is a great communicator, once you know how to listen.
A critical thing to remember is that focus must be put on your body cues, not so much your mind cues. As an example, your brain may tell you that you need to eat breakfast, but your body may disagree. Maybe it wants a chance to wake up a bit and all you need is to wait 20 minutes after waking up to eat. Your body will thank you, and your mind will too because waiting 20 minutes saved you a headache and indigestion.
Like anything, this practice takes time.
This habit takes a lot of time simply because the amount of mindfulness needed to understand what 80% feels like. But the beauty is that this is part of the journey to learning your body. You get to realize when you are satisfied – not when a meal template tells you you should be.
The power of learning, interpreting and trusting these cues cannot be overstated: Your body will function in a much more efficient and healthy manner.
You are the driver.
If you feel resistant to doing this daily practice, remember that you are the boss of it and are in the driver’s seat. You are in complete control. After all, I am not you, and nobody knows your body better than you.
There will be discomfort, and that’s okay.
I want you to expect a little anxiety and discomfort in the beginning. This is completely okay and everyone feels it. This is a learning stage, and making it through this only makes you stronger. We should not expect perfect “80% full” in the beginning. It’s a process, so the effort and mind you bring to the table – pun intended – are the most important factors.
Being hungry is not life or death.
Hunger should not be viewed as an emergency either. Just sit with the discomfort for a while and listen to your body before reacting.
Some Actionable Advice on Hara Hachi Bu
-Get a feeling for becoming just little bit hungrier between each meal and listening to how your body feels.
-Don’t get technical and serious with what 80% feels like. Experiment and play with this.
-Experiment with different foods. Figure out what foods leave you feeling fuller or hungrier.
-The goal is to learn about your body. Take your time, and don’t overwhelm yourself by trying to use every one of these strategies. Pick one that fits your needs best.
-What you eat is important, but it is the overall experience of eating where I want your attention to be.
Focus on tracking these 4 things:
a) how hungry or full were you before you started eating (on a scale of 1-10)
Stay aware of physical hunger cues, start eating when you feel yourself at a 7 or higher
b) how hungry or full you were after you finished eating (on a scale of 1-10)
Stop eating when you are around a 2 or 3 (~80% full)
c) what you ate (generally — doesn’t need to be precise)
d) any other physical feelings
Notice your thoughts, emotions and physical sensations around eating times.
How You Should Feel Timeline
Just before eating – Are you physically hungry? Pause and check in. Look for signals like a rumbling stomach, lightheadedness, irritability, etc. You want to be around a 7 out of 10 on the hunger scale
Immediately after eating – To be 80% full, shoot for about a 2 or 3 out of 10 on the hunger scale. Pause for 15-20 minutes before you eat more. This will give your brain time to catch up. You want to feel satisfied, not stuffed.
One hour after finishing – You should still feel physically satisfied with no desire to eat another meal.
Two hours after finishing – You may start to feel a little hungry, like you could eat something, but the feeling isn’t overwhelming.
Three to four hours after finishing – Check in. You may be getting a bit hungry, perhaps a 4 to 6 out of 10. If you’re around a 7, eat. Not really hungry yet? That’s OK. Follow your body cues.
Four or more hours after finishing – You’re probably quite hungry, like nothing is getting between you and the kitchen. If you’re around a 7 or higher, eat. Not really hungry yet? That’s OK. Keep checking in with your body. You may find you need to act fast once your body decides to be hungry — so be prepared with a healthy and quick option, just in case.
Try this for 3 days as a journal and look for patterns. See what you can discover. Keep me updated as you go through this process.
The goal of a meal is to finish feeling:
-Better than when you started
-Able to move on and not think about food until you are hungry again
-Energy to exercise and stay active
Note: I learned this technique through my studies with Precision Nutrition. Some of these notes such as the “How You Should Feel Timeline,” comes from them.