Hara Hachi Bu: The Secret to Longevity?

Did You Know… that those who follow the “less is more” rule routinely live for 100 years and more?

Some of the world’s healthiest and longest-lived people live on a small island called Okinawa, located off the coast of Japan.  Okinawa is home to more people who live to be older than 100 than anywhere else in the world.  Researchers have carefully scrutinized Okinawans in order to uncover their secret to long life, and it turns out that an ancient Japanese principle plays a central role.  The principle is hara hachi bu—and it means simply that you eat only until you are 80% full.

Scientists uncovered the importance of hara hachi bu by analyzing data drawn from six decades of Okinawans.  When the researchers split the data into groups based on caloric consumption, they found a clear link between the lower caloric intake associated with hara bachi bu and a decreased mortality risk from age-related diseases.  Solid evidence suggests that practicing hara hachi bu could extend anyone’s lifespan.

Free Yourself from Free Radical Damage 

One of the most exciting discoveries the researchers made was that Okinawans who adhere to hara hachi bu have significantly lower levels of free radicals in their blood.

Free radicals are unstable molecules that do damage in our bodies.  They are generated when we metabolize food into energy, and will attack anything in their vicinity—including our DNA.

One of the strongest theories of the aging process is the “free radical theory,” which holds that age-related illnesses stem directly from the damage free radicals do to vital parts of the body.  This damage accumulates over time until our bodies—much like cars driven for too many miles—simply wear out and fall apart.

Analysis of the health records of Okinawans has shown that eating fewer calories by practicing hara bachi bu leads to the body generating fewer free radicals.  Fewer free radicals, in turn, leads to a longer life span.

Dramatically lower levels of free radicals in the blood was not the only documented benefit of hara bachi bu.  The researchers discovered other biological markers showing that Okinawans who followed hara bachi bu suffered less overall damage related to free radicals.

The take-home message is that by simply stopping eating when you are 80% full instead of completely satisfied can dramatically extend your life span.

Eat Less, Live More 

Can you imagine what being 80% full would feel like?  Honestly, most of us have no idea.  We habitually eat until we feel 100% full or beyond.  The problem is that it takes close to 20 minutes for fullness signals to travel from the stomach to the brain. Once that happens, we often feel overly full.  Registered dietician Susan Dopart has some practical advice on how to break the overeating cycle.

Begin by eating just half of what you typically would, Dopart suggests, then checking in to see how you feel.  Any sensation of pressure or fullness in your stomach indicates you have reached the 80% full stage.  It will likely take between 15 to 20 meals for you to reset the muscle memory of your stomach.  Give the process time.  “Eat until you’re no longer hungry,” Dopart advised, rather than eating until you feel full.