The Okinawans say this before every meal to remind them to eat moderate amounts of food.

Welcome to La Vie en Bleu a series where I share what Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones, reveals as powerful and simple lessons that can help put anyone on the path to a healthier and happier life. We continue with the second of nine lessons from the Blue Zones, five unique communities that have common elements of diet, lifestyle and outlook on life that have led to not only an amazing number of years lived, but also a better quality of life.

Lesson Two: Hara Hachi Bu
As children, many of us were taught to clean our plate before leaving the table at mealtime. The reward for doing so was dessert or simply the ability to leave the table. I was usually a picky eater as a child, so I never did like this rule as the amount on my plate was often determined by someone other than me.

I try not to follow this practice with my son as I don’t believe that style of eating has anything to do with what his body might need, how full he is, or how he would feel if he took one more bite. Instead, I want him to learn from an early age the practice of listening to his body and following its cues when it comes to food.

One practice of eating we can learn from Japanese centenarians in Okinawa, a Blue Zone, is hara hachi bu. This old adage means to eat until you are 80 percent full. Most of us have no idea what 80 percent full feels like.

While most Americans eat until their stomachs feel full, Okinawans stop as soon as they no longer feel hungry. As Okinawans instinctively know, the amount of food we eat is less a function of hunger and more a matter of our environment, that is, what’s around us. Overeating is made convenient due to circumstances—friends, family, smells, emotions, holidays, occasions, distractions, containers, cupboards…the list goes on and before we know it, we’ve eaten a whole bag of chips! Mindless eating. Yes, sadly I’ve been there….

As the secret to eating right for the long run is emulating the environment and practices of the world’s longest-lived people, my husband and I now practice hara hachi bu. It serves as our reminder to stop eating when we no longer feel hungry and believe to be 80 percent full. Of course it helps to eat healthy food as well, but simply learning to eat until you are 80 percent full can do wonders. So when my son gives me his cue to say he’s “all done”, that’s his way to say hara hachi bu, maman then, I listen.

Tips and strategies to help you follow the 80 percent rule
Serve and store
People who serve themselves at the counter, then put the food away before taking their plate to the table, eat about 14 percent less than when they take smaller amounts and go back for seconds and thirds. Learn to recognize wen you have enough on your plate to fill your stomach 80 percent.

Use small vessels
Retire your oversized dinner plates and big glasses. Instead, buy smaller plates and tall, narrow glasses. The size of our plates and glasses are said to have a profound impact on the amount we consume. With smaller plates, you’re likely to eat significantly less without even thinking about it. You might notice that antique china plates are much smaller than dinner plates often made today. Be cognizant of the size of your plate.

Make snacking a hassle
Avoid tempting foods. Don’t stock the offenders. Some foods we eat automatically in whatever quantity we have on hand. If you can’t be content with just a handful of nuts, don’t keep them around you! Wrap tempting leftovers in an opaque container.

Eat more slowly
Eating faster usually results in eating more. Slow down and allow time to sense and react to cues telling us we’re no longer hungry.

Focus on food
Do not watch T.V., read the newspaper, send emails or surf the internet on your computer, iPad or any other electronic device while you are eating. If you’re going to eat, just eat. Think only about what you are eating, smelling and savor every bite. Practice putting down your utensils between every few bites, describing to yourself the flavors and textures in your mouth.

Have a seat
Many of us eat on the run, in the car, while walking or while standing in front of the refrigerator or kitchen sink. This often means we don’t notice what we are eating or how fast we are eating it. Make a habit of eating only while sitting down—eating purposefully. This helps to better appreciate the tastes and textures of our food and we’ll eat more slowly and feel more nourished after a meal.

Eat early
All Blue Zone residents eat their smallest meal of the day in the late afternoon or early evening. Their biggest meal of the day is typically eaten during the first half of the day.

Have you started to put the lessons from the Blue Zones to work in your life? If so, I’d love to hear about your thoughts and experiences. Until then, all the best in trying the practice of hara hachi bu.

La Vie en Bleu will continue with lesson number three from the Blue Zones on how to live a healthier and happier life. Won’t you join me?


The Blue Zones include: 
Nicoya, Costa Rica
Ikaria, Greece
Sardinia, Italy
Okinawa, Japan
Loma Linda, California

Related sites:
The Island Where People Forget to Die
Blue Zones
Life in the Blue Zone

11 thoughts on “Hara Hachi Bu

  1. Hi Martine,

    I find that’s it’s easier to become full at 80% when you eat more fiber–not so much in whole grains but in vegetables, fruit–foods that force you to eat slowly because frankly you’d choke! I try and serve alot of veggies (both as sides and in the main course) when we eat dinner and when we have brunch on Sundays.

    I agree with you about not forcing children to finish off their plates. This would be fine if parents didn’t “load” up their children’s plates! When my boys were younger, I gave them a variety of foods to eat for breakfast (wanting to make sure they had a healthy start for school). I never gave them full portions of any one thing but they got full fast! I always felt satisfaction when they would tell me, “Mom, I’m full!” I knew they had enough fiber and variety to last till lunch.

    Thanks for sharing tips about eating well and eating right!

    1. Hi Josephine, Great tip! I agree. I love to get my fill of fruits and veggies. The fiber they provide is so filling. I’m looking forward to the day when my little one will be able to talk and actually tell me he’s satisfied or hara hachi bu. As a mother, I receive so much pleasure to see him eat and enjoy his food, saying “Mmmm” as he eats his carrots, green beans, whole grains, legumes, etc. I understand your feeling of satisfaction. Thanks again!

  2. Martine –
    HARA HACHI BU. I really like this concept, and all of your great ideas to eat what you need. 🙂 I have been stressed lately and noticed that I am eating more, though this has never been an issue for me. I will have to remind myself of these wonderful tips before each meal. Chocolate, dark chocolate, however – that can be my downfall. I suppose we all must have one. 🙂
    Best –

    1. Yes, we all have our vices. 😉 “Hara Hachi Bu” is a great reminder to stop mindless overeating. Not always the easiest thing to do so having a mantra and eating with those who too know it helps! I can’t wait for my son to learn and be able to one day say, “hara hachi bu mommy.” 🙂

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