Hara Hachi Bunme: The Japanese Art of Eating

Hara Hachi Bunme: The Japanese Art of Eating

It’s no secret that the Japanese have been said to have the some of the longest lifespans in the world. Many believe it is due to the high volume of vegetables in their diet, and the fact that their foods are not as processed as those consumed in our Western world. And while that’s a part of it, there is another factor worth considering.

You may have heard the expression hara hachi bunme (腹八分目) sometimes shortened to “hara hachi bu.” This is a Confucius teaching that roughly translates to “stomach 8 parts full,” and more specifically refers to the practice of only eating until you are 80% (or 8 parts of 10) full. This, along with a balanced diet consisting of vegetables and fresh fish, is believed to play a major role in the longevity of the Japanese people.

This practice can be seen very strongly in the lives of the Okinawan people of Japan, who regularly follow the teachings of “hara hachi bu,” and are said to be the only human population to adhere to a self-imposed habit of caloric restriction. Possibly because of this practice, along with their balanced diets high in vegetables and fresh fish, Okinawa has the highest population of centenarians in the world (approx. 50 per every 100,000 people).

Hara hachi bu, along with several other well-known health practices of the Okinawans, are said to account for this vastly extended lifespan as compared to other countries around the world.

(JP) Link: Lessons from Okinawa: Ten Secrets of Happy and Healthy Longevity

The idea of hara hachi bunme gained even more popularity in the United States with the publishing of the 1965 book Three Pillars of Zen, which quotes a famous Zen priest, Hakuun Yasutani, whose teachings advises his practitioners to only eat two-thirds of their full capacity. He was quoted repeating a Japanese proverb, “eight parts of a full stomach sustain the man; the other two sustain the doctor.”

(JP) Link: Hakuun Yasutani

This idea is also very similar to and based off of Pareto’s Law of 80:20, a concept commonly discussed in business circles to understand production and time management. In business, this law states that “the top 20% (of workers) account for 80% of sales.” For time management, it could be explained as “the top 20% of your time spent working will account for 80% of your success,” in which the top 20% represents your top priorities. This can be further broken down to state that one should spend 80% of their time doing whatever activity is the priority expressed by that “top 20%.”

(JP) Link: The 80/20 Rule: Resource Allocation for Effective Time Management

The practice of hara hachi bunme is said to assist in maintaining an average BMI, or body mass index, by training us to reach satiety with less food. This prevents our stomachs from getting used to expanding by eating till 100% full, which is what results in weight gain and obesity.

In fact, experiments have even been done around the world to measure how much food one needs, and how caloric restriction affects health and longevity. Results showed that groups that practiced calorie restriction lived on average 1.6 times longer. Also, when you practice regular caloric restriction based on 80% satiation, you don’t have to stress so much about what you “can” or “cannot” eat, as the key here is balance.

(JP) Link: Hara Hachi Bun Me: Health from Daily Meals without a Doctor

Another benefit of following this practice is not just the fact of living longer, but slowing the appearance of aging as well. What this means is that not only will you live longer and feel more youthful, but you will look more youthful, too!

This has become a more recent concern with the advancement of how easily and conveniently we can get food, even when we are not hungry. Overeating has been scientifically shown to affect us physically not only health-wise, but appearance-wise as well. If we practice hara hachi bun me more consistently, we can stop ourselves from over-eating and eating when we are not hungry, and thereby also delay signs of early aging.

(JP) Link: Overeating Makes You Look Older! The Science Behind “Hara Hachi Bun Me”

So how do you know exactly when you’ve reached that 80% point? Many people who are not used to practicing this concept are so used to eating until full, and may find it difficult to know exactly when they are at 80%. How can you train yourself to know when to stop eating?

The first thing is to pay attention to how long you are taking to eat. It is said to take the brain about 15–20 minutes to register with the stomach when it is beginning to get full. So it is often recommended to eat slowly to allow yourself to feel full with less food.

A few other tips to keep in mind is to place down your eating utensils after each bite, to chew each bite slowly, and to fill up on vegetables before eating more high calorie foods.

(JP) Link: ‘’Hara Hachi Bun Me Scientifically Proven: Why it’s Good for Diet and Health

One of the most important things you can do to control your eating is to keep your phone away from you, or at least out of your hands, while you eat. This is said to be one of the biggest reasons we overeat, as our minds are so distracted by the screen that we don’t even notice when we are full. If you want to really practice hara hachi bun me, start by putting away the phone and focusing your full attention on your meal.

(JP) Link: Eating with you Smartphone: The Enemy of Diet

In conclusion, hara hachi bunme is not just a smart way to eat and diet, but an effective and maintainable way to live a longer and healthier life. More than a mere diet, it should be considered as a way of life, and some believe it can be likened to a form of meditation while eating.

Just keep in mind the above mentioned tips, and try to see it from a Zen point of view. And when all else fails, just remember this proverb:

「腹八分目に医者いらず」

“Eating till 80% full keeps the doctor away.”

Krys is a US based artist, writer, and translator who has spent most of her life immersed in Japanese culture. She now uses her knowledge and experiences to write engaging and informative articles for those who want to learn more about this unique beloved country.

Originally published at unseenjapan.com on November 30, 2018.

Hara Hachi Bunme: The Japanese Art of Eating

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