The inhabitants of Ryukyu archipelago, a.k.a. Okinawa Prefecture in Japan, are known for their congregation of centenarians. In addition to enjoying record-high longevity, Okinawans also enjoy an excptionally low cancer rate, especially in breast, colon, ovarian and prostate cancers.
In fact, Okinawa has become the mecca of medical and dietary researchers who seek to uncover the secrets to longevity and healthy living. Their investigation over the years have produced convincing evidence that the longevity and health Okinawans enjoy are attributable to their largely plant-based diet and – equally important – their social norm on eating.
That social norm, without a doubt, is the uncompromising disapproval for gluttony deeply rooted in the Japanese psyche. Evidence of this sentiment is ubiquitous in Japanese culture. It is generally held as self-evident that gluttony equals obesity. While here in the U.S. we cheer for gluttony on TV shows like Man vs. Food Nation and indulge ourselves in our own prime time competitive eating, it is not uncommon to hear a stranger in Japan deliver the unsolicited, cold and hard truth to you when he sees you eating too much: “たくさん食べると太るよ.” (“If you eat a lot, you will get fat, for sure.”)
In Hayao Miyazaki’s über-successful, Oscar-winning movie Spirited Away, the parents of Chihiro, the heroine, metamorphose into pigs after they engorge themselves on a free feast. In a typical Japanese dining, wealth and abundance is always displayed with variety, never that of quantity or portion.
Good advices, when spoken in Japanese, do not always sound critical. They can be, instead, constructive and philosophical. Have you ever heard of the Japanese saying “Hara hachi bu?”
If you haven’t, allow me to explain. “Hara hachi bu” is “stomach eight parts” when literally translated into English. It means “Quit eating when you are 80% full.”
I think you will agree with me and do not need me to belabor the point when I say that there is a great deal of wisdom in the principle of hara hachi bu. Countless laboratory experiments have also proved it true at least in the animal world: Mice and rats who have been deprived of one-third of their calorie intake appear to live about 35 percent longer than their peers who are allowed to eat their fill at each meal. A University of Wisconsin experiment on rhesus monkeys reveals a similar result.[i]
If you have heard of hara hachi bu before, you are likely in agreement with its principle, but much less convinced of its practicality than when you first heard of it. In all fairness, eating only 80% of your fill is much easier said than done. First of all, extra servings are always there: if they are not on the table, they are in the pantry or in the fridge. Secondly, food is a predominant expression of sympathy or camaraderie in most cultures: your loving grandparents always remind you to eat; when you are homesick you eat; when you are lovesick you eat; you eat at a wedding and you eat at a funeral… There is even an alleged Jewish advice for the housewife: if your man is not horny, make him a sandwich. Alas, there is just no escaping when it comes to eating!
And biologically, it is perfectly normal for us to eat until we are stuffed. Scientific studies have long revealed that the brain has more to do with feeling full than your gut. Stretch receptors send “full” signals to the brain when the stomach is filled with food or water. But those signals alone won’t be enough to establish the pleasurable feeling of “full” in the brain. That threshold of pleasure and satiety is only crossed when hormones released by partially digested food enter the small intestines. The bottom line is: the feeling of fullness must come from two dimensions: quantitative and temporal. You must eat enough to fill the stretch receptors of the stomach. You also must give the stomach enough time to process the food. If you are a fast eater, chances are you have passed the point of satiety when you start to feel full.
Needless to say, when you are adopting hara hachi bu after a lifetime habit of eating to your stomach’s fill, you are voluntarily denying yourself the feeling of pleasure and satiety you are used to. In turn, that deprivation is naturally misinterpreted by your brain as hunger. As a result, if you are not a typical Okinawan who has exercised this regimen all his or her life, hara hachi bu basically becomes your personal “hunger game:” You’ll be living with a lingering feeling of hunger.
Such a hunger game is no fun when you live in a hedonistic and self-indulgent food culture such as the American one. It requires a tremendous amount of will-power to pull off hara hachi bu on a day-to-day basis. Your dinner companions are likely to have no appreciation for its noble principle. What’s worse is that you always have to stop eating just a few forkfuls short of feeling satisfied. Bummer.
That’s where okara comes in handy. By incorporating okara into your diet, you effectively take the hunger game out of hara hachi bu. Let okara fill the last 20% of your stomach capacity and let your brain receive the nerve signals of satisfaction it so craves, while your 80% calorie restriction holds its fort.
It appears to be working in Japan, the nation that eats the most okara; according to a recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO,) Japan is the world’s thinnest developed country, with just 4.5% of adults considered obese.[ii]
It’s a win-win game plan. Find out its elegantly details in my new book: Lose Weight with Okara: a Miracle Food. Also available on Kindle. (Click on the following image to read the free sample chapters.)