If you want to make any sustainable change in life like starting an exercise routine, eating more vegetables or getting more quality sleep then you make it a habit. Habits are like short cuts for our brain. They make our actions become “second nature”. In today’s article let’s specifically talk about a nutrition habit that can improve your health and body composition but doesn’t involve a crash diet, measuring calories or meal planning. It is very simple. Eat until you are 80 percent full. So what does that mean and how do I do it? Let us explain.
Those living in Okinawa Japan are known as some of the healthiest people on earth. Many researchers have studied their culture to understand why they have such a long life expectancy and are not over weight. Along with eating a healthy diet, staying active well into old age, they also live by the rule “hara hachi bu”-eat until you are 80 percent full. It requires you to slow down eating, be mindful at your meals and get in touch with hunger cues. Just by practicing this simple habit, you may improve your body composition and health.
First, let’s understand, in basic terms, the science to support this notion. The brain is always behind the stomach in signaling that we are full. Hunger and satiety cueing is based on the release of hormones within our body. It takes about 15-20 minutes for the signaling loop to complete. If you are eating too quickly while watching TV or distracted then you won’t even sense these subtle changes going on internally. You get seconds because you still feel hungry and all at once you’re stuffed! You have missed the stop sign your body was sending you. Now you have consumed too much food and over taxed your digestive system. We have all experienced that feeling at one time or another. So slow down eating, chew your food, limit distractions like TV and get in touch with how you feel while enjoying your food. Before you ever even sit down at the table assess why you are eating. Are you eating because you are physically hungry or just because you are stressed or bored? Try taking 15 minutes to eat a meal and ask yourself am I really still hungry? Wait another 5-10 minutes before getting any second helpings and check in with yourself one more time before proceeding. By checking in, you will get a better sense of hunger and satiety cues plus detach emotions from food.
If you have stayed within your portions and put meals together appropriately then you really shouldn’t be hungry after 20 minutes. In case you are though, here is a timeline to assess hunger along with a rating scale. After you have eaten a balanced, nutritious meal your hunger should be at 0 on a scale of 1-10. Over the next 3-4 hours, stop and assess every hour or so your hunger cues. Don’t wait until it is a 9 or10 to start eating. At this point you will likely make poor choices and over eat. Instead when your hunger reaches an 8, sit down to eat and practice hara hachi bu.
Just by building this simple habit, you can naturally decrease your caloric intake improving your health and wellness. Be patient with yourself, experiment a little and really check in to what your body is trying to tell you.