Stop When Satisfied – Hara Hatchi Bu
Hara Hatchi Bu, is a Japanese concept that means to stop eating when 80% full.
For me, it is embodied by the principle “stop when satisfied”. Just as many people have lost connection with what hunger actually feels like and the purpose it serves, so too have many people in the developed world lost touch with using internal awareness to know when they have had enough at any given sitting.
For some this is cultural. I, for example, was encouraged (read, forced) as a child to eat every morsel of food on my plate. “There’s starving children in Africa” was the phrase that would ignite guilt within me, with the intention of inspiring me to finish my plate. Although it was true, it was not helpful. Not for me, who would, later in life feel guilty if I ever left food on my plate, regardless of how full to bursting I would need to feel to finish it. Nor to the unfortunate aforementioned children in Africa, who cared not how much I ate and were unaffected by how much was or was not left at the end of our family meal.
Waste was poison for many working-class families in the UK. The situations that gave rise to this way of thinking held by my parent’s generation was likely useful when it was created, just like many coping mechanisms. But it has little place in the modern world. I agree we should avoid waste by limiting portion sizes to what we need and being careful not to waste food by allowing it to go off in our fridges or cupboards. But once it is on our plates, forcing ourselves to finish to the point of overeating is of little utility. As a result of this way of thinking I spent years overeating at least half of my meals. I would finish what was in front of me and often what was leftover by my company. Not because I needed to do so to satisfy my hunger – but because I needed to see empty plates at the end of the meal. I would frequently eat until it was all gone, or until I was completely stuffed.
When I began to try and train myself to stop eating when I was satisfied I was struck by two powerful realisations…
Firstly, the amount of food I needed and the amount of food I could consume before being full were vastly different things. Over the course of a year, this would result in tens of thousands of calories. Luckily, I was active enough to keep things at bay but had I had a sedentary job and less active hobbies, I am sure my waistline would have expended and my metabolic health deteriorated rapidly.
The second realisation was just how much I felt the need to finish portions, and that this was the driving force, more so than was gluttony. Buy me a 30g bar of white chocolate (I have a particular affinity for white chocolate), and I would be completely happy, I would finish it, and leave it there with no craving for more, no seeking out another little treat or feeling in any way dissatisfied. However. Buy me a 100g bar, and I would finish that too. Even though I have clearly passed the point of being satisfied, I would continue eating until it was gone. Had you been sharing it with me I would gladly split the bar. But left by myself it was very unlikely I would save any for later.
This attitude towards available calories was certainly a useful strategy in post-war, rationed England. Where a family rarely had enough food, and consuming all the calories available in the meal was a critical practice. Wasting anything was a dangerous error with real consequences both financially and physically. This was also a legitimately useful strategy in our evolutionary past. A large kill was not to be wasted, and overeating to the point of getting fat was an effective, if not an essential survival strategy. But in today’s developed world, plagued by an epidemic of obesity, with ever available calories and a very low energetic cost to their accrual, it is clear this strategy has run its course and no longer serves our best interests.
Through the practice of Hara Hatchi Bu, or stopping when satisfied, you will gain an awareness of just how much you need to satisfy your needs, avoid at least two of the pathways to overeating and increase satisfaction with your dietary intake. If you are concerned about waste, I assure you that in very quick order, you will avoid being wasteful preemptively, by serving yourself smaller portions that match with your actual needs.
In general, a move towards cultivating a greater awareness of one’s decisions and the underlying reasons for them will lead to greater harmony and understanding in a persons life. This will, in turn, lead to decisions that are more congruent with your values and goals.
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