Like almost every individual out there, I love food. I find happiness in trying different tastes, different combinations, different textures. So I had never restrained myself from eating till I was satisfied, and I relied upon a healthy amount of exercise each week to maintain my overall wellbeing.
When I first heard that eating till one was 75% – 80% full was the secret to optimal health, I assumed it was true. I mean, it makes sense right? The brain is known to be behind the stomach in letting us know how much we still need to eat, taking about 15 to 20 minutes for the hormones released to cue hunger or satiety. Many correlate the Okinawans’ longevity with their cultural practice of hara hachi bun me (腹八分目ダイエット), which involves making eating a ritual so that they slow down and eat till they are 80% full. And so because it’s the beginning of the year, I thought why not start this with a bang and try something that would be hard for me to do – eating till I was 75-80% for two weeks.
In short, I failed.
I know, spoiler, but hear me out because I learnt a few invaluable things along the way…
As somebody who loves all things fitness and food, I would say I consume a pretty good balance of nutrients and aim for a variety of meals throughout my week. This ended up working really well for this two week project, because I found out what worked with this ‘rule’, and what really didn’t. Days I started off with eggs or almond butter on two pieces of toast left me around the 80% mark and kept me going to lunch. Days I had cereal and a banana, however, left me feeling very hungry only 1 or 2 hours later and I ended up snacking. Yes I have a very large appetite, but this was an eye opener for me in realising how important it is to eat low GI foods in the mornings to avoid quick fatigue and rapid sugar spikes. Breakfast was substantially easier than lunch and dinner, and I have to admit I was eating like usual past the 80% mark on almost every day (trust me, I really did try not to).
The reason, however, was life. Because of either uni or work, it meant I had several hours before I could even eat my next meal and therefore subconsciously always knew that I would feel mentally more at ease if my stomach was also satisfied and not thinking about the next time I would eat, meaning I could concentrate better on my tasks.
Which made me think about the Okinawans and their remarkable longevity. Although perhaps the 80% rule may have some effect, a large factor of their lower levels of disease is due to the Japanese diet, rich in carbohydrates, fresh vegetables, fish and meat. Being a small island off the coast of Japan, they stick mostly to eating foods from the earth. A big point here is that their diet is almost free from unprocessed foods….a bit different to us Australians, don’t you think?
So what did I learn?
That it’s actually fairly simple. Eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re full. Feed your body, but feed your soul. That is, ensure you’re nourishing your body with as much unprocessed, wholesome foods as possible, but it is also of utmost importance that you acknowledge your cravings. You are hungry for a reason - your body is sending you signals that it is in need of nutrients. Here, mindful eating is the key. And as long as you are exercising well and eating across the good old food pyramid, you are standing in good stead for a vibrant, healthy life.