"Hara hachi bu" or 80% Full

I love serendipity.

I'm not going to continue with my epiphany this time, because I have made another important discovery, which, in fact, is directly related to my own self-discovery.

On November 9, on the way home from work, I heard an NPR interview in which host Michele Norris interviewed Peter Menzel and Faith D'Aluisio, the authors of Hungry Planet: What the World Eats.

The authors, a married couple, traveled all over the world to see what 30 families from 24 different countries eat in a week's time.

Later, I'm going to flip over to Amazon and order the book because it sounds like a remarkable study, directly related to the issues of this blog. Menzel and D'Aluisio lived with each family for a week, shopped with them, and ate with them. The authors took pictures of the people, along with the food they consumed in a week's time. The few pictures on the NPR website are remarkable in that they show, in sharp contrast, the poverty of the third world and the wealth of the west.

No surprise: the American family profiled ate what you might expect: junk and prepared foods and lots of it. I'm not judging this family--in many ways I AM that family; otherwise, this blog and my epiphany would be irrelevant. But when Ron and Rosemary Revis of North Carolina, saw their week's worth of food laid out before them, they were shocked, so much so that they have incorporated a healthier eating regimen into their lives, along with regular exercise.

In Macedonia, my friend Ljiljiana Ordev, who lived in the U.S. during 2003, told me she was astounded at the large portions Americans ate, particularly in restaurants. We have grown accustomed to the super-sized meal, the Biggie Fries and the Big Gulp, the bigger the better. We hear all the time that Americans are getting fatter; when I was a child, childhood obesity was rare. Kids were skinny and knobby-kneed. But, now, I see obese kids all the time, and it breaks my heart because I know first-hand how other kids will and do treat them.

According to Menzel, we can learn some important information from these families, especially the one from Okinawa. In America, picky kids are told to clean their plates. After all, there are starving children in Africa, and, therefore, it is our responsibility to see that starvation doesn't happen here. I never did get the connection; I would have only been too happy to send my lima beans to these poor children--just give me the address.

But in Okinawa, children are taught to stop eating when they are 80% full--in their language: Hara hachi bu.

What a beautiful, simple concept. I have always known that normal satiety doesn't kick in until 20-30 minutes after a meal; even my alarmed grandmother told me this back in the late 50's and throughout the 1960's, but this concept was applied only to me: my skinny cousins were praised gloriously when they chowed down--a healthy, robust appetite was viewed as a sign of good health and wealth, provided you were "normal weight."

But the idea that an entire culture could embrace Hara hachi bu for everyone astounds me and offers hope, I think, for our culture as well. Why limit this concept to just the overweight? Why not encourage every American to stop eating when they are 80% full? Why single out the overweight?

Hara hachi bu suggests that overeating should be taboo for everyone feeding at the trough, not just the 200-300 pound woman or man at Old Country Buffet--that if we are going to judge people for what they eat, then we should do so in a non-discriminatory manner.

The 80%-full concept does fit in very well with my epiphany, for this is what I must do in my own life: accept and even embrace the idea of slight hunger--for the rest of my life.

Hara hachi bu will forever be a part of my vocabulary.

That's why I can never go on a diet, ever again.

Jennifer Semple Siegel


Question: I would like to hear from normal weight people who have never dieted in a significant way (other than to shed a few pounds gained during holidays and on vacation). How do you relate to food? Do you incorporate the concept of Hara hachi bu in your daily life? Please, on my blog, don't berate overweight people and insist that they are responsible for their weight--this may or may not be true. I'm more interested in finding out how you keep your weight in a normal range and how the 80%-full concept fits (or doesn't fit) into your life.