My mom still loves to tell this story. When I was a child (the only girl in a family of 3 boys) I would always happily eat my entire plate of food at dinnertime. Then when everyone was finished and my mom was cleaning up, she would watch me climb into my brothers’ chairs, one at a time and finish what was left on their plates as well.
Food has always been one of the great loves of my life. I’ve been lucky enough to always have access to healthy nourishing food. I played a ton of sports when I was younger and my parents always made sure my brothers and I had enough to eat to keep our bellies full and our bodies fueled. My parents frowned at wasting food and cleaned plates were often rewarded with desserts or treats.
This was and still is a normal mealtime ritual for many families. However, this well-intended habit of eating until all the food was gone rather than when I was full, unknowingly disconnected me from my body’s own wisdom and I never really learned to recognize when I was satiated.
Now with two young children of my own, I am on the other side of the equation and looking at the conscious habits I am creating with my family. I, along with Alice Dommert and Meg Townsend on our team, are currently participating in the year-long Precision Nutrition program. I’m about 3 months into the program and I already understand so much more about my relationship with food.
I began the program in December 2018, having just turned 36 years old. I exercise 4-5 days a week. I make and eat healthy foods with my family on a very regular basis. I limit junk food. I go to bed early and get enough sleep, which is more than most moms of young children could ask for. I take better care of my body now than I probably ever have.
But I was still battling with intense hunger and overeating and some extra weight that I could not shed. Somehow even with my healthy habits, something was off. I’ve learned there is actually a term for this and it is called energy balance.
“Energy balance” is the relationship between “energy in” (food calories taken into the body through food and drink) and “energy out” (calories being used in the body for our daily energy requirements). The relationship which is defined by the laws of thermodynamics, dictates whether weight is lost, gained, or remains the same.”
This made sense to me, however, I was still in need of “how” to do this. In one of the early habits of the program, I learned one simple phrase that unlocked the answer for me.
Hara hachi bun me
This Japanese phrase translates as “Eat until you are eight parts (out of ten) full” or “belly 80 percent full”.
Cue the eye roll. I’ve been hearing that tip for YEARS! How the heck am I supposed to know what 80% full even feels like when I’m in a feeding frenzy, elbow deep in a bag of sour cream and onion chips?!
Well it is possible, and there is proof. The interesting thing about the growing collection of scientific research is that unlike in the past when these were nice, yet untested “suggestions” today we have actual studies that are closer to showing us how and why these same simple timeless practices work.
Dr. Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating has conducted innovative research into food habits and has found that eaters are often affected by variables unrelated to whether or not their stomach was actually full. He found that it doesn’t matter which fad a dieter is using, external factors may still cause overeating, and the secret to eating in moderation in the long run is emulating the environment and habits of the Okinawan people.
“There is a significant calorie gap between when an American says, ‘I’m full’ and an Okinawan says, ‘I’m no longer hungry.’ We gain weight insidiously, not stuffing ourselves, but eating a little bit too much each day—mindlessly.”
They key word here is mindlessly.
First, I needed to bring awareness back into my eating. How was I going to do that? I had to start eating more SLOWLY.
I know, I rolled my eyes again at this overly simple idea. Could this truly be the game-changing habit? How hard could eating slowly be?
After some successes and stumbles, I will share that I had no idea I was so good at speed eating. I realized when I ate fast, I ate more. There was no time in between multiple bites to realize I was 80% full.
So how to slow down your eating? I’m so glad you asked. Here are some suggestions that I’ve found most helpful. Use the Level 1 recommendations to get started
- Add 5-10 minutes to each meal.
- SIT DOWN to enjoy your meal (I’m still working on this one).
- Put utensils down between each bite.
If these are already part of your habits, and you’re ready for more of a challenge, try these Level 2 recommendations.
- Eat slowly without ANY DISTRACTIONS. That means no phone, tv, or reading materials while eating.
- Use a timer and see if you can extend your mealtime to at least 20 minutes. (That’s how long it takes your brain to tell your stomach it’s full.)
- Schedule your meals on your calendar so you always have time to eat.
- Don’t eat in the car.
- Use your non-dominant hand to hold the utensil. This one is my favorite, and also entertaining to watch.
- Take a breath between bites.
- Be curious about your food while you eat. What are you tasting? What are you smelling? What is the texture like? Which foods do you truly savor?
I’ve been using many of these recommendations and I can finally say I know when I feel 80% full, and I am confident that this is a habit that I can sustain. I know I am digesting my food better (when you eat slowly you chew your food more which helps release the nutrients in your food for more absorption and digestion). I am feeling more relaxed when I eat and have even lost a few pounds. It is a nice path to be on, feeling more satisfied with food in ways I never imagined.
I know in order to continue to see results it is going to take time, patience and CONSISTENCY to master this practice. I also know the techniques I’m learning are in line with the lifestyle of health I want for myself and my family.
I hope you’re ready to give a few of these habits a try. If I can find success from where I started, trust me, anyone can.
I’d love to know about your journey. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.