Can You Hari Hachi Bu?

I loved the sound of this phrase – hari hachi bu – even before I knew what it meant.

“Hari hachi bu” comes from the Japanese islands of Okinawa. It refers to eating a meal until you’re only 80% full, then stop eating. It’s a method to control weight.

Okinawa, remember, is one of the longevity hot spots in Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones.

But would it really work for many in Western culture? Probably not. We don’t have the discipline to stick with it long-term. Maybe for a day.

One of the currently popular dieting gimmicks is to eat every 3-4 hours while awake. The rationale is, “you need the energy.” If you eat 5-6 meals a day, you’re not cutting back on total calories even if you eat only until 80% full.

As long as you’re eating a fair amount of carbohydrates, you can store plenty of energy as glucose in glycogen – in your liver and muscles – to easily live without eating for at least 8-12 hours. So, there’s no “need” to eat every 3-4 hours. If there were, we would have gone extinct years ago. At rest, you’re getting about 60% of your energy supplied by metabolism of fats, not carbohydrates. Most people can live without all food, but not water, for about two months.

Plenty of people have said, “I’m going to lose weight by cutting back on food intake.” I don’t have scientific data to back it up, but I’d bet that a food diary works better.

A simple weight-loss or management plan that would work better for Western world inhabitants would be:

Don’t eat anything man-made.

So off limits are bread, rolls, soft drinks, table sugar, high fructose corn syrup, pancakes, pizza, potato chips, Pringles, pies, cookies, cake, casseroles, cannolis, Doritos, Ding-Dongs, Snickers, etc. I’d complicate it just a bit by also avoiding naturally starchy foods like potatoes and corn.

For those who don’t like the negativity of “don’t eat that,” here’s the positive spin:

Eat only natural, minimally processed food.

In other words, eat fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, eggs, meat, chicken, fish, olive oil, nuts, etc. These are God-made foods, not man-made.

Steve Parker, M.D.

2 responses to “Can You Hari Hachi Bu?

  1. Nice article, Steve. Eating until only 80% full can be very beneficial for people struggling to lose or maintain weight. At first such a change is difficult, but after a few weeks it becomes a habit, like anything else. Of course, getting someone to stick with it for the first 10 days or so is the tough part! I’m not a big fan of eating every few hours for weight management (or blood sugar management) either. I eat two to three meals a day, and when I skip lunch, I feel no hungrier or more fatigued. I could go on, but the point is I agree with everything you’ve said here, as I so often do 🙂


    • Good to hear from you, Franziska.
      Average portion sizes at restaurants in the U.S. have grown so much over the last couple decades. Cutting them down by 80% might get you in the ballpark of what average portions were before the “obesity epidemic” began around 1970. I’ve heard even that serving sizes in the iconic “Joy of Cooking” cookbook have also ballooned.
      Some of the psychological literature I’ve seen suggests that it takes about 12 weeks to ingrain your average habit. Which I only mention here only in case someone tries hari hachi bu for three weeks and it doesn’t become automatic.
      I think about the millennia of human existence when getting enough calories was a major problem; now we are “cursed” with excessive calories. It’s a double-edged sword, for sure. But I’m glad I live in these times.