Alright, before your eyes gloss over and you start looking for another article to read, this is not a dissertation on the evils of drinking. In fact, this has nothing to do with alcohol at all. Humans have been fascinated with losing weight and “eating right” for maybe a couple hundred years, or at least when the age of the supermodel began… Americans seem to have an obsession with dieting and being “skinny.” As of 2012, over 108 million people in the U.S. were on some sort of diet, generating upwards of 20 billion dollars in revenue to the weight loss industry.1 There have been an infinite number of fads, programs, celebrity-endorsed products and other such nonsense that a results-starved populous has continued to dump tons of money into. But why, with all the money being made and the huge number of people are some sort of diet at any given time, are we not a nation of svelte, statuesque cover models with washboard abs and buns of steel? One major reason is that many of these diets and programs are temporary fixes that don’t change behaviors or guarantee long term results. Another reason may be that many people do not have the energy, proper education or patience to change their actual eating habits and stick with it. Many people are frustrated with why they spend hours at the gym and see no change on the scale or the waistline, but when asked about their diet they don’t quite get the correlation. Let’s be honest, portion sizes in this country are out of control and we are raising a generation of children who think that a “medium” soft drink that is anywhere from 20 to 30 ounces is the norm.
So how do we fix this? How do we combat the problem and give ourselves a fighting chance to make some sustained progress in our nutritional and fitness goals? Well, one way to start is to look at a tradition that has spanned the ages and is still in practice today. In Okinawa, Japan, many of the people there practice a ritual of calorie restriction, channeling an old adage of “hara hachi bu.” It is loosely translated as eating until you are 80 percent full. Many of the especially older Okinawans says this simple phrase before eating. You see, it takes the stomach around 20 minutes to tell the brain it is full. So, eating until you feel around 80 percent full reminds you to stop before you overdo it.2 Okinawans are not the only people to practice this principle, but Okinawans seems to have mastered the custom and have an astounding number of healthy, active people living well into their golden years. In fact, some figures suggest that Okinawa may have one of the largest concentrations of centenarians (those living to be 100 years or older) than anywhere else on the planet. One finding shows that free-radicals are generated from the metabolizing of food, these free-radicals can have a damaging effect on the tissues of the body. So, by limiting the calories taken in, the Okinawans are limiting the amount of free-radicals in their blood streams and thus expanding life expectancy, disease prevention and overall health.3
Okinawans have a decreased evidence of disease than those of their American counterparts – roughly a fifth of the cardiovascular disease rates, a quarter of the incidence of breast and prostate cancer and a third of demetia.2 Now, some of this may be due to genetic variations and other factors such as lifestyle, activity and alcohol and tobacco use.
So, I am not saying you have to move to Okinawa or even learn Japanese. Simply put, knowing when to say enough when you are staring down a plate of food can pay incredible dividends in the long run. Adopting these little fixes can make a big difference in how you feel and how you can progress towards your goals of health and wellness.
- ABC News Staff. (2012, May 8). 100 Million Dieters, $20 Billion: The Weight-Loss Industry by the Numbers. Retrieved from ABC News: http://www.abcnews.go.com
- Buettner, D. (2008). Blue Zones. Washington, D.C.: National Gepographic Society.
- Okinawa Centenarian Study. (2016). Okinawan Centenarian Study. Retrieved from http://www.okicent.org
- Article image courtesy of WebMD, retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/ss/slideshow-longer-life-secrets