Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Hari Hachi Bu

The drawer that holds all my funny little cooking tools is tricky to close because three nested sets of measuring cups crowd the drawer. Everyday, as I unload the dishwasher, I carefully stack the nested sets. Many people reading this will assume I must cook a lot. I cook, but I probably use the measuring cups once or twice a week to measure cooking ingredients. I could get by with one set for cooking. I use the cups everyday to measure food that I plan to eat, something I have done intermittently over the years depending on how carefully I am watching the amounts of food I am eating.

Measuring servings started years ago when I was a teenager going to Weight Watchers. I also used a scale to weigh food. The scale and its many replacements are long gone. However, I occasionally think I need to buy a new scale to weigh out single servings of food after reading nutrition labels expressed in weight instead of volume.

I was once at a dinner party with a friend who is very careful about what she eats and she pulled a measuring cup from her purse to measure her serving of tossed salad. I wondered if she was trying to avoid eating too much or if she was trying to get enough vegetables in. I’ve never measured tossed salad, but I measure the cottage cheese, oatmeal or cereal I eat for breakfast. My thoughts are I want to be careful about what I am eating, I want to be healthy....I don’t want to eat too much in the carbohydrate category and I want to make sure I get enough protein (but not too much).

Portion control is the name of the game here. I have been completely out of control in the portion control department for much of my life. I apply the reigns this way and my weight begins to drop. I do this by dutifully reading nutrition labels and measuring out appropriate amounts of food.

When I measure out my bowl of cottage cheese I always eat every bite. The bowl is absolutely clean. I am beginning to wonder about this practice of reading labels and carefully measuring food. My thought is, I am eating "right" but right by whose standards?

I was recently reading about long-lived elders in Okinawa. They have the largest ratio of centenarians in the world. When their life practices were studied, a number of factors emerged as significant to their long lives and good health. One is hari hachi bu which translated means “eat until you are 80% full.”

I read articles about knowing body signals for hunger and fullness. I go through periods when I attempt to do this. I definitely know hunger, although sometimes I am fooled into feeling I am hungry if I’m not carefully paying attention. Fullness is more difficult to discern. I know “Thanksgiving full” which for most of my life translated into “stuffed.” Simply full is more tricky. I experience this sensation only when I eat slowly and I have to pay close attention to know I am there. 80% full is an entirely new level of awareness.

Is this something I can learn? I wonder if years of eating with portion control issues followed by years of externally defined portions has ruined my ability to do this.

Hari hachi bu requires that I use foresight, keep focus and develop an intimate knowledge of my body. Paying attention to body signals closely enough to know 80% fullness comes from experience, and cannot be dictated from information printed on a label on the side of a box.

My guess is the centenarian Okinawans who practice hari hachi bu enjoy simply prepared meals. Quiet conversation and special time with family are part of the equation. Consciousness is central. This is my wish for myself. This is my wish for all people facing eating struggles.

Not knowing Japanese has some benefit as I consider hari hachi bu. My guess is it is everyday wisdom for Okinawans who practice it. To me it carries elements of prayer, perhaps blessing.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and Hari Hachi Bu.



At 3:55 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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