Wednesday, January 27, 2016


"Eight parts of a full stomach sustain the man, the other two sustain the doctor."
                                                     --ancient Japanese proverb

collage representing healthy living and healthy food choices

For children aged 2-19, the prevalence of obesity has remained fairly stable at around 17%, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Obesity rates have tripled in the past 30 years.  Some complications of childhood obesity can last a lifetime and may shorten a child's lifespan significantly.   If a youth develops type 2 diabetes as a result of obesity, they will have about 17 years less of a lifespan than a youth who does not develop diabetes.   

Have you heard of “hara hachi bun me” (also referred to as hara hachi bu)?   In The Blue Zones Solution, Dan Buettner writes about communities around the world where residents routinely live to be older than 100.  In Okinawa, Japan, Buettner learned about hara hachi bu, a Confucian teaching that instructs people to eat until they are about 80% full. 

I have always instructed adults and children in Growing Healthy Kids’ workshops about the importance of eating slowly and mindfully, taking at least 20 minutes to eat.  This is because it takes that much time for the stomach to send a message to the brain that one is full and no longer needs to eat.   Americans eat too fast, which causes us to overeat.  There is no mindfulness in the drive-through window at McDonald's.  

In a 1965 book called Three Pillars of Zen the author shares a message written around 1300 by teacher Hakuun Yasutani who advises practitioners to “eat about two-thirds of their capacity.”  Yasutani “advises his students to eat only eighty percent of their capacity, and he repeats a Japanese proverb:  “eight parts of a full stomach sustain the man, the other two sustain the doctor.” 

This proverb is what conscious, or mindful, eating is about.  Before a meal, take a moment to reflect and decide to practice hara hachi bu.  Eat good food.  Eat slowly.  Enjoy your meal.  Make a conscious choice to stop eating before filling up all the way.  

You may not only add years to your life, but life to your years!   A simple solution, that of conscious eating or hara hachi bu, could well be a principle for our childhood obesity solution toolbox. 

In gratitude,
Nancy Heinrich

Founder, Growing Healthy Kids, Inc.