HARA HACHI BU - VIVERO PARVO
by Michael Bauce
The Japanese have an expression that reminds them to eat lightly, known as Hara Hachi Bu. Literally translated, it means eat until your belly is 8 parts full. Ohsawa often spoke of Vivero Parvo, to only eat the minimum required to sustain good health. This practice is a traditional human one and remains the practice of indigenous people today as outlined in two recent books: The Blue Zones by Dan Buttner and 50 Secrets of the World’s Longest Living People by Sally Beare. By all accounts, the key to a long healthy life may be a slightly empty stomach.
As a child, I was always intrigued when my Italian grandmother would sit down to eat. She ate small dollops of food from her plate, very slowly, but seem to enjoy the experience immensely. She told us she didn’t need much food to feel satisfied. Nonna lived a vibrant, healthy happy life till age 99, despite her daily diet of chicken, refined bread and ice cream. I have also noticed that some Americans have adopted the same practice of eating the Standard American Diet in small quantities. They are practicing Hara Hachi Bu without knowing it and will probably fare better than their well-fed friends.
There has also been an enormous body of scientific research that touts the benefits of a caloric-restrictive diet. These recent studies have essentially confirmed the macrobiotic principle of Vivero Parvo. Study after study show that caloric-restrictive diets have extended the lives of rats by 40%. In a Time magazine article, “How To Live To 100 Years,” focused on a 2009 University of Wisconsin study that concluded “that caloric restriction seemed to extend the lives of humanlike rhesus monkeys as well. The hungry primates fell victim to diabetes, heart and brain disease and cancer much less frequently than their well-fed counterparts did. Finally, in 2011, studies done at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis reported that human beings who cut their food intake by 25% extend their lifetime further than those who are well-fed. While living a long life is certainly attractive to most, limiting food may not only extend life, it will certainly improve the quality of it.
In the Blue Zones, scientists have located places in the world where people live long healthy lives. These zones are in:
Loma Linda, CA (USA)
Nicoya (Costa Rica)
Butner has compiled a list of habits that many in these zones share (not to suggest that food is the only factor), one of them being the practice of slightly under-eating. Beare has also noted that the longest-living, most vibrant people on earth, never overeat. They deliberately moderate the quantity of food they consume at every meal.
As modern Americans, we love to overeat, for a variety of reasons both physical and emotional. It has become a national pastime, practiced regularly with vim and vigor. We feast throughout the day and night. We spend the day snacking in between meals. It has become part of our American culture to overdo.
When we overeat, a process begins, which if left unchecked, may spiral out of control and may be difficult to reverse. Overeating causes the muscles of the stomach to be stretched to accommodate the excess of food. Since it takes more quantity of food to satisfy a larger stomach, we need more food to feel that same feeling of fullness. As you continue to overeat, the muscles continue to stretch more, you continue to eat more to fill this cavity. This endless cycle explains why most people have trouble losing weight.
When we eat until we feel full, we have already eaten too much. According to Susan Dopart, registered dietician, it takes up to 20 minutes AFTER we eat before we experience the feeling of fullness. By the time we feel stomach pressure, we are past the 80% stage. By limiting our consumption while we are still slightly hungry, we avoid feeling bloated afterwards. In addition, Dopart states that “it takes sometimes 15-20 meals to rest the muscle memory of the stomach to get used to less food and people need to trust that that will happen. Most are used to eating until full, which is past satiation and which keeps weight on.” I sense that for most Americans, the signal to the brain that tells us to stop eating has been short-circuited over time. The mindful practice of controlling your intake can help repair or restore this process.
When we practice Hara Hachi Bu, we put less stress on our digestive organs. The benefits include:
* Increased energy, stamina and endurance
* Improved intestinal functioning
* Weight loss
* Improved appreciation for the deliciousness of food
*Overall improvement in life quality
How To Start
The best place to begin in your Hara Hachi Bu practice is to be conscious of the quantity of food you are accustomed to. Take time to think and evaluate. Many macrobiotic people tend to overeat or eat until full, but justify it because they are eating vegetables and grains. I have witnessed mountains of food, enough to feed at least 3 people, piled high on the plate of a single person having lunch. I have rarely seen someone eat sparsely, unless they are ill. If you eat until full or overeat, cut back slightly at first and chew your food more thoroughly. Chewing will help you feel more satisfied with a smaller amount of food.
You can usually feel a small but noticeable difference within one day. This should help encourage you to continue down this path the next day. What you will soon discover is that you need less and less food to feel satisfied. You will actually feel more satisfied as a result. I have noticed that it also helps me to prepare a small plate of food, reminding myself that I am not having seconds. I have also noticed that while it may be difficult to get up from the table while I am still slightly hungry, I soon lose this feeling and a feeling of contentment takes it’s place soon after. It has become a most delightful experience and rewarding practice.
Hara Hachi Bu Beyond Food
We can utilize the practice of Hara Hachi Bu in other aspects of our lives. Having less stuff in our possession makes it easier to navigate and enjoy this life. Maybe the less stuff we have, the more fun we have. Many years ago, a friend seemed to understand this concept quite well. Whenever he would travel, Bob would give away his possessions to his friends and would feel better as a direct result. He likened it to the pleasure one experiences after emptying one’s bowels.
Most presenters and lecturers would also do good to limit themselves when speaking in front of an audience. In Presentation Zen, Garr Reynolds advises that “no matter how much time you are given, never go overtime and in fact finish a bit before your allotted time is up. The problem with most presentations is that they are too long, not too short. Performers, for example know that the trick is to leave the stage while the audience still loves you and don’t want you to go, not after they have had enough and are “full” of you.” Hopefully, this article doesn’t leave you feeling full, but hungry for less.
Buttner, Dan, The Blue Zones, Washington, D.C., 2008. Print.
Beare, Sally, 50 Secrets of The World's Longest Living People, New York, 2003. Print.
Dopart, Susan M.S., R.D. and Jeffrey M Batchelor, A Recipe for Life by The Doctor's Dietician,
Santa Monica, 2009. Print.
Reynolds, Garr, Presentation Zen: Simple Ideas on Presentation Design and Delivery 2nd Edition, Berkeley, 2012. Print.
Walsh, Brian, Health Checkup: How to Live 100 Years,http://www.time.com/time/specials/packages/article/0,28804,1963392_1963366_1963381,00.html, February 11, 2010.
by Michael Bauce
originally printed in Macrobiotics Today
When I was just four months old, my life seemed to be coming to an untimely end.I was convulsing, so my Mother and Grandmother rushed me to the hospital. The Doctor said my condition was severe and I was not expected to survive more than an hour. Lifesaving drugs were administered in a last-ditch effort to save me. A priest was called to administer last rites. As you may have guessed, I survived the ordeal. A magic pill (a drug) saved my life.
By the time I was 8, a another magic pill suddenly appeared in my life: One-A-Day vitamin pills. My Mom told me I was to take just one every day to make me strong and healthy. I remember feeling so grateful that someone had thought of this pill. Why bother drinking my milk everyday, if a single pill could do it all?
In our modern culture, magic pills have now become popular for those looking for a quick fix from a wide variety of health conditions or as a preventative effect on problems that may arise in the future. There is a magic pill today for every health problem under the sun. If you can't sleep, have no appetite, have too much appetite, feeling depressed or overweight, there is a quick easy solution available. Even if you enjoy good health, there is a pill for you. The common assumption of magic pill theory is that by placing a specified substance in your mouth and swallowing it, you will have improved or cured your condition without ever having to change any of the personal dietary or other lifestyle habits which may have led to this condition.
The mass marketing of magic pills today is unprecedented. It dwarfs all other types of advertisement on radio, TV and Internet. Magic Pills can be drugs, superfoods and supplements. There has been a relentless campaign to convince people that these products are the best modern scientific technology has to offer. The underlying message is that your health is a corporate responsibility and you are an innocent bystander. Ironically, almost all of these magic pills have eventually ended up in the Magic Pill Graveyard. As soon as they do, new more expensive ones appear in their place.
The Drug Industry
The cozy relationship that pharmaceutical companies now have with Doctors is unprecedented and has sullied the reputation of both parties. Pharmaceutical companies regularly wine, dine and shower Doctors with lavish gifts and kickbacks. Drug commercials routinely prod patients to ask for their drug by name. Many times, these drugs are marketed as safe and then pulled from the market just a few years after their release and labeled as dangerous. One good example is the heavily advertised drug Vioxx that was widely prescribed until it was reported that it increased the chance of heart-attacks. The Industry responded by developing another drug without that known side effect. Other well known examples include Ritalin, Accutane and Prozac. Clearly, ingesting newly released drugs today can be risky business.
The United States and New Zealand are the only two countries in the world that permit drug companies to advertise directly to consumers.
These carefully crafted commercials are usually accompanied by a most pleasant, reasonable sounding voice, complete with images of sunshine, family and smiles. They entice their audience by describing their product as a miracle breakthrough, never seen before now. How ironic that the same pleasant voice reads off a long list of potential side-effects, including nausea, vomiting, uncontrolled bleeding, loss of cognitive functioning or vision problems, kidney damage, loss of control of bladder and bowel function and even death.
In the Truth About Drug Companies by Marsha Angell, M.D., she exposes what she calls "a major health cover-up" by the drug industry.4
"The combined profits for the ten drug companies in the Fortune 500 ($35.9 billion) were more than the profits for all the other 490 businesses put together ($33.7 billion) [in 2002]. Over the past two decades the pharmaceutical industry has moved very far from its original high purpose of discovering and producing useful new drugs. Now primarily a marketing machine to sell drugs of dubious benefit, this industry uses its wealth and power to co-opt every institution that might stand in its way, including the US Congress, the FDA, academic medical centers, and the medical profession itself."4
American consumers are now spending roughly $200,000,000,000 per year on prescription drugs (growing 12% per year) according to the online business info provider, ims.5. 70% of Americans regularly take prescription drugs. Despite the billions spent, we continue to suffer with high rates of disease, with no end in sight.
The Supplement Industry
In 2007, Reuters estimated the supplement industry was making $18,000,000,000 a year in sales! Many health-conscious people use supplement their diets to make-up for nutrients they may not be getting in their food. Many others continue to eat a poor diet because they believe pills will provide them with those missing nutrients. This despite the fact that there has not been one single long-term study that has proven the effectiveness of vitamin supplementation in addressing cancer, heart disease, stroke, diabetes or every day health (although millions have been spent trying). The money continues to flow as we continue our steady health decline.
The latest fad in alternative health is “Superfoods." Superfoods are foods that somehow possess super powers because they are high in anti-oxidants, omega-3s or phytochemicals. Superfoods are described as goji berries, chia seeds, acai berries, cacao, maca and countless others. Dr. Oz is a well-known proponent of Superfood theory. According to Oz, it's might be that rare fruit from the highest mountain top in Peru or the sap from a nearly extinct tree that you need. It’s not that these foods are not beneficial in some ways, but focusing on them for health may not have the magical effect you desire.
Wine & Chocolate
We have also witnessed the rapid promotion of extreme foods that we love, specifically wine and dark chocolate, now widely regarded as healthy by many. FoxNews recently proclaimed that "Red wine can cure cancer. The bad news is you'd need to drink 100 glasses a day. (red wine pill" like drinking 100 glasses a day, could cure major diseases.)"1 Conversely, The Guardian concluded that "The notion that a regular little tipple is good for your health, especially from middle age, is debunked by researchers today. Taking up alcohol may help older men cut the risks of heart attack, but increases the threat of premature death from other diseases such as cancer, according to a study which monitored the progress of 7,735 men over 16 years. Research leader Professor Roger Corder said: "The changes that alcohol causes are so modest that you would not in your right mind believe that they could protect you from heart disease."2
Chocolate has also been described as a cure for everything from cancer, heart-attack, poor vision and cognitive function, damage from stroke, blood clots, etc….3 Although chocolate contains flavanoids that supporters claim to have positive effects, most chocolate companies remove flavanoids during processing because of it’s bitter taste (and add sugars and fats). They routinely keep the flavanoids content off the label. Interesting to note that all whole grains, beans, vegetables and fruit also contain flavanoids.
Many of the health claims today directly result from studies funded conducted and released by the various industries involved. The highly touted study of red wine and it’s positive effect on health was discredited when it’s main researcher was found to have committed more than one hundred acts of fabrication in his work. Despite all of the negative revelations, magic pills continue to be easily marketed to a hungry audience. They can satisfy our cravings for sweets and alcohol while leaving us guilt-free (so they say).
Whole Foods Not A Magic Pill!
Today there is a common understanding among health-conscious people that views whole foods as a magic pill of sorts. Although we make a conscious choice to eat whole grains and vegetables for our health, food doesn’t necessarily heal the body. The body heals itself, if given the proper support and nourishment. This is an important distinction that separates natural healing from magic pill theory. The macrobiotic way of focusing on home cooking using a wide variety of natural foods, cooked in season with regards to balance and season, allows the body to gently and slowly clean house and re-establish it’s natural functioning. It’s quite a magical and beautiful process to experience, without any of the hocus pocus surrounding magic pills.
1 Fox News March 9, 2013, "Red Wine Pill" http://www.foxnews.com/health/2013/03/08/could-red-wine-pill-cure-major-diseases/#ixzz2Sd0OAom5
2 Healthy Wine Myth Debunked, James Meikle and Tim Radford http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2001/dec/20/research.medicalscience
4 The Truth About Drug Companies, Marsha Angell, M.D.http://www.wanttoknow.info/truthaboutdrugcompanies