Yesterday, a man named Carl Mattson celebrated his birthday. Like many others, he might’ve had some friends over to celebrate. Maybe there was birthday cake, flowers and a present, too.
But Carl is not just any other person. He’s officially the oldest person in Sweden. Looking at an image of him, I’d have guessed this sprightly-looking gent to be not a day over eighty. He’s 111.
His answer to the usual ‘what’s your secret?’: ‘Don’t overeat. Eat about half of your meal.’
I don’t want to promote waste and tell people to bin their food, but I think he’s on to something. And he’s not the only one. The people of the Japanese island of Okinawa — best known for their longevity — have a phrase for it: Hara Hachi Bu, or ‘eat until you’re eighty percent full’.
No doubt there’s more involved in reaching a ripe old age than just not overeating, with your health fairly intact. Genetics, for example. But lots of studies show that overeating is, indeed, very bad for your health.
Many people, myself included, overeat. Mostly because it tastes good. And also because you tend to overestimate your hunger — you ‘eat with your eyes’. Sometimes hunger is confused with being peckish, or bored.
And once you’ve eaten, it takes about twenty minutes for your brain to register that you’re full. So, by the time you’ve devoured that second portion, you feel sick and curse yourself for being greedy.
And if the contents of your fridge doesn’t tempt you, a key stroke or screen swipe can have whatever your stomach desires delivered to your door before you can say ‘egg-fried rice’.
Food is everywhere, twenty-four seven. And much of it lacks nutrients while being chockful of calories, leading to a perverse paradox where you can be overweight yet malnourished.
Your body’s a bit like your car. Put the wrong fuel in the tank and it won’t work very well. And sooner or later it might break down.
So make sure to fuel yourself properly. The Okinawans don’t just eat until they’re eighty percent full, their diet is based on plant foods, with very little animal protein, such as pork and fish.
How do you know you’re eighty percent full? Well, one way is to stop eating when you feel satiated. Satiety is that feeling that you’re no longer hungry; it comes before the feeling of being stuffed. It’s a feeling of just enough. Or as people back home in Sweden would say, lagom.
So, if you’re someone who overeats, try that or put a bit less on your dinner plate than you normally would. Yes, I know, that does require a teeny bit of willpower. Especially when you’re famished.
And to prevent waste, take any leftovers to work the next day.
Then once you’ve eaten, remember to give your brain time to catch up. Chances are that twenty minutes later you’ll feel satisfied. And maybe even a tad more alert. You might even find yourself skipping over the usual I’m-so-full-cum-beached-whale impersonation routine.
Obviously, people suffering from diabetes or eating-related disorders should not experiment with this.
* A note about Okinawa: with several fast-food outlets on the island these days, the healthier Hara Hachi Bu way of eating is sadly something that’s now mostly the preserve of the older generation.
Check out this link for more info: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/the-okinawa-diet-living-to-100/
Until next time,