If you compare the United States with other developed countries in the world, we fall very low in rankings on average lifespan and expectancy. We have extremely high cases of heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other deadly illnesses, and numbers don’t seem to be getting any better.
This is why many researchers have been focusing on the daily eating and lifestyle practices of healthier cultures across the globe. For instance, the Blue Zones are five regions in the world with the highest concentrations of people who live to be 100 years or older, and they have become a central focus in studying longevity and the secrets to living a healthier life.
One of the Blue Zone regions is Okinawa, Japan. If you were to talk with someone in the community of Okinawa, they would most likely tell you that their secrets to longevity have to do with a combination of purpose, community, and healthy eating.
According to research published in the American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, this means that the people of Okinawa eat only until they’re 80% full at every meal. In fact, you may hear someone utter the phrase, Hara hachi bu, before their meal, which is an ancient saying by Confucius which essentially means, “eat until you’re 80% full.”
This way of eating is contrary to the way most Americans eat. With enormous portion sizes at restaurants, extra-large options at every fast-food restaurant, and even sugary 30-ounce drinks offered at coffee chains, people in America are constantly bombarded with the feeling of needing to be full.
But the people of Okinawa have a much different relationship to their food. According to The Blue Zones’ official website, traditional Japanese dining involves the desire to prevent illness and disease, rather than just trying to cure them when it arises. In other words, they see food as preventative medicine.
When it comes to their 80/20 rule, Okinawans eat slowly in order to give their stomach time to communicate to their brain that it is full. This helps prevent overeating and according to The American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine, the 20% gap in hunger can make a significant difference in weight loss or weight gain.
The size of their meals varies throughout the day, as well. According to Blue Zones founder Dan Buettner, the community of Okinawa (and most other Blue Zone areas as well) eat their smallest meal at lunch or for an early dinner and then stop eating afterward.
There is much more to be learned from the Okinawans about health and longevity than just the 80/20 rule. Not only do they believe in healthy eating, but they value the importance of things like community, finding and living out your purpose, lowering your stress as much as possible, and taking care of others when you can. Hopefully, we can learn from the longest living people in the world and reach more fulfillment and longevity in our own lives.