Monday, June 7, 2010

No Free Refills!

I'm often asked by people if they can eat all they want of a certain food. Perhaps vegetables or fruit? What about diet soda? You're not going to like what I have to say, but there are no free refills when it comes to healthy eating. In fact the notion of "free refills" perpetuates mindless eating. There is and should be a limit to what we consume. By eating all that we want, we tend to overeat (think about the last time you ate at a buffet). Shouldn't we stop and evaluate our level of hunger before eating more?

Hara hachi bu is an Okinawan expression that means eat until you are 80% full. This was traditionally practiced by the Okinawans who were among some of the longest lived people on the earth. Their diet consisted mostly of  vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes including soy foods, fish and very little amounts of meat. Sadly, younger generations of Okinawans may not live as long as their elders because they seem to prefer a more western diet, with a nice helping of western diseases to boot.

As a 15 year old athlete, my son has a healthy appetite. I'm fortunate that he likes most foods and with a dietitian for a mother, he gets more than his fair share of vegetables, whole grains and legumes. He often desires second or third helpings. I'll ask him if he's still hungry before digging in a second time. His reply has often been, "well, I'm not full." I don't believe that fullness should be the gauge that we have had enough to eat, but rather absence of hunger. Fullness is the gauge that we have overeaten. This is food for thought in a world of overabundance. It takes real discipline to practice hara hachi bu when we are being bombarded by food advertisements that make us want to eat more with excessive portion sizes on every street corner. A mere 100-200 hundred calories a day extra can prevent us from obtaining weight loss, and over time promote weight gain. It's something to think about when you want to eat more because something tastes good, but you are no longer hungry.

To those who question why we shouldn't eat as many vegetables as we want, after all they are low in calories; I say sure, eat plenty of vegetables. Most people don't eat enough. But no food should be eaten unchecked. A recent article in the New York Times told of an 88-year-old woman who developed life threatening hypothyroidism from eating two to three pounds of raw bok choy daily for several months. She believed that it would help control her diabetes. Instead it suppressed her thyroid. This is an extreme example, but it shows that you can get too much of a good thing.

My challenge to you, try practicing hara hachi bu for a week. Be mindful about the food that you eat and stop eating when you are no longer hungry, but not full.