Finally Getting in Shape: The Japanese Rule to a Healthy Diet

I’m no biohacker, but I have a profound interest in nutrition, food, and how we can optimize our health and well-being. So of course, I always read and watch a lot of videos on new research surrounding diets like the ketogenic diet, intermittent fasting, paleo, and anything else that claims to be the key to optimizing our health.

Most recently, I tried intermittent fasting for 7 days. To be fair, I’m no licensed nutritionist and my diet was developed over my own research online. Here are some details on how I pursued it:

When I Ate:

  • There are multiple ways to intermittent fast, and multiple levels of strictness and control, but basically I just skipped breakfast and dessert for a week, ate an early dinner, and focused on eating whole foods.

What I Ate:

  • While I mainly focused on the time frame of when I was eating, rather than what I was eating, I was still careful to incorporate lots of vegetables and protein to maximize “fullness” without overeating.

What Happened:

  • First 24 Hours: I feel great! A little hungry before going to bed, but that’s probably because I don’t have dessert sitting in my stomach (I was used to treating myself to half a bar of dark chocolate, 250g, or recently, a piece of pineapple cake that my little sister sent me from Taiwan)


The verdict? It doesn’t work and I absolutely hate it.

I am no expert or scientist and I am just an amateur when it comes to food nutrition, so maybe I didn’t do this diet perfectly as prescribed. But if you’re experiencing these signs, I’m thinking this diet is not sustainable in the long-run.

  • Headaches
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In addition to intermittent fasting, I’ve also tried other popular diet prescriptions with mixed results, with none of them being long-lasting or sustainable.

So what is the correct way to eat?

How do we take control of our diet and optimize our health and well-being for the long run? For years, I’ve been following a single rule that has been a staple value in my house that I have found is the only one that works for me. It’s not intermittent fasting, it’s not keto, and it’s not paleo. Not only has my single rule helped me lose weight, but it’s improved my mood, energy, and overall well-being. It’s something my mother had taught me, and the whole of Japan knows about it too. It’s called: Harahachi-bunme

What is Harahachi-bunme?

Basically, if you tell any Japanese person that this is a kind of diet, they’ll look at you in a very confused way, and correct you that it’s not really. It’s a long-standing Japanese saying that directly translates to “8/10ths your stomach”; meaning, you should only eat until you are 80% full.

It follows very simple principles that we should not overindulge in food, and we should be modest about how much we eat. Neither starving nor stuffing ourselves, it follows the principle that extreme lifestyles are neither good for us nor sustainable, and the key is finding balance and a middle ground to satisfy our needs.

It’s a way of looking at food and hunger in an intuitive way, with a focus on nourishment and health rather than results like weight-loss or physical benchmarks. These benchmarks tend to come naturally over time anyways, because when you practice neither over-indulgent eating nor deprivation, your body will respond in a sustainable manner that will last you the rest of your life. You must trust that your body knows what it needs.

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A typical Japanese teishoku meal

How to practice Harahachi-bunme

Basic guidelines behind the principle

Eat when you are hungry.

  • For some days this means eating two meals. For other days, it means eating four. Days following an intense day of exercise may mean you eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, dessert, and snacks in-between. For a day of travel and lots of idle sitting, it could mean just one large meal and many snacks throughout the day.

Eat whole, nutrient-dense foods.

  • While not strictly in the saying, harahachi-bunme only works when you are eating healthy, nutrient-dense foods. Your body cannot accurately measure nourishment and hunger when you are consuming mostly empty calories from highly-processed foods. These empty calories lead to overeating because you are never able to reach the point of “80% full”. Focus on fruits, vegetables, proteins, and whole grains, and your stomach and brain will respond accordingly to your needs.

Don’t worry about counting or measuring things — your body will know

  • Just eat fruits, vegetables, proteins, and whole grains.

Stop when you’re 80% full.

  • This is the most important part, as it guarantees how we develop a positive and sustainable relationship with food.

Get food off your mind.

  • As you practice harahachi-bunme, the idea of food should fall to the back of your mind. Stop obsessing over it, and think of it as another part of enjoying a fulfilling life. Food should be a part of what makes life interesting and enjoyable, but should not be the focus. This practice is the most difficult part to attain, and it is the part which will take the most time, particularly if you’ve had a problematic or complicated relationship with food in the past. But once you reach a point where it can fall back in your mind and take a backseat, your mental energy can be reallocated and opened to many more interesting life experiences and ideas that aren’t related to diet.

With this perspective shift and change in relationship with food, living will not be about eating, but eating will become the fuel and sustenance for a fulfilling lifestyle, focused on your family, friends, career, and success.

Harahachi-bunme is not really a diet, and to be honest, it’s not even really a rule. It’s a way of intuitive eating and understanding food from a perspective of nourishment and sustenance.

I’ve gone from both ends of the extreme eating spectrum, and found that I was neither happy nor productive in either state. Moderation can be a lot more difficult than said, but once you master the art of it, your brain capacity really does open up for better things.

So get in touch with your thoughts, and get in touch with your body. Love it, nourish it, and treasure it. You will feel physically better, emotionally happier, and psychologically more engaged with your work and the people around you.

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Written by

Raised in Tokyo; living in the US. I care about helping others learn to live a better, healthier life. My site: 🌱

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