The Best Thing You Can Do After You Eat Too Much

Japanese empathy towards boredom snacking

Illustrations by Kaki Okumura

I was recently asked by a reader,

“I once read this Japanese word, “Kuchisabishii” — would you mind sharing the meaning of it?”

Ah, yes. Kuchisabishii.

I’ve been hearing it a lot more these days in Japan, sometimes over Zoom calls and sometimes thrown around the house. When I catch someone eating their third snack of the day, with a guilty smile they’ll laugh, “I know, but I can’t help it. I’ve got a bad case of kuchisabishii.”

Like opening our phone to social media after we’ve promised ourselves to cut down on our screen time, it’s characterized by an incessant nagging feeling that needs attending to, even when we don’t really want to engage. You might try to tell the voice to go away, that you’re trying to concentrate, but you know that you have it when not ten minutes later you’re in the kitchen looking for something to eat.

But there is something so forgiving, and perhaps slightly endearing, about the term kuchisabishii.

‘Kuchisabishii’ is a Japanese term which directly translates to ‘lonely mouth’, but it’s a phrase that’s better translated as boredom eating. The persistent need to eat something even when we aren’t hungry is a frustrating problem many of us face — perhaps even more so during a time we are increasingly spending more time at home, when we are always a short walk from the kitchen.

But there is something so forgiving, and perhaps slightly endearing, about the term kuchisabishii. It’s less shameful in nature than terms like ‘mindless binging’ or ‘compulsive overeating’, for it acknowledges that it’s less of a disgraceful problem than it is just being human. Like how we are all susceptible to loneliness, we are all susceptible to eating out of boredom.

And like how you might cope with loneliness, instead of berating yourself or brooding in guilt for how you feel, the best cure for a lonely mouth is with a bit of empathy. Try not to go overboard with it — all helpful coping is done in moderation — but the idea is to let yourself enjoy a bit of cathartic snacking.

But wait, isn’t it a bad idea to eat when you’re not hungry? Shouldn’t you just force yourself to not eat?

If the solution were that easy, healthy eating wouldn’t be a problem, but exercising willpower and forcing ourselves not to eat rarely ever works. Instead of satisfying our cravings, it feeds into our guilt when we end up “breaking”, tripping a sort of all or nothing mindset: we tell ourselves we’ve made a critical mistake, and so we shame ourselves into making the problem worse.

“I love to tell people, if you get a flat tire you don’t get out of the car and slash the other three tires. You patch the tire and get back on the road.” — Jillian Michaels, American personal trainer

Eating out of boredom happens to the best of us, but kuchisabishii is about shaping it as a natural feeling and a forgiving experience, rather than to shove down those feelings. For once we recognize and confront it, we end up making better decisions after the fact than exacerbating self-sabotaging behavior on guilt-triggered impulses.

So next time you’re craving something to eat, maybe you’ll engage, and maybe you won’t, but don’t feel bad if your mouth is feeling a bit lonely these days. Sometimes laughing about it and moving on is the best thing you can do after eating a bit too much.

Born in Dallas, raised in New York and Tokyo. I care about helping others learn to live a better, healthier life. My site: www.kakikata.space 🌱

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