Let’s face it. Eating is an important part of our culture. Eating with friends and family has long been infused with social and cultural norms well outside the simple act of refueling our bodies with energy.
Hara hachi bu is the Confucian eating practice of the Okinawan people, which roughly translates as “eat until 80 percent full.” Okinawa is also a society where longevity is the norm, as almost 29 percent of Okinawans live to be 100. That is four times the average in western countries.
With the rush of modern lifestyle, high levels of stress play a role in digestion. Our hectic schedules leave us little time to manage stress. The neurotransmitter serotonin, which contributes to feelings of wellbeing and happiness, is overwhelmingly found in our gut. By recognizing this brain-gut connection, many digestive diseases can be helped by supporting and calming the nervous system through lifestyle, nutrition, stress management, and botanical medicine.
There are numerous herbs to ease and support digestive ailments. In botanical medicine, actions of herbs are categorized by their action to the human body. Bitters increase digestive secretions and enzymes in aid for the digestive organs, and carminative herbs soothe and calm the gastric mucosa cells.
Recently, the film “Forks over Knifes,” the new HBO series “The Weight of the Nation,” as well as the written works of Michael Pollan have begun to influence the dialogue and help raise awareness of food we eat and how it affects our health. The movement that promotes farmer’s markets and local organic foods continues to build, and fortunately, Coastside residents can enjoy the pleasure of fresh foods.
Science continues to weigh in on the nasty effects on our body of packaged and processed foods; it has been estimated that by 2050 cancer rates will double in connection to the obesity epidemic. The wisdom of our ancestors’ eating practices continues to offer a blueprint of healthy eating. Take time for yourself with loved ones, cook fresh foods, and slowly enjoy each bite to honor the Hara hachi bu tradition.
Naturopathic doctors are trained as primary care doctors who know that proper nutrition is essential not only for addressing digestive concerns, but also in treating chronic disease. Naturopathic medicine is becoming more popular, as demonstrated by the opening of a new campus by Bastyr University in San Diego this fall.
Marisa Williams is a board-certified and licensed naturopathic doctor in the state of California. She is a member of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians, American Botanical Council, Pediatric Association of Naturopathic Physicians, and California Naturopathic Doctors Association. She practices at Pacifica Naturopathic Medicine in Pacifica.