Did you know "Washoku" (Japanese Traditional cuisine) is registered as UNESCO Intangible cultural heritage? Japan has the highest life expectancy in the world - averaging 83.7 years (WHO 2017). And they live about 75 years of those years disease and disability-free.
Let me tell you that Japanese people LOVE food. They love food so much that there's no TV show running without some kind of food broadcasted. Also, food is available anywhere, there are convenience stores every block in Tokyo, vending machines everywhere in Japan, and the grandma's extreme love to give you extra snacks.
But Japan is the last on the obesity list among developed countries. Why? People say it's in our genes, but I don't think that describes the whole story. When I look at how Japanese eat, I think of mindful eating. They are trained to be a mindful eater.
There are many rules and traditions surrounding food in Japan, here are few of the traditions:
Ita Daki Masu & Gochi Sou Sama Japan is an atheist country so we don't pray, but before we eat, we're supposed to say "Ita Daki Masu" and after we eat "Gochi Sou Sama". "Ita Daki Masu" means I am going to have this meal. It is a way to show appreciation to the people who prepared the foods, but also to the food itself, which is providing you with nourishment to survive. "Gochi Sou Sama" means I had a feast. Shows that you are fully satiated and satisfied with the meal. Paying gratitude to the people who prepared the food and the food itself is part of mindful eating. By thanking them, you pay the proper attention that they (people and food) deserve. Bringing conscious attention to your meal before and after you eat.
Hara Hachi Bu It is one of the most famous food philosophy in Japan. "Hara Hachi Bu" means 80% of your stomach. Research shows that the mouse who were fed 20% less, lived significantly longer and healthier than mouse fed 20% more food. In the book, Blue Zones Dr. Wansink explains that “There is a significant calorie gap between when an American says, ‘I’m full’ and an Okinawan says, ‘I’m no longer hungry.’ We gain weight insidiously, not stuffing ourselves, but eating a little bit too much each day – mindlessly.” If you keep eating till you're full, you may be eating too much? An easy way to reduce your portion size is to serve 20% less on your plate.
Eat the rainbow My mom used to pack my lunch when we moved to the U.S. since I was not able to get accustomed to eating pizza and chicken tender at the school cafeteria. I remember when she packed my lunch, she always paid extra attention to having a rainbow of colors in my lunch box. If there are not enough colors in the box, she'd add a few grape tomatoes or steamed broccoli to add a rainbow to my lunch box. Now I realized that it's a great way to incorporate more veggies into my diet. Japanese food traditions value so much about aesthetics of the meal we prepare. From the color of the bowl, we use to serve the food, to the types of vegetables we use to prepare the food. They know that eating starts with our eyes. When we see the food, we start to salivate and the stomach secretes digestive enzymes.
These are some easy principles you can adopt today!