As kids I’m sure most of us can remember our mother’s telling us to finish what’s on our plate, or think about the starving children in Africa.

Over time that habit develops but a little too well. Our eyes become ‘bigger than our belly’ and we can easily slip into the habit of overeating. While the initial intention is appealing, such approach can easily lead to an expanding waistline. So what can be done about this and what message are other cultures teaching their kids?

Firstly, let’s take a look at Sweden, the Swedes have a term called ‘Lagom’ which translates to ‘just enough’ or ‘everything in moderation’. This is reflected in many aspects of their lives from the houses they live in to the cars they drive. In regards to their eating habits, they take this same approach; consuming ‘just enough’, not too much not too little. This approach encourages a level of mindfulness as it requires a conscious effort to be aware of how much is eaten and more importantly when to stop, therefore a strong boundary to overeating. Logam is a way of life for the Swedes, and as a nation has a relatively low rate of obesity (12% in 2012) compared to Briton (23%).

Now let’s take a look further afield to the Japanese approach called ‘Hara Hachi Bu’ which translates to ‘Eat until you are 8 parts (out of 10) full’ or ‘belly 80% full’. It really is self explanatory, they eat until they are 80% full. Remember it takes about 20 minutes for the brain to register fullness so they might be on to something by stopping earlier then most of us would. Just like the Swedes, this method requires a level of mindfulness and helps to avoid overeating by tracking how much is being consumed. Looking at the rate of obesity in Japan, (3.1%) it seems to be doing the trick.

Can Britain's obesity problems be addressed by an attitude shift to eating?
 

Lets clarify, Im not saying that eating until your 80% full or just enough is the single reason why these countries are leaner (than the U.K), but it plays an important role as it’s practiced as part of their culture. It’s a mindful practice, which isn’t part of the latest diet craze or something that is practiced in the short term. So maybe us Brits can learn a thing or two from this approach.

So how do we adapt the ‘Finish what’s on your plate’ culture to a more mindful approach? Firstly, especially with the British we tend to eat with our eyes, so using a smaller plate can be an effective approach to control how much food you initially put in your plate. Secondly as you plate up your food, consciously put less than usual, once you’ve eaten you can then make a decision whether you really want more or not. Finally once you’ve got your plate of food, make sure any leftovers aren’t within arms reach. If it is you are more likely to overeat as it’s in front of you and it is more tempting as you can physically reach it. This is also useful for things like family packs of crisps, instead of eating out of the packet, put some crisps in a bowl and put the packet away.

This simple but important aspect of weight management can be a huge step in the right direction.

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