Eat 80 Percent

New Jersey diner dessert case

It’s not that I eat bad foods. It’s that I eat too much. I have a Jersey diner mentality. Big portions. There is a Japanese cultural habit of healthy eating called hara hachi bu, which means eat only until you are 80% full (literally, “stomach 80%”).

That is possibly easier to follow in Japan where portions are generally much smaller than in the U.S. and the pace of eating is also slower. One thing it does not mean in Japan is leaving a fifth of your meal on the plate. It is bad form to leave food on your plate. That is a rule my mother seemed to follow. “Clean your plate” was a rule in my house and it has stuck with me – which has not helped my waistline.

Stopping at 80% might be a good way to avoid obesity without going hungry. The stomach’s stretch receptors take about 20 minutes to tell the brain that it is full. That’s why you probably feel really full about 20 minutes after you stop eating.

Pastrami Reuben with disco fries at an NJ diner – not part of the Okinawa diet.

Hara hachi bu is discussed in a diet book called The Okinawa Diet Plan: Get Leaner, Live Longer, and Never Feel Hungry. It’s based on a traditional Okinawa, Japan diet that emphasizes vegetables, whole grains, fruits, legumes, fish, and limited meats.

Keeping that 80% in mind, I looked at some health statistics for Okinawa that I found: heart disease rates are 80% lower than in the U.S; the rate of stroke is also lower and cholesterol levels are typically under 180. Their rates of cancer are 50-80% lower – especially for breast, colon, ovarian, and prostate cancers.

When I started searching online for more information on this 80% rule, I came across a blog post that wondered if this principle could relate to other aspects of life. The blogger (who writes about business presentations) related it to the length of a good speech, presentation, or meeting.

He says, “No matter how much time you are given, never ever go over time, and in fact finish a bit before your allotted time is up. How long you go will depend on your own unique situation at the time but try to shoot for 80-90% of your allotted time. No one will complain if you finish with a few minutes to spare. The problem with most presentations is that they are too long, not too short. Performers, for example, know that the trick is to leave the stage while the audience still loves you and doesn’t want you to go, and not after they have had enough and are full of you.”

Does hara hachi bu relate to anything in your life?

I can certainly see situations where I would NOT want it to be a guiding philosophy. For example, I wouldn’t want my students to give 80% of their effort. Then again, in this current economic downturn, perhaps it makes sense for all of us to use the principle in situations like our spending. Maybe, as with food, you only need to buy 80% of what you think you need in clothing, dining out, travel and non-essentials. Spend only 80%, save 20% or donate the 20% to charity.

The 80% food rule is good as long as you can tell you’re at that point. I’m not a fast eater, so you’d think that I could sense I was full and just stop. My wife rarely finishes a meal when we go out. Eat half and take half home for lunch tomorrow. I have to break the habits of my childhood. And maybe go to fewer diners.

Sleeping With Noise

Do you have trouble falling asleep? Or do you wake up at night and struggle to get back to sleep? Maybe you have tried one of the many “white noise” solutions. I know people who sleep every night with that steady sound that masks other sounds playing nearby. There are machines or you can ask Alexa or other devices to play white noise. When I heard about it many years ago, I was told to tune my radio between two stations for a steady static sound.

The idea of playing “noise” to hide other noises always seemed weird to me. For the past decade, I have had tinnitus which produces a steady sound in my left year and it does not help me sleep at all. In fact, trying to go to sleep is a time when I am most aware of the sound.

This noise filters out things that distract you, like people talking or cars going by, so they don’t interrupt your sleep. You may hear it called ambient noise.

Recently I read about “pink noise.” This is quieter and is like the slow waves that your brain produces during deep sleep. White noise may sound like a vacuum cleaner or loud static. Pink noise is more like falling rain or rustling leaves.

Both white noise and pink noise encompass all frequencies of noise that are audible to the human ear. However, white noise contains all frequencies with equal distribution, whereas pink noise has more power at lower frequencies and less at higher frequencies, making it deeper.

Specifically, pink noise contains the same overall intensity in each octave, but the volume of individual pitches decreases by 3 decibels with each higher octave. I don’t know what that means but I asked an audiologist about it. He said that it does work and that it might actually mask my tinnitus when I’m trying to fall asleep. I tried a white noise app and it did not work for me. I actually felt like the noise aggravated my tinnitus, so I stopped.

Should I try pink noise?

MORE
webmd.com/sleep-disorders/pink-noise-sleep
sleepfoundation.org/noise-and-sleep/pink-noise-sleep

The Grief Stone

grief stone

When I was going through some very bad times at the turn of the century, I was reading way too much about depression and madness (Health Tip: that doesn’t help) and I came across a brief reference to a Native American belief in the use of “grief stones.”

I didn’t do any deep research into it but decided to give it a try. The idea was that you selected a small stone into which you would rub your grief.  Focus on the negativity, problem or grief and rub it into the stone. The stone I chose was smooth river rock and I used my thumb to rub. When you feel that you have transferred those feelings into the stone, you bury the stone in the ground where the bad energy will slowly dissipate.

I know how “new age” that sounds. Did I believe it? I guess I was willing to believe it at that point. After a week, I felt better and I dug up the stone. Maybe I was supposed to find a new stone, but I was comfortable with this one.

Perhaps, my improvement had nothing to do with the stone. Science would say that it had nothing to do with it. But I carried the stone with me and rubbed it when things were bad. I buried it again and waited for things to seem better. That took a few weeks. I dug it up again and kept it in my car.

I began a practice of leaving work and rubbing into the stone anything bad that had happened during the day. I did that for two years before I felt that I had packed as much into that stone as it could hold. I had actually worn away a very comfortable groove in that stone with my thumb which I found pretty remarkable. 

I buried the stone a few times again in the woods nearby because I didn’t want the grief dissipating too near home. I left it there for a season, dug it up, and put it back in the car. It is still there, but I rarely use it. It’s more of a reminder of what had happened to me back then.

This past week I did some searching online for grief stones. I didn’t find much more than I had found back in 2001. There were sites selling grief stones, which bothered me for some reason. I found stones called “Apache Tears” that are said to be good for “transmuting one’s own negativity under stressful situations.” It is a dark black stone of obsidian and when held up to the light appears somewhat transparent. I read that some people claim that when the grief one feels goes into the stone, it turns opaque.

I claim no special powers for my stone. I don’t even know what kind of stone it is. What I believe happened is that the practice of rubbing the stone and thinking about the grief, worry, sorrow, pain, anger, or whatever it was at that moment that was bothering me was what had some effect. Recognize it, process it, and try to dismiss it. More psychology than sorcery.

I did find a reference to the grief stone on a site about art therapy. In this practice, you create a stone to represent the pain, memory, and emotion and bury it. I also found the recommendation to cleanse the bad energy in a stone by burying it in a crystal bowl of sea salt or placing it in a stream or into the ocean.

But I don’t think you need a special stone or a special cleansing. A stone that feels comfortable in the hand and the burying is as much ritual as you need.

Do I still use the stone? No, things are pretty good right now. Do I think the stone still holds some of the negativity? No. Did it ever? I know I held some negativity and it went away. Coincidence?

I still have the stone in the car. I hope I won’t need it again, but it’s there. The ground around where I buried it is green and growing. My grief didn’t kill everything nearby.

Everyone has days when you need to stop for just a bit, focus on what is causing negativity, and try to rub it into some other place outside of you and those you love. It might take a long time to rub out all that grief. It might take many more days for the grief to be neutralized.

Get Happy

laughing women
Photo by ELEVATE on Pexels.com

A little post I put here seven years ago titled “What Happiness Looks Like ” continues to be one of my most-read posts and I suspect it is because of that “happy” part. We all want to be happy. And there are “happy chemicals.”

Can you stimulate happy chemicals? Perhaps you can, if you know how the happy and unhappy chemicals operate.

The expectation of something good, like a reward, triggers dopamine. Dopamine alerts your attention to things that meet your needs. It can be triggered by just thinking about and seeing a great meal even before you actually taste any of it. It pushes us to seek out what we need and persist in that seeking. Embracing a new goal and moving towards it in stages, perhaps daily, will reward you with dopamine.

Serotonin is another happy chemical. Confidence is one thing that triggers serotonin. Things that inspire confidence – like getting the respect of peers – gives you a shot of serotonin and then your brain seeks to repeat behaviors that triggered it in your past. Don’t focus on losses as that will depress your serotonin, focus on your wins.

Oxytocin is a third happy chemical and it is triggered by trust. In the animal kingdom, mammals stick with a herd because it releases oxytocin when they are part of a group they trust. Interestingly, reptiles don’t like being with other reptiles. They only release oxytocin during sex. When trust is betrayed, your brain releases unhappy chemicals. You can build trust consciously by creating realistic expectations in relationships and then when expectations are met, your brain rewards you.

Pain causes endorphins to be released, but we don’t want pain. There is the term “endorphin high” that runners can experience which is produced when they push past their limits. Endorphin masks pain which feels good. It is a survival chemical that keeps you going when you are injured. It disappears when the pain is gone, which is good because otherwise, we wouldn’t sense pain when we burned ourselves or some harm came to us. It’s an odd happy chemical that comes out of unhappy circumstances.

What are the unhappy/bad chemicals? Cortisol is one. It is our internal alarm system, a stress hormone that alerts the hypothalamus and pituitary gland in the brain to change our mood, motivation, and fear. Cortisol is produced in the adrenal glands located at the top of your kidneys.

Though it is bad because it is produced from stress, it does good things to protect us too. It keeps inflammation down, regulates blood pressure, increases your blood sugar (glucose), changes your sleep/wake cycle and boosts energy so you can handle stress. But constant stress produces too much cortisol which leads to anxiety and depression, headaches, heart disease, memory and concentration problems, digestion issues, trouble sleeping and weight gain. Very unhappy stuff.

There are medications to control the happy and unhappy chemicals. Many anti-depressants are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) that are used to treat depression by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain. There are also supplements that claim to improve mood positively which I will not comment on here.

The natural ways to increase the happy chemicals are all things that we should try to do regularly anyway. Get out of the house or office, exercise even if it is just walking. Laugh! Laughing swaps the cortisol in our bloodstream with dopamine, oxytocin and endorphins. Do things you enjoy, from cooking, gardening, playing an instrument, doing artwork and, yes, having sex.

You can find online ways to increase the good mood chemicals. These will not pull someone out of deep depression or eliminate stress but they will help. Oxytocin increases when you listen to music, get or give a massage, spend time with friends in good conversation, meditate, and even from petting your dog or cat.

Long Lives

Long life is the wish of many of us. To live and be healthy into our 90s is a wonderful thing. People have been seeking ways to have longer lives for many centuries. And life expectancy is always improving.

In the Paleolithic age, it is estimated that at 15, life expectancy was 22 to 33 years. For 18th-century Massachusetts colonists who reached the age of 50, they could expect to live until 71, and those who were still alive at 60 could expect to reach 75.

The 2019-2020 world average life expectancy was 72.6–73.2 with females at 75.6 years and males at 70.8 years.

We may be evolving to longer lives, but many animals have us easily beat in that race. There are tortoises alive today that were 25 to 50 years old when Charles Darwin was born.

Marine animals can live for a thousand years—or possibly even forever. Terrestrial animals generally have shorter lifespans.

Can we discover their secret to long lives? yes, but it may not help us. Some secrets to longevity are immobility and slow growth rate. If an organism lives in the ocean that is a more stable environment than land, and the deeper you go, the less likely you are to die from a chance event.

Don’t be too depressed about your shorter lifespan. Consider a housefly whose life maxes out at about a month.

Amongst the mammals, the Arctic bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus) is by far the longest-living mammal on Earth. The average age of captured whales is 60 to 70 years, but genome sequencing has led researchers to estimate life spans of at least 200 years. The colder waters of the north Atlantic and north Pacific Oceans help.

And a tortoise (Testudinidae) who was considered the last living representative of Darwin’s voyage on the HMS Beagle named Harriet died of heart failure in 2006 at the age of 175. This year, a 187-year-old Seychelles tortoise named Jonathan made it into the Guinness World Records as the oldest known living land animal.

Take care. Stay cold. Go deep/.

Jonathan, who resided on the island of Saint Helena, a British Overseas Territory in the South Atlantic Ocean.

Nocebo

Most people are familiar with the concept of a placebo. The word comes from Latin and means “I shall please.” We most frequently hear it used in medical terms. It can be a substance or a treatment that has no known therapeutic value. Common placebos include inert tablets (like sugar pills), and inert injections (like saline).

Sigmund Freud conjectured that since some placebos had a positive effect on what was considered a physical problem, the problem must really be in the mind. In his version of talk therapy providing positive information can improve the perception of well-being.

I have been fascinated with this concept ever since I heard about it in a high school course. But it was only recently that I heard the word nocebo. This is when negative data makes someone feel worse about their own health. Nocebo is Latin for “I shall harm.”

I heard nocebo used in the context of the negative effect that my wearing a fitness tracker on my wrist might have on me. I wear it to track my activities (steps, miles, exercise times). It also monitors my heart rate and my sleep. The device has a positive effect on me when it vibrates to tell me I have hit my steps goal for the day. But what is the effect on me when I spend all day working on the code for a website and discover at dinnertime that I have only taken 1200 steps all day and I have only been active for one of my waking hours? Nocebo effect.

“Placebo” was used in a medicinal context in the late 18th century to describe a “commonplace method or medicine.” In 1811, it was defined as “any medicine adapted more to please than to benefit the patient”.

In the 20th century, studies on the “placebo effect” showed that there could be a positive effect and that it could also have no effect. Inconclusive. However, placebo-controlled studies were used and are still used to evaluate new treatments. Clinical trials control for this effect by including a group of subjects that receives a “sham” treatment. Subjects in such trials don’t know if they received the treatment or a placebo.

I think it is interesting that if a person is given a placebo under one name, and they respond well, they will respond in the same way on a later occasion to that placebo under that name – but not if it is given with another name. Clinical trials are often double-blinded so the researchers also do not know which test subjects are receiving the active or placebo treatment.

I’m no medical authority so I must be careful what I suggest here, but I would think that when someone finds relief from a scientifically questionable treatment (copper bracelets for arthritis, some herbal products, etc.) that relief might be a placebo effect.

What was new to me (and perhaps to you) is the nocebo effect. It seems to apply to more than my fitness watch. What about social media “likes” and reposts and hit counters on your blog or website? They can all have a positive effect on you when you get them, but what about when you don’t get them? I think we might all need to be more conscious of any nocebo effects in out daily lives.