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.

Financial Independence, Retire Early

Financial Independence, Retire Early is a lifestyle movement (FIRE) with a goal that I would think the vast majority of us can get behind: achieving the financial independence to retire early.

I am no millennial, but I was working toward that goal long before millennials started online communities using blogs, podcasts, and online discussion forums to try to figure out a path to FIRE.

This had to be the goal for many people going back decades (maybe centuries). But I know that even for my parents’ generation the idea of retiring before 65 with any kind of financial independence was unrealistic. For the post-WWII generations, working for 20, 30, 40, maybe 50 years for the same company and getting a pension and Social Security was about as good as it was going to get.

Attaining FIRE requires very intentional efforts to maximize your savings rate by finding ways to increase income and decrease expenses. You need to accumulate assets to the point that they return passive income that provides enough money for living expenses in perpetuity.

If you read about the FIRE movement, you will find the suggestion of using the 4 percent rule as a guide. The four percent rule is a rule of thumb used to determine how much a retiree should withdraw from a retirement account each year. This rule seeks to provide a steady income stream to the retiree while also maintaining an account balance that keeps income flowing through retirement. This means that you set your goal at getting at least 25 times your estimated annual living expenses. That’s a lot of money.

Of course, many people couldn’t even give you an accurate account of what their annual living expenses are, so there is a lot of calculating to be done.

Many people point to the FIRE movement originating in the 1992 best-seller with a great title, Your Money or Your Life, and the 2010 book Early Retirement Extreme. The books encourage simple living and income from investments to achieve financial independence.

You need to look at the relationship between your savings rate and the time to retirement which allowed individuals to quickly project their retirement date given an assumed level of income and expenses.

That relationship will show you that FIRE is achieved through some very aggressive saving on your part.

Many financial planners and guides will suggest a “standard” 10-15% savings rate. That would work if you start young and stick to it – and you don’t plan to retire until you are at least at Social Security age.

Assuming constant income and expenses – a heck of an assumption – and neglecting investment returns (I wish I could), if you had a savings rate of 10%, it would take you (1-0.1)/0.1 or 9 years of work to save for 1 year of retirement. That means if you want to retire at age 50 and want to plan to live to age 90, you would need to save at that rate for 360 years. I guess if you can become a young YouTube star or hit the lottery in fifth grade, you might have a chance.

Increase that savings rate to 25% and it takes (1-0.25)/0.25 or 3 years of work to save for 1 year of retirement. That means those 40 years you want of FIRE only require 120 years of savings.

Okay, you can follow the older rule of having 25 times your annual expense and then you only need to save for 75 years.

The time to retirement decreases significantly as savings rate is increased. A savings rate of 50%, takes (1-0.5)/0.5 or “only” 1 year of work to save for 1 year of retirement. You would have to start at age 10.

Finally with a savings rate of 75%, it takes (1-0.75)/0.75 or just 0.33 years of work to save for 1 year of retirement. At that rate, it would take less than 10 years of work to accumulate the 25 years of living expenses suggested by the 4% rule.

So, if can can start saving 75% of your income starting at age 40, you are on track to retire at your desired age 50.

If you achieve FIRE, then paid work becomes optional. This is what I call “unretirement.” You work if you want to work, doing things you want to do, for pay or as a volunteer. My Boomer generation is poised to live longer in better health than any earlier generation and also seem to be extending our working lives, often with new careers, entrepreneurial ventures, and volunteer service. The formula for unretirement is not the 4% rule.

If you have made it this far, you are likely to think that this is an unlikely life/work plan. FIRE has its critics who will say that it only works for the already rich who can achieve that high savings rates. You also need to start young. Starting at age 25 gives you a better chance, but takes away most of your income during the years when you are likely to need it for home and family.

And real advocates of FIRE talk about retiring at much lower ages than 50. The 4% rule, which was recommended to me for my investment withdrawals when I went into unretirement in my late 50s, was developed for a traditional retirement time frame of 30 years and retiring in your 60s.

FIRE advocates will say that this can only happen with more than just aggressive savings. Add into the plan cutting back on lifestyle choices, wise investments, retirement plans like pensions, tax shelters and 401K plans, and a plan to continue working in that unretirement mode or part-time in the later years.

My parents generation would have laughed at FIRE. My generation would like to at least achieve a portion of it. My children believe it is a real possibility.

Getting Cozy, Danish Style

Winter is the most hygge time of year. Hygge (pronounced HEW-ga) is the Scandinavian word for a mood of coziness, comfort and conviviality. It is associated with feelings of wellness and contentment. Recently, it has become a characteristic of Danish culture, and in the past year it has spread well beyond Scandinavia.

It seems particularly appropriate to winter and especially Christmas Eve. On a cold, snowy night, this is all about candles, nubby woolens, shearling slippers, pastries, blond wood, sheepskin rugs, lattes with milk-foam hearts and, of course, a warm fireplace.

Hygge can be used as a noun, adjective, verb, or compound noun. Danish doctors apparently recommend “tea and hygge” as a cure for the common cold. You can hygge alone under a thick blanket,  in your flannel pajamas, sipping a hot toddie, but it seems that true hygge is done with loved ones. Couples are good, but four seems to be the ideal.

I had heard about this last year, but it wasn’t until I listened to the ladies of the By The Book podcast  (Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer) who test out self-help books and they recently tried hygge via The Little Book of Hygge.

There is certainly no shortage of books on hygee, but to embrace it only requires some conscious appreciation. I find in it elements of other cultural movements and philosophies. It encourages a kind of slowness and being present but also enjoying the present. Sounds Buddhist, but I like adding that enjoyment part.

There seem to be lots of hygge words that have emerged, such as hyggebukser, which is that pair of pants you love and wear around the house but never wear in public.

The happiness levels of Americans are lousy compared to those of Danes. Why are they so happy? Maybe it is all that cold and snow, which how I imagine Denmark. Their homes are supposedly more homey. They better be homey for when you get out of that cold. They celebrate experiences over possessions.

Some of those books are “How to Hygge” and some have recipes, tips for cozy living at home and healthy hedonism.

Last year, an article in The New Yorker that called 2016 the Year of Hygge, so I guess I am a year late to the party. Though it says that you can’t buy a “hygge living room” and there are no “hygge foods,” I have seen a few books about just those things. Hygge has gone commercial.

Want some hygge food and drink tonight? Try some cardamom buns,  ultimate muesli “ne plus ultra,” and triple cherry gløgg.  That gløgg is a Scandinavian mulled wine with more cardamom pods and star anise and sounds perfect for tonight – and I do love cardamon in my chai tea too.

Is this a possible cure for SAD? I doubt it, but it might help.

Want to feel some hygge? Cuddle up with someone on the sofa, wear cozy socks and clothing, light only candles, turn off the phone and TV and have some cake with your favorite hot drink. Get cozy.


A Poet’s Guide to Manly Health

Browsing the poetry shelves you will come across numerous editions of the prose and poetry of Walt Whitman. His Leaves of Grass is probably the best-selling title today. Thanks to technology, you can buy his complete works with that book, patriotic poems, prose, The Wound Dresser and even his letters in a Kindle Edition for a mere 99 cents.

One piece of his writing you won’t get in that digital archive is a curious collection he wrote in 1858 under the pseudonym Mose Velsor. Walt wrote an advice column in the New York Atlas newspaper for “manly men.” The topics included diet, exercise, and grooming.

I suppose it was a Men’s Journal or Esquire column for the time, though it seems out of character for the man I have mentally archived as “the good gray poet.”

That is until someone uncovered the 13-part newspaper series from 150 years ago.

It has been published in at least two versions I could find. Manly Health and Training: To Teach the Science of a Sound and Beautiful Body is the series.

Walt Whitman’s Guide to Manly Health and Training is 75 manly chunks of advice.

It was also published in the Walt Whitman Quarterly Review.

Some of the columns headlines are pretty funny:  “The great american evil—indigestion” and “Could there be an entire nation of vigorous and beautiful men?”


So how well does 19th century Walt Whitman‘s advice hold up for 21st century men?

Let’s start the day like Walt…

The man rises at day-break, or soon after—if in winter, rather before. In most cases the best thing he can commence the day with is a rapid wash of the whole body in cold water, using a sponge, or the hands rubbing the water over the body—and then coarse towels to rub dry with; after which, the hair gloves, the flesh-brush, or any thing handy, may be used, for friction, and to put the skin in a red glow all over . . . as soon as the glow is attained, the window, unless the weather is very bad, should be opened, and the door also, so that the room may become filled with good fresh air—for the play of the respiratory organs will be increased by the performances just mentioned, and it is at such times that good air tells best.

How about some breakfast? Walt was much the carnivore.  “Let the main part of the diet be meat, to the exclusion of all else.”

Usually the breakfast, for a hearty man, might consist in a plate of fresh rare lean meat, without fat or gravy, a slice or chunk of bread, and, if desired, a cup of tea, which must be left till the last. If there be boiled potatoes, and one of them is desired, it may be permitted.

Let’s get groomed and dressed for the day.

The beard is a great sanitary protection to the throat—for purposes of health it should always be worn, just as much as the hair of the head should be. Think what would be the result if the hair of the head should be carefully scraped off three or four times a week with the razor! Of course, the additional aches, neuralgias, colds, etc., would be immense. Well, it is just as bad with removing the natural protection of the neck; for nature indicates the necessity of that covering there, for full and sufficient reasons.
Most of the usual fashionable boots and shoes, which neither favor comfort, nor health, nor the ease of walking, are to be discarded.”

Okay, we are ready to get on with the day!

Habituate yourself to the brisk walk in the fresh air—to the exercise of pulling the oar—and to the loud declamation upon the hills, or along the shore. Such are the means by which you can seize with treble grip upon all the puzzles and difficulties of your student life—whatever problems are presented to you in your books, or by your professors.

That walking gives me an appetite!

Lunch should consist of a good plate of fresh meat, (rare lean beef, broiled or roast, is best) with as few outside condiments as possible.

Maybe I should have saved that walk for after lunch. All this meat is making me a bit sleepy, but I must do some work!

A steady and agreeable occupation is one of the most potent adjuncts and favorers of health and long life. The idler, without object, without definite direction, is very apt to brood himself into some moral or physical fever—and one is about as bad as the other.

Well, I managed to work on a poem and a blog post and didn’t doze off (not completely anyway). The sun is low in the sky. It must be time for supper. I hope it is not meat again.

The supper, which must not be at a late hour, we would recommend always to be light—occasionally making this meal to consist of fruit, either fresh, during the middle and latter part of the summer—and of stewed fruit during the winter and spring.

It is easy for even the manly man to become a bit depressed after dinner. But don’t fear – Walt has advice for “the horrors” too.

If the victim of ‘the horrors’ could but pluck up energy enough to strip off all his clothes and gives his whole body a stinging rubdown with a flesh-brush till the skin becomes all red and aglow, he would be thoroughly cured of his depression, by this alone.

Is it 10 pm already?  Then it is time to go to sleep.

Ten o’clock at night ought to find a man in bed—for that will not afford him the time requisite for rest, if he rise betimes in the morning. The bedroom must not be small and close—that would go far toward spoiling all other observances and cares for health. It is important that the system should be clarified, through the inspiration and respiration, with a plentiful supply of good air, during the six, seven, or eight hours that are spent in sleep. During most of the year, the window must be kept partly open for this purpose.

Well, we quite a full day. Perhaps, we should do a bit of reading in bed to close out the day. We could read some poems.  But we also have another “new” Whitman book we might read. Zachary Turpin, a grad student at the University of Houston, is the person who rediscovered the columns on microfilm last year. He also discovered a long-lost novel of Whitman’s titled Life and Adventures of Jack Engle. It has one of those 19th century subtitles with a colon and a semi-colon. Wow.  “An Auto-Biography; A Story of New York at the Present Time in which the Reader Will Find Some Familiar Characters”

Back in 1852, Walt Whitman was a sweet 33 years old and not doing very well as a housebuilder in Brooklyn. He was writing. He was working on a free-verse book-length poem that would be published as Leaves of Grass and clinch his place in American literature.

He was also working on a novel. It would be published under a pseudonym and it did get serialized in a newspaper. And then it was forgotten, until Turpin rediscovered it after some clues led him to the Library of Congress. It seems that the LoC had the only surviving copy of Jack Engle. has lain waiting for generations.

The novel was also published in the WW Quarterly Review. Here’s how chapter one opens.

Punctually at half past 12, the noon-day sun shining flat on the pavement of Wall street, a youth with the pious name of Nathaniel, clapt upon his closely cropt head, a straw hat, for which he had that very morning given the sum of twenty-five cents, and announced his intention of going to his dinner.

Attorney at Law”

stared into the room (it was a down-town law-office) from the door which was opened wide and fastened back, for coolness; and the real Covert, at that moment, looked up from his cloth-covered table, in an inner apartment, whose carpet, book-cases, musty smell, big chair, with leather cushions, and the panels of only one window out of three being opened, and they but partially so, announced it as the sanctum of the sovereign master there. That gentleman’s garb marked him as one of the sect of Friends, or Quakers. He was a tallish man, considerably round-shouldered, with a pale, square, closely shaven face; and one who possessed any expertness as a physiognomist, could not mistake a certain sanctimonious satanic look out of the eyes. From some suspicion that he didn’t appear well in that part of his countenance, Mr. Covert had a practice of casting down his visual organs. On this occasion, however, they lighted on his errand-boy.
“Yes, go to thy dinner; both can go,” said he, “for I want to be alone.”
And Wigglesworth, the clerk, a tobacco-scented old man—he smoked and chewed incessantly—left his high stool in the corner where he had been slowly copying some document.

Ah, nothing like a 19th century novel to lull you to sleep. And I really need a good 8 hours in order to wake up early, take another cold shower, eat some breakfast meat and start another manly day!

Less Is More

No doubt you have heard the expression that “less is more.” It’s a good line to use on kids and ask them why that might be true, but I would say that most people today would disagree. “More is more” is probably closer to the thinking of 2010.

Less is more is the proposal that we need to live more simply. It might be that having less material or outer wealth is the way towards increased inner wealth. Simplicity. Less stuff, less work, less stress, less debt as a way to more time, more satisfaction, more balance, and more security.

I thought about that aphorism because I came across a book called  Less is More by Cecile Andrews and Wanda Urbanska.  It is an essay collection from a number of writers that embrace the simple living movement. Oh yes, it is a movement. It’s not just something you decided to do one weekend or as your New Year’s resolution.

Simple living (also referred to as voluntary simplicity) is a lifestyle characterized by consuming only that which is required to sustain life. Adherents may choose simple living for a variety of personal reasons – spirituality, health, increase in time for family and friends, reducing their personal ecological footprint, stress reduction, personal taste, frugality or socio-political goals such as conservation, degrowth, social justice, ethnic diversity and sustainable development.

Not all people who embrace simple living have such lofty goals.  Less is More is sub-titled Embracing Simplicity for a Healthy Planet, a Caring Economy and Lasting Happiness and it offers a balance of essays from the saving-the-planet approach to the simplify-your-own-life-for-yourself idea.

You don’t necessarily have to sell your home and buy a farm, become poor, live in a cabin with no electricity or travel the roads with just the clothing on your back.  You might just feel like you have come down with some affluenza.

affluenza -1.  a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more. (de Graaf) 2. The bloated, sluggish and unfulfilled feeling that results from efforts to keep up with the Joneses. 2. An epidemic of stress, overwork, waste and indebtedness caused by the pursuit of the American Dream. 3. An unsustainable addiction to economic growth. (PBS)

Downshifting might be the gentler way for you to start a less is more approach to your life. In downshifting, individuals live simpler lives and try to find a better balance between leisure and work. It’s different from voluntary simplicity because of its focus on moderate change and concentration on an individual comfort level.

Tracey Smith is the founder of International Downshifting Week which is the official website for their ongoing awareness campaign.

Maybe you simplify just one part of your life. A good friend of mine who was also a teaching colleague has gone through a long, painful divorce. He continued to teach and he tried to simplify that. He continued to meditate. In fact, I think that took on a new intensity. But, most interestingly to me, he started working on an organic farm.

He didn’t have any real experience other than the backyard gardening. An observer might say that this new commitment was making his life less simple by adding responsibilities and time away from his children. But that’s not the way it has gone. The farm has become his sanctuary. Meditation and work have a very natural connection.

He’s not alone. The World-Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (AKA Willing Workers on Organic Farms) (WWOOF) is a loose network of organizations in the United States and internationally which facilitate the placement of volunteers on organic farms.

I have had a printed sign over my home desk that says “Simplify your life” for eight years, but I still haven’t totally succeeded.

My approach has been the same as when I thought twenty years ago that I might attempt to hike the Appalachian Trail. I did the research. I joined a hiking club and went out every weekend and started building up my endurance. But I had two young children at home. I had my job (though teaching, I did have my summers off).  It was unrealistic. So, I went on a simpler path (no pun intended). I divided the AT into sections. (see my post tomorrow for a bit more on that)

I probably will never hike every section of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. That’s okay.

I love to take photographs. I love to paint and draw. I will never master either art. Sometimes the best thing I can do is to take something I see or photographed and simplify it to a drawing or painting.

Oversimplification is not a good thing, but taking parts of this complex life we live and making them comprehensible, tolerable, even enjoyable, is a good thing.