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One secret to a healthy life (and a great presentation)

Sushi The Japanese have a great expression concerning healthy eating habits: Hara hachi bu. Hara hachi bu means “Eat until 80% full” (literally, stomach 80%). This is excellent advice and it’s pretty easy to follow this principle in Japan as proportions are generally much smaller than in places like the US. Using chopsticks also makes it easier to avoid shoveling food in and encourages a bit of a slower pace. This principle does not encourage wastefulness; it does not mean to leave 20% of your meal on the plate. In fact, it is bad form to leave food on your plate. In Japan, and in Asia in general, we usually order as a group and then take only what we need from the shared bounty in front of us. I have found — ironically perhaps — that if I stop eating before getting full I am more satisfied with the meal, I’m not sleepy after lunch or dinner, and I just generally feel much better. (Hara hachi bu is mentioned in this Honolulu Advertiser article and is discussed in this popular book called The Okinawa Diet Plan: Get Leaner, Live Longer, and Never Feel Hungry).

Applying the principle to other aspects of life?
Hara hachi bu is one simple principle that can help you have a much healthier life. It’s also a principle that can be applied to the length of speeches, presentations, and even meetings, etc. My advice is this: 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 presentation 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 don’t want you to go, not after they have had enough and are "full" of you.

(By the way, the Hara hachi bu principle is not at all applied to presentations, speeches, or meetings in Japan. In this country these events are almost always too long, sometimes painfully so.)

Below are a few slides I’m using to talk about this principle in a future presentation. (Photos from



(Below) Alternative treatment of the same slides.



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I'd be curious as to your thoughts on this question:

Do you think that the impact of the third slide would be improved by only showing 8 pieces of sushi on the same size plate, instead of 10?

Garr Reynolds

>Do you think that the impact of the third slide would be improved by only >showing 8 pieces of sushi on the same size plate, instead of 10?

Bill -- Aha, your way ahead of me :-)

Yes, actually the next slide in the sequence is the same slide minus 8 pieces of sushi, leaving just the two (smooth cross fade transition from the 10 to the 2). I removed the 8 pieces in Photoshop and moved the garnish around a bit to make it look natural....

Jeremy Beasley

Great way of using "hara hachi bu" as an analogy for giving effective presentations. I especially like your point about ending the presentation while the audience still loves you rather than forcing a couple more "bites" down their throat.

Charles Martineau

Business Communication was one of my first classes that I took in University, and many people at Uni hated that course, however I was lucky to have a good teacher to help students to become better presenters (however extremely strict dude!!) and one of the first thing he taught us was to never exceed your time limit and try to aim for the 90% of the allowed time. During presentations students had difficulty to do so. He took off a lot of marks when we exceed the time limit but everyone learned from it....well I DID!

About the 80% eating rule... after living with a Japanese family for more than 7 months now, I learned how to eat "just enough" and to never exceed. It is true that you do appreciate the food more and you do feel better after eating only 80% or so of the meal.

Tom Kuhlmann

Great stuff. Love the images. Looking at the two treatments, I prefer the one with the woman in it. I think it connects more in a personal way.

BTW, I love your blog and push a lot of our software users to it. Not only is your information good for presentations, it's also good for thinking about how information if presented in training courses.

gabriele barni

pretty nice!
i am really interested to learn more about "hara hachi bu" .
btw My favorite slide is the last one!

[quote] we usually order as a group and then take only what we need from the shared bounty in front of us[/quote]

that's really not italian way! .. we can find that only in china-restaurant, but here it's really only junk-food (i am sure that mcdonalds is more cleaner). So "Hara hachi bu" is something that we do automatically otherwise we stay very bad the day after. In italy china-restaurant are very bad and all is cooked with the microwheel and prepared month and month ago.

Few years ago spotted also some Janpanes Restaurant, (high quality, and expansive), but also "here hara hachi bu" was not really considered, maibe because it was all so new, and really so rare that we go eat japanese food , that we eat until go overfull =) 110%

gabriele (italy)

Niko Neugebauer

Very nice idea, Garr. Especially in the age of overweight and over deliveries.
I would suggest, if possible, finding or editing a photo almost equal to a second one, but 80% full of food, it would give a direct impact, since most of us are used to see full(100%) plates. You will also give an idea about 80%, without writing the number. =O)

Matthew Cornell

Great post, great idea - thank you! In my six hour personal productivity workshop I actually have 5 1/2 hours of content, which is about right (~90%). People are happy because they get out early, and have still learned a lot of practical material.

Yvonne Scheurich

Great post Garr. Many a feature-length movie could benefit from this advice too: unless a story is really compelling and needs its time to unfold, best to stop stuffing us so full to the point where we're squirming in our seats.
Thanks for sharing.

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