This is shoku-iku
Photo: Richard Iwaki via Unsplash
Shoku-iku refers to food and nutrition education in Japan, but it is quite different from the food education you might receive in the United States or other Western nations. While Western eating guidelines tend to focus on diet science ? technical calculations on when to eat, how to eat, and what not to eat ? Japanese shoku-iku takes a more nature-based philosophy on how to adopt a sustainable, well-balanced lifestyle.
4 Main Principles of Shoku-iku
1. Forget calorie counting: Focus on your stomach.
While many weight loss or heart-healthy diets encourage calorie counting as a way to control your eating, this strategy has proven ineffective for many people. While calorie counting from a purely scientific sense works, it doesn?t take into account human psychology that dictates our behavior and habits.
The first thing to recognize when thinking about a healthy eating lifestyle is that the base of our unhealthy habits tends not to be about ignorance or lack of information, but is primarily due to greater psychological forces that encourage us to overeat or eat unhealthy foods.
Rather than calories, Japanese shoku-iku teaches the importance of tuning into the fullness signals our body provides. We are composed of incredible structures and systems, designed to instinctively know when to stop eating. Tuning into this is called harahachi-bunme, or 8/10ths your stomach, which means eating until you are 80 percent full.
The first overarching principle to follow in food education is that we should neither starve nor stuff ourselves.
Illustrations: Kaki Okumura
2. Eat whole foods.
However, principle one doesn?t work unless we are also following principle two, which is to have meals focused on properly prepared whole foods.
Many processed foods today are designed to be hyper-palatable, meaning high fat and high sugar, to keep consumers coming back for them again and again. These processed foods do little to nourish our bodies, yet our bodies and minds are designed to endlessly seek them ? unlike whole foods and properly prepared produce, these foods fail to trigger the satiation signals that tell our brains to stop eating. Our bodies can?t accurately gauge fullness with these processed foods, as we become undernourished yet overly stuffed with foods that can?t build or heal our bodies.
Only with principle two can we accurately follow principle one.
3. Variety feeds the soul.
Principle three focuses on variety, keeping our taste buds entertained while supplementing our body with a range of nutrients and minerals. While traditional Western diets focus on what we should be cutting out ? whether sugar, carbs, or fat ? the Japanese philosophy toward healthy eating focuses on what we should be adding.
Variety is not just about adding different kinds of vegetables, proteins, and carbs into one meal ? although this is crucial. It is also about preparing these foods in different ways. Whether steamed, stewed, grilled, or fried, traditional Japanese meals are composed of many small dishes, prepared in different ways, often following the structure of ichiju-sansai, or ?one soup three sides.? This way, we get a range of vegetables, carbohydrates, and protein in flavors that never bore us.
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4. Share your meal with others.
Principle four focuses on the joy and our emotional needs from food. More than pure fuel for our physical bodies, food satisfies a deeper need for social connection and spiritual well-being. While fast food is convenient, the healthiest of salad desk lunches can?t compare with the satisfaction of a slow, sit-down meal with colleagues or friends.
Humans are social beings, and so our well-being depends on this connection and shared experience with others. Company and community feel nice and are important to our sense of well-being. Japanese philosophy on healthy eating is not just about what and when we eat, but it?s also about where and who we share our meals with.
We need to rethink the way we educate about healthy food
Japanese food and nutrition education works because it?s not about the calories and it?s not about reducing our diet into bland ?healthy? plain foods that we don?t enjoy. Instead, the Japanese philosophy behind healthy eating is flexible enough that it?s tangible to our bodies and minds without depriving us of the wonderful components about food that bring us joy. Food is not taught as something to be controlled, but rather a part of our nature that is here to nurture and heal our bodies.
We are meant to enjoy ice cream as we are meant to enjoy roasted vegetables. What we are not are robots designed to eat off of a carefully calculated and weighted meal plan for the rest of our lives, and recognizing this transforms food education into a philosophy that?s sustainable.
If you enjoyed this article, please let me know by emailing me at [email protected]! I would love to hear your comments, thoughts, and am open to answer any questions you may have surround healthy eating and leading a well-balanced lifestyle. With warmth, Kaki ?