There's really no reason to rush through something as pleasurable as eating. They say it takes 20 minutes for our brain to register satiety. Competitive eaters race to beat the clock and their body's warnings of satiety, but for the rest of us, the you've-had-enough signal is a caring friend, trying to save us from ourselves.
Current trends are moving away from calorie counting and toward a more holistic approach of looking at adjustments and habits that can help us lead a more balanced, sustainable lifestyle. Slowing down should be high on that list: There's good evidence to back the common weight-control advice to take your time with your meal.
Longer meal, fewer calories
A recent review article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition looked at 22 studies that experimentally manipulated eating rate and measured food intake, hunger, or both. Slower eating rate was associated with eating less, no matter how the more leisurely eating rate was achieved.
A study reported in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) showed that the odds of being overweight were three times greater for people who reported eating quickly and until full than for people who ate slowly and stopped eating before they felt stuffed.
A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that when volunteers took large bites, rather than smaller ones, they ate about 100 calories more of a chocolate custard.
Another study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics also took the experimental approach. The researchers recruited 35 normal weight and 35 overweight and obese volunteers, and fed them two meals, one eaten quickly, and one with small bites, thorough chewing and breaks between bites.
Slow eating affected normal weight people more than it did overweight participants. Everyone drank more water with the slow meal. Overweight and obese participants ate less in both the slow and the fast meals compared to the normal weight participants. (This is not the first study that observes that overweight people consume less that expected when eating with peers.)
Both groups reported they were less hungry an hour after the slow meal compared to the fast one.
7 tips for slow(er) eating
Most of the evidence suggests the rate we eat at affects how much we eat.
Want to eat more slowly and mindfully? Try this:
- Eat in company: Important on so many levels. My daughter is a super slow eater -- I try to pace myself to her rhythm (still working on it).
- Small courses: You don't have to prepare several courses. You can serve yourself a small amount of the one course you prepared, take a short break, and then decide if you're going for seconds.
- Sit at a table: When you eat on the go, in front of the computer (my vice) or over the sink (my husband's favorite spot) you can hardly take your time. Eating on your feet definitely doesn't make it go to your hips or thighs (that's just an urban legend) -- but overeating deposits fat everywhere.
- Chew: I don't suggest you count to the 32 suggested by The Great Masticator -- that would interfere with tip number 1 -- but keeping the food in your mouth a bit longer, and not swallowing it whole is a good idea.
- Put down your fork between bites: Or your spoon, or your chopsticks, or even your pizza, sandwich or apple.
- Solids are better: Food that's ready to swallow goes down way to fast. Avoid liquid calories and foods that are so processed neither your hands nor your mouth have any work to do. The more fiber in your food, the more chewing it requires.
- Drink: Sipping water with your meal forces you to slow down, and at the same time distends your stomach, sending satiety signals to your brain.
Oh, there's also an app for slow eating, and even a fork that vibrates in your mouth if your bites are too frequent. These, too, interfere with tip number 1, which at least for me, is the most important of all.