Slow Down To Slim Down

Do you eat too fast? Slowing down may slim you down!

by Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FADA


If you’re trying to lose a few pounds and you’re also someone who finishes eating before the others at the table, then you’re going to be interested in a new study that was just published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.

The researchers got responses to questionnaires about eating style from about 1600 middle-aged women, between 40-50 years old, in New Zealand.  They asked them to rate their “speed of eating” on a 5-point scale: very slow, slow, middle of the road, fast, or very fast.  Then they asked about their height and weight, so they could determine the women’s body mass indices (BMI).  The BMI determined whether they were overweight or obese, or normal weight. 

Lo and behold, there were twice as many “fast” and “very fast” eaters as “slow” and “very slow” eaters.  About 1 in 3 women were fast or very fast eaters, compared to about 1 in 6 who described their eating speed as slow or very slow.  Even more enlightening: for each increase in speed category, there was an increase in BMI of about 2.8 points, or about 6 pounds. 

This has been shown before, so this research isn’t exactly new, but this study does add some strength to the theory that eating faster may make you fatter. 


How can eating faster make you fatter?

Here’s the theory: your brain is where you sense a feeling of fullness, called “satiety”.  It’s also where you sense hunger.  The problem is that the stomach takes about 15 or 20 minutes to send the signal to the brain that you’re full.  During that 20 minute window is where the fast eaters can really pack in some serious calories.  At the time, they don’t really think they’re overeating, because they’re not getting any signal that they’re full.  By the time their brains get that signal of fullness, or satiety, it’s often too late – they’ve overconsumed calories. 

The slower eaters don’t eat as many calories during that time, so when their brains get notified that the body has had enough food and it’s full, these eaters can stop.  They feel full and satisfied, but they’ve eaten fewer calories. 


Eating slower: Magic bullet?

Probably not, but it’s definitely a good tool.  Moreover, if you tend to eat fast, maybe it’s time to ask yourself why you’re in such a rush.  Eating a meal or even a snack can be one of life’s little pleasures.  Does eating fast make you happier?  Do you taste food more completely when you eat fast?  Does eating faster make for a more enjoyable meal or snack?

Almost everyone would answer these questions with an emphatic “NO!”  If you eat more slowly, you’re more likely to calm down, enjoy eating more, really taste your food, and have a better meal. 


But can you change how you eat?

Yes, most definitely.  It takes a little conscious effort, but so do most things worth doing.  In this case, the payoff is multifold – more enjoyment from eating and maybe less weight gain or even some weight loss.  Here are some tips to start you off and slow you down:

Have some conversation while you eat.  No multitasking here – make sure you talk only when your mouth is empty.  This slows down the eating process and stretches the meal length.  (It also makes the etiquette police very relieved.)

Eat half your meal and take a break.  It gives you time to feel those satiety signals.

Drink water with your meals.  It’s good for you, the process of drinking takes time, and fills you up.

Take smaller bites and CHEW YOUR FOOD.  Savor each bite.  You’ll be surprised how much flavor you’ve been missing.

Use smaller plates and even smaller utensils.  Try the salad fork for everything and have soup with the teaspoon.  If you find yourself saying, “this is driving me nuts,” then you probably confirmed that you need to slow down your eating and you’re on the right track.  Don’t worry about the etiquette police  -- they make allowances while you’re learning.

Even if you have trouble eating slowly, at least eat in order of increasing calorie-richness.  Eat the salad and soup first.  Do this in courses, not “family style” so you have to take a break to get each course.  After these courses, the edge will be off your hunger and you can take more modest portions of meat and potatoes.

Make sure your meal lasts AT LEAST 20 minutes, 30 minutes is better.  Take 15 minutes for snacks.

Even normal weight people can use these tips.  It’s not always about vitamins and minerals and nutrients.  Meals are also about enjoying life more.  Take the time to savor each bite.If you rush through it all, you can’t.


Reference:  Faster self-reported speed of eating is related to higher body mass index in a nationwide survey of middle-aged women.  Leong SL, Madden C, Gray A, Waters D, Horwath C.  J Am Diet Assoc. 2011 Aug;111(8):1192-7.