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Ayala Laufer-Cahana, M.D. Headshot

Eat Slowly to Eat Less (And 7 Tips How to)

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When I eat out (which isn't very often), an appetizer and a few bites into the entrée are enough to make me full, and I am not one of these people with small appetites. They say it takes 20 minutes for our brain to register satiety, and the customary interlude between courses in restaurants and dining in company slows me down, which does the trick for me.

Unfortunately, I manage to eat slowly only when I'm with others.

Is this just my subjective feeling, or is there solid evidence to back the common weight-control advice to take your time with your meal? 

Longer meal, fewer calories

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. There are several other studies that gather self-reported eating rates -- which can be unreliable.

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 the chocolate custard. This kind of interventional study actually puts people in a test-meal environment, and empirically tests the rate of eating and the quantities consumed; results of studies such as this have shown mixed results.

A new 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 of what most of the participants thought was delicious pasta with vegetables (many participants asked for the recipe). One of the meals was eaten quickly, while during the other, people were asked to take small bites, chew thoroughly, and put the spoon down between bites, with the slow meal lasting about 13 minutes longer.

Slow eating affected normal weight people more than it did overweight participants: The normal weight slow eaters shaved an average 88 calories compared to their fast-paced meal. For overweight volunteers the difference was smaller: just 58 calories, which was not statistically significant. Everyone drank more water with the slow meal (water was offered freely at all occasions). An interesting finding was that 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 -- they might be self-conscious when eating in public, and that might affect the results of such studies.

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. So here are seven tips to help you eat more slowly and mindfully:

  1. Eat in company: Important on so many levels. My daughter is a super slow eater -- I try to pace myself to her rhythm (but just can't manage it). 
  2. 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.
  3. 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 -- but overeating deposits fat everywhere.
  4. Chew: I don't suggest you count to the 32 suggested by The Great Masticator -- that would interfere with tip #1 -- but keeping the food in your mouth a bit longer, and not swallowing it whole is a good idea.
  5. Put down your fork between bites: or your spoon, or your chopsticks, or even your pizza, sandwich or apple. 
  6. 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. 
  7. 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 #1, which at least for me, is the most important of them all.

Dr. Ayala

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