By Franziska Spritzler, RD, CDE
Many people eat their food fast and carelessly. However, eating slowly may be a much smarter approach. In fact, studies show that slower eating can help you feel more full and lose weight. This article explores the benefits of eating more slowly, for both weight loss and overall health.
Eating Too Fast Can Cause Weight Gain
People who describe themselves as fast eaters tend to be heavier than those who say they eat more slowly. In fact, fast eaters are up to 115% more likely to be obese, compared to slower eaters. They also tend to gain weight over time, which may be partially due to eating too fast.
In one study, researchers surveyed over 4,000 middle-aged men and women, asking them how fast they ate their food. Those who said they ate “very fast” tended to be heavier, and had gained the most body weight since age 20. Another study looked at the weight changes of 529 men over an 8-year period. Those who reported being “fast” eaters gained more than twice as much as self-described “slow” or “medium” eaters .
Bottom Line: Studies show that people who eat quickly tend to be heavier and gain more weight over time, compared to slower eaters.
Eating Slowly Helps You Eat Less
Your appetite and calorie intake is largely controlled by hormones. Normally after eating, your gut suppresses a hormone called ghrelin, which controls hunger. It also releases the anti-hunger hormones cholecystokinin (CCK), peptide YY (PYY) and glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1). These hormones relay a message to the brain, letting it know that you’ve eaten and that nutrients are being absorbed. This reduces appetite, makes you feel full, and helps you stop eating. Interestingly, this process takes about 20 minutes, so slowing down gives your brain the time it needs to receive these signals.
Eating Slowly Can Increase Satiety Hormones
Eating too quickly often leads to overeating, as your brain doesn’t have the time it needs to receive the fullness signals. Additionally, eating slowly has been shown to decrease the amount of food consumed at a meal. This is partially due to an increase in the level of anti-hunger hormones that occurs when meals aren’t rushed.
In one study, 17 healthy people of normal weight were fed 300 ml (10 oz) of ice cream on two different occasions. During one session, each person consumed the ice cream within 5 minutes. At the other session, they ate it slowly over the course of 30 minutes. Their satiety hormone levels increased significantly more after eating the ice cream slowly, and they reported feeling more full after eating.
In a follow-up study, this time in overweight and obese diabetics, slowing down did not increase satiety hormones. However, it significantly increased fullness and satisfaction ratings.Other research has shown that obese young people aged 9–17 experience higher levels of satiety hormones when a meal is consumed slowly.
Eating Slowly Can Decrease Calorie Intake
In one study, normal-weight and overweight people were observed eating lunch at different paces. Both groups consumed fewer calories at the slow-paced meal than at the fast-paced meal, although the difference was only statistically significant in the normal-weight group. All participants also felt more full for longer after eating more slowly, reporting less hunger 60 minutes after the slow-paced meal than after the faster meal. This spontaneous reduction in calorie intake should lead to weight loss over time.
Bottom Line: For most people, eating slowly increases the gut hormones responsible for satiety. Eating slowly can also reduce calorie intake and help you feel more full.
Eating Slowly Promotes Thorough Chewing
In order to eat slowly, you actually need to chew your food several times before swallowing it. This can help you reduce calorie intake and lose weight. In fact, several studies have found that people with weight problems tend to chew their food less than normal-weight people do.
In one study, researchers asked 45 people to eat pizza until full, while chewing at different rates: normal, 1.5 times normal and twice as much as normal. The average calorie intake decreased by 9.5% when people chewed 1.5 times more than normal, and nearly 15% when they chewed twice as much as usual. Another small study found that calorie intake decreased and satiety hormone levels increased when the number of chews per bite increased from 15 to 40.
However, there may be a limit to how much chewing you can do and still enjoy a meal. One study found that chewing each bite for 30 seconds reduced snacking later on, but also significantly reduced meal enjoyment.
Bottom Line: Chewing food thoroughly slows down your eating pace and reduces the number of calories you take in, which can lead to weight loss.
Other Benefits of Eating Slowly
Eating slowly and chewing thoroughly can improve fullness and help you lose weight. However, slowing down can also improve your health and quality of life in other ways:
- Increase your enjoyment of food.
- Improve digestion.
- Help you absorb nutrients better.
- Promote healthy teeth.
- Make you feel calmer and more in control.
- Reduce stress.
Bottom Line: There are many other good reasons to eat more slowly, including improved digestion, improved dental health and reduced stress.
How to Slow Down and Lose Weight
Here’s some advice to help you get started with eating more slowly:
- Avoid extreme hunger: It’s hard eat slowly when you’re really hungry. To prevent extreme hunger, keep some healthy snacks on hand.
- Chew more: Count how many times you normally chew a bite of food, and then double that amount. You may be surprised at how little you usually chew.
- Set utensils down: Putting down your fork between bites of food will help you eat more slowly and savor each bite.
- Eat foods that need chewing: Include fibrous foods that require a lot of chewing, such as vegetables, fruits and nuts. Fiber can also promote weight loss.
- Drink water: Make sure to drink plenty of water or other non-caloric beverages with meals.
- Use a timer: Set your kitchen timer for 20 minutes, and do your best not to finish before the buzzer goes off. Aim for a slow, consistent pace throughout the meal.
- Turn off distractions: Try to avoid electronic screens while eating. If you must watch TV, choose a 20–30 minute show and make your meal last the whole time.
- Take deep breaths: If you begin to eat too quickly, take some deep breaths. This will help you refocus and get back on track.
- Practice mindful eating: Mindful eating techniques can help you pay more attention to what you’re eating and gain control of your cravings.
- Be patient: Change takes time, and it actually takes about 66 days for a new behavior to become a habit. Eventually, eating slowly will happen naturally.
Bottom Line: With practice, eating slowly will become easier and more sustainable.
Slow Down and Enjoy Your Food
Eating too quickly can lead to weight gain and decreased enjoyment of food. However, slowing down can increase fullness and promote weight loss. It also provides several other health benefits, and can improve your quality of life. So when it comes to meals, take it slow and enjoy every bite.
This article is reprinted with permission from Authority Nutrition.