When it comes to nutrition, the question I’m most asked is “What should I eat?” That’s a great question, but in this age of information are people really still that uniformed? Or, are they hoping I’ll say what they wanna hear and not what they already know? I think many simply don’t want to change what they eat.
But a person’s quest for a leaner, healthier body need not begin or end with what they eat. Another question could be “How should I eat?” Although what you eat can have an impact on your ability (or inability) to lose weight, how you’re eating can play an equally (or more) important role as well.
A study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics was performed to examine whether the effect of eating speed on energy intake is the same in normal-weight and obese/overweight subjects. The participants were instructed to eat ad libitum, which means “without restriction; freely” (yeah, I had to look it up). Ultimately, the study concluded that slower eating significantly lowered energy intake in normal-weight subjects but not in the obese/overweight.
When I first read this I was a little bummed. But then I read the results. Although the obese/overweight subjects did not lower their energy intake as much as their normal-weight counterparts, they did indeed lower their energy intake. Not only that, but they also reported feeling less hunger 60 minutes after their meal began when they ate slowly compared to when they ate fast.
I’m not a huge fan of counting calories, but to help understand the impact eating slowly can have on caloric intake I’ll use the findings of this study. (I will be conservative and use the results of the obese/overweight subjects.)
The subjects consumed 667 calories (eating slowly) versus 725 calories (eating fast). That’s a difference of 58 calories. What does that mean for weight loss? Check out this equation:
58 calories/meal x 3 meals/day x 365 days = 63,510 calories saved
There are approximately 3,500 calories in a pound of fat.
63,510 calories saved / 3,500 calories per pound of fat = 18 pounds of fat
Thanks to Internet claims and testimonials of the “results not typical” few, 18 pounds lost in one year isn’t that impressive. But in the real world, 18 pounds, whether impressive or not, would be welcomed change. And remember, this is accomplished by doing nothing more than eating slowly.
The reason these subjects consumed fewer calories by eating slowly is that their brains were better able to register fullness. It takes our brains about 20 minutes to know when we’re full. I don’t know the exact numbers, but I’m pretty sure many of us don’t typically take that long to eat.
Perhaps you’re already at your desired weight and body composition. If so, high five! (No, I’m not being sarcastic. High five!) But there are other benefits beyond simply saving calories and shaving waistlines.
Eating slowly promotes better digestion. Digestion begins in the mouth. The more time you spend chewing food in your mouth, the less time it will brew in your stomach. This can save you from digestive problems such as upset stomach and bloating, or embarrassing moments like sharting.
Eating slowly helps you enjoy your food more. Less time eating means less time to enjoy (or eating more to get the same time of enjoyment). Eat slowly. Enjoy the tastes and textures of your food.
Here are some practical tips to help you slow down:
Schedule time to eat. How often do you find yourself running out the door noshing on whatever is convenient because you have to be somewhere seven minutes ago? Set aside some time to actually sit down and eat. If you typically leave no minutes, leave ten. If ten is typical, leave twenty. (Yes, this may mean you’ll have to take control of your schedule or wake up ten minutes earlier.)
Use smaller utensils. Use a salad fork instead of a dinner fork. Use a teaspoon instead of a dessert spoon, a dessert spoon instead of a tablespoon, and a tablespoon instead of a shovel. And if you’re really serious about eating slowly, ditch the fork and use chopsticks.
Eat with your non-dominant hand. No explanation needed . . . I hope.
Put down your utensil. Instead of continuously shoving one bite in after another, put down your utensil and enjoy each bite. Or at a bare minimum, chew each bite, which segues nicely to . . .
Count your chews. After putting your utensil down, count your chews. Begin with a set number of chews (my chew number is 15) and count. (Please don’t do it out loud, though.) Begin counting early and often, but don’t become obsessive about it. Once you’ve learned to slow down you can stop counting.
Sit while you eat (car seat excluded). Not only will you eat more slowly, but you’ll eat fewer times throughout the day as well. Think about how often you grab something to eat in passing [the fridge, the pantry, a candy dish at work, or the car in front of you].
Eating slowly is a tool that you can use regardless of where you are, whom you’re with, or what foods are there. You won’t always have control over what foods are available, but you have control over how quickly you chew and swallow.
Eating slowly is probably not the be-all and end-all of your weight-loss success, but it’s been shown to have a considerable impact. If you’re resistant to change (as are most of us), first changing how you eat might be a little more manageable than changing what you eat. No matter what’s going on in your life or on your plate, you can practice eating slowly. And remember, you don’t have to be perfect. You just need to be a little better.