Everything today is rush, rush, rush. Believe me, I’m as guilty as the next guy. With a bustling career, a wife who works full-time outside the home and four children, I need to whisk my kids off to school, answer my emails STAT, jump into my packed work day, and somehow squeeze in time for my meals.
But speed may be the opposite of what you need when it comes to eating and losing weight. Some new research has found that slowing down the rate at which you eat may actually help you get into those skinny jeans more quickly.
Slow Down, Get Slim
In one study, published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, researchers asked over 1,500 middle-aged women to rank their eating speed based on one of five categories—very slow, slow, medium, relatively fast or very fast.
What they found was fascinating. For each jump in eating speed—from very slow to slow, or from medium to relatively fast, for example—body weight significantly increased. For example, a 5’4” woman weighing 165 pounds who ate “very fast” was likely to be almost 20 pounds heavier than her counterpart who ate “very slowly.”1
And this isn’t the first study finding that eating quickly can make you fat. In another study, this one of 37,000 middle-aged men published in the Journal of Epidemiology, researchers found that men who ate the fastest were the heaviest2. And in an eight-year study published in Appetite, researchers looked at 529 men and found that the fastest eaters were not only heavier, but also gained more weight over time3.
How faster makes you fatter
Once our meal is in motion, we don’t usually stop until we’re satisfied. But many of us don’t feel satisfied until we push back from the table too full to even want another bite. And that can be a problem, since getting to “full” can add up to a whole lot of calories.
So how do we get to “satisfied” without stuffing ourselves silly? Research shows that eating slowly changes the production of key gut hormones that help give your brain the signal it’s satiated, like ghrelin, a hormone produced in the stomach, and peptide tyrosine tyrosine (PYY), a hormone produced in the pancreas.
If you eat too fast, your brain doesn’t get the memo that it’s gotten enough, so it keeps on telling you to pack in the calories. By the time the signal reaches the brain, it’s too late. You’ve already eaten that second helping of pasta, the rest of your son’s chocolate shake and a few extra bites of… oh, who are we kidding, the entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s.
Shift your eating into slow gear
You can put the brakes on your bites, which will help keep your weight down. Here are a few of my suggestions:
- Take a pause. Inhale deeply, sip some water and put down your fork between each bite.
- Be social. Dine with a friend, making sure your mouth is completely empty every time you talk, which will stretch out your mealtime and give your brain time to catch up to your belly. Not to mention being simple good manners!
- Savor your snack. Pay close attention to the taste, texture and smell of every morsel you put in your mouth. Not only will that help slow you down, you’ll also enjoy your food that much more.
- Exercise your other side. Put your fork in your non-dominant hand. You’ll slow yourself down and work the other side of your brain. Or try eating with chopsticks.
- Enjoy an appetizer. Before you dive into your main course, eat a salad or broth-based soup to give your stomach a head start.
- Choose high-fiber foods like apples, pears, carrots and broccoli that take more time to chew.
So, what do you think of these studies? Is it worth slowing down your dinner to see if you can turbocharge your weight loss? If you have any additional tips to slow down your meals, I’d love to hear them.
Steven Sisskind, M.D.
1. Leong SL, Madden C, Gray A, Waters D, Horwath C. Faster self-reported speed of eating is related to higher body mass index in a nationwide survey of middle-aged women. J Am Diet Assoc. 2011;111(8):1192-1197.
2. Otsuka R, Tamakoshi K, Yatsuya H, et al. Eating fast leads to obesity: findings based on self-administered questionnaires among middle-aged Japanese men and women. J Epidemiol. 2006;16(3):117-124.
3. Tanihara S, Imatoh T, Miyazaki M, et al. Retrospective longitudinal study on the relationship between 8-year weight change and current eating speed. Appetite. 2011;57(1):179-183.
4. Galhardo J, Hunt LP, Lightman SL, et al. Normalizing eating behavior reduces body weight and improves gastrointestinal hormonal secretion in obese adolescents.