Slow Down, You Eat Too Fast

Eat less and enjoy it more with mindful eating

By Kathleen Zelman, MPH, RD, LD
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Expert Column

Have you ever noticed how long it takes most thin people to eat their meals? My sister was always the last one to finish her meal, and it drove the rest of the family crazy. We were sure it was her ploy to get out of clearing the table or doing the dishes! It was not until years later that I realized her slow eating is the secret to her trim figure.

Most Americans eat too fast, and, as a result, they take in too many calories before they realize they've eaten enough. It takes approximately 20 minutes from the time you start eating for your brain to send out signals of fullness. Leisurely eating allows ample time to trigger the signal from your brain that you are full. And feeling full translates into eating less.

Recent research presented at a meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity showed that overweight men and women took in fewer calories when they slowed their normal eating pace. And a recent Japanese study involving 1,700 young women concluded that eating more slowly resulted in feeling full sooner, and thus eating fewer calories at mealtime.

It's especially important for people who have had gastric bypass operations to heed advice to eat slowly. A study of gastric bypass patients showed that those who ate too fast and failed to recognize the signs of satiety were less successful at losing weight than other patients.

The Pleasure Principle

Not only does eating slowly and mindfully help you eat less, it enhances the pleasure of the dining experience. To master the art of slow eating, put on some music, light a few candles, turn off the TV and any other distractions, and concentrate on your meal.

A perfect place to start is with dessert. Let's be honest, who is still hungry when dessert arrives? But our innate desire for sweets nonetheless makes desserts very tempting.

You can have your cake and eat it, too -- as long as you only take a few bites. Take a bite, eat it slowly, savor it, and do nothing but enjoy the flavor, texture, and experience of the delicious dessert. You will find that one or two bites give you the sweet indulgence without a lot of extra calories.

Not as Easy as It Sounds

It's true that eating slowly and taking smaller bites can be very difficult to do, especially when you are busy and famished. But you'll find it easier to slow the pace if you eat regular meals, and never allow more than four hours to pass between meals.

At times when you're very busy, schedule "nourishment breaks" into your day. Take 15 minutes to relax, recharge, and refuel. These minibreaks will help you relieve stress, too.

Still can't slow down the pace? Try a few other tricks to help you recognize a full belly: Push away from the table, leave the second helpings on the stove, and drink a large glass of water.

You can find still another option at the dentist's office. Ask about the new dental appliance designed to help you eat more slowly. You place the device, which is much like a dental retainer, in the roof of your mouth before meals. It reduces the size of your oral cavity and forces you to take smaller mouthfuls.

Regardless of how you go about it, slowing down your eating is a great resolution to make. So take a page from the Europeans, who love to linger over their meals. It can't hurt, after all. And with any luck, you'll learn to eat less while you take more pleasure in the taste of your nutritious and delicious meals.

SOURCES: "Does Slower Eating Rate Reduce Food Intake? Results of an Empirical Test," presented at annual meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, Las Vegas, Nov. 14-18, 2004. Surgery, Sept. 1981; 90: 446-55.

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