Dining with Leisure: Slow Food Movement (cont.)

It's also unclear whether it helps to consciously slow the speed at which you eat. Some studies report that consciously pausing and taking smaller bites does cause people to eat less, but other research suggests this could backfire. When researchers in England instructed some volunteers to pause for periods of 3 to 60 seconds during a meal, they actually ended up eating more than people who were allowed to eat at their preferred pace.

"If you have a habitual eating pattern, it's difficult to change that," says Barbara J. Rolls, PhD, professor of nutrition at Penn State University and author of the book Volumetrics. "I usually tell people what it says in our book: 'Eat at a pace that maximizes your enjoyment, and don't put a lot of effort into techniques like putting down your fork between bites.'"

According to Rolls, what you eat is more important than how you eat it. Much of her research deals with the effect of portion sizes and the energy density of foods, and she has found that when people are given large servings of calorie-dense foods, they routinely eat more calories than they burn off.

"People often don't realize how much they're eating if they're not paying attention. So I think it's a great idea to spend more time sitting down with our family and friends instead of always eating on the run," says Rolls.

That's where slow food comes into play. By putting the emphasis on taste appreciation, meal preparation, and conviviality, slow food encourages people to really think about what they are eating, so they won't fall victim to mindless munching.

Another benefit of slow food, says Rolls, is the message it transmits to the next generation. Most kids would happily subsist on a diet of burgers, fries, pizza, and soda, but such high-fat, high-calorie foods are contributing to the current epidemic of childhood obesity. The solution is to teach children to make healthier food choices.

Getting Into the Slow Food Lane

Here a few things to try if you want to get a taste for slow food:

  • Make more meals at home. If you never cook, try preparing your own dinner once a week. It doesn't have to be fancy or time-consuming, but choose healthful ingredients and savor the flavor.
  • Always eat at the table. Don't grab a bite over the sink, in the car, on the run, or in front of the TV. Sit down, relax, and take the time to appreciate your food.
  • Eat only when hungry. Resist the temptation to consume something out of boredom, anxiety, fatigue, politeness, habit, or just because the food looks good.
  • Visit a farmer's market. Find out what's in season, and what foods are grown locally. Look for recipes that include those ingredients and try them.
  • Ask a relative to teach you how to cook a favorite dish. Write down the recipe and keep it as part of your family's heritage.
  • Eat at restaurants that promote "slow" food. Find out if any chefs in your area specialize in preparing unconventional or locally produced foods, and sample their menus.
  • Let your kids make a dinner or Sunday brunch. Help them pick out a recipe. Take them shopping, and make food preparation a fun, family activity.
  • Invite friends over to watch a video with a "slow food" theme -- such as Babette's Feast, Chocolat, or Eat Drink Man Woman. Discuss the film and plan a dinner.
  • Keep a food journal. Record your meals and how you felt about them. Also, note any interesting food discoveries and recipes.
  • Join a Slow Food chapter. Chances are, there's one in your area. You can call the Slow Food USA national office at (212) 965-5640.

Remember, becoming a slow food convert doesn't mean you have to swear off all fast food or sell your microwave.

"Definitely not," says Mayo. "It just means slowing down your pace and taking part in a pleasurable activity that benefits you and the community around you."

Originally published Sept. 20, 2003
Medically updated July 26,2005.

SOURCES: Agricultural Outlook, December 2002. Journal of Internationall Medicine Research, July/August 2002. Obesity Research, January 1994. Appetite, October 1997. Nutrition Today, March/April 2003. Tufts Nutrition Letter,.January 2003. Cerise Mayo, program director, Slow Food USA, New York. Althea Zanecosky, LDN, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. Barbara J. Rolls, PhD, Guthrie Chair of Nutrition, Pennsylvania State University; author of Volumetrics. Slow Food USA Web site. National Restaurant Association web site.

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