Slow Down—You’re Eating Too Fast

Eating slowly has many benefits

By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
Elaine Magee, MPH, RD, Recipe Doctor
Courtesy of Elaine Magee

Remember the evergreen “diet” tips to drink water between bites of food, or to set down your fork between bites, or to chew each bite a certain magical number of times? These are all a not-so-subtle attempt to slow down the eating rate. Here’s another long-standing weight loss recommendation that will help even the most mindful eaters—don’t let yourself get too hungry.

It just makes sense that the faster you eat your meal, the better the chance that you will consume unnecessary calories. And the slower your eating rate, the more mindful you tend to be of the eating experience and the more time you are giving the stomach to tell the brain that it is now comfortable (and without hunger).

Recent research results demonstrated that if you want to eat fewer calories during your meal, you had better slow down. The 30 healthy women in the study reported the following:

  • Satiety was significantly lower in the quick-eating group than in the slow-eating group.
  • People consumed less water in the fast-eating group than in the slow-eating group (290 grams versus 410 grams)
  • People consumed more total calories in the fast-eating group than in the slow-eating group (646 calories versus 579 calories).

This difference in total meal calories (67 calories) might seem small at first, but over the course of a week, the calorie savings add up. For example, a meal difference of 67 calories per meal, three times a day for seven days comes to about 1,400 calories a week. I can’t help but think that, for some people, a slower rate of eating might add up to even bigger weekly calorie savings.

Think about the times you’ve eaten way too much—eating beyond “comfortable” and well on the way to “stuffed turkey.” Were you SUPER hungry for a while before you were finally able to get some food? Extreme hunger will inspire faster eating (or shoveling) and eating past comfortable in some people.

Are Humans Designed to Eat More?

That human beings have been able to survive food shortages in past centuries is perhaps because of a genotype (genetic makeup) that, at least in part, permits, or even encourages, a calorie intake that is greater than the calories burned when food is abundant and available. This works really well when you are surviving the potato famine or a particularly harsh winter. But in modern times, with appetizing, affordable food available everywhere, this can be a problem. The modern human can survive this food storm by staying as physically active as possible, focusing on eating health-promoting foods most of the time, and eating each meal in a relaxed and stress-free way. By eating slowly, we are at least giving ourselves the chance to enjoy the food and be more aware of our hunger being satisfied.

The Body Doesn’t Treat All Calories Equally

When it comes to promoting satiety (the sensation of having “enough”), of the three macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate, fat), it’s protein that wins the race, according to several studies. Second in line are carbohydrates, and last is fat. Believe it or not, high fat foods were found to have a weak effect on satiety, even compared to effects of sugar or sucrose. Think about how “physically satisfying” some of our favorite high fat foods (not necessarily high in protein) are—foods like potato chips, French fries, whipped cream. Over a decade ago, researchers measured the “satiety index” of common foods and found it was the more calorie-dense, fat-rich foods that had the lower satiety index scores and the bulky foods that were high in protein, fiber, or water that had the higher satiety scores.

When it comes to appetite and satiety, high fat foods seem to present the perfect storm. Think about it: They have more calories per gram than carbohydrate and protein (nine calories per gram compared to four), they tend to have high palatability (taste appeal), and they have been shown to have lower satiety values between meals and within the meal being consumed. Given all of these factors, I’m not surprised that we humans tend to overconsume some of these high fat foods.

More research needs to be done in this area, but keep in mind normal human satiety cues can be disrupted by other influences, for example, whether a person has dieted quite a bit (and practiced not eating when hungry) or whether he or she sometimes eats too much in an out-of-control way (binge eating).

Published October 5, 2008

Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
Recipe Doctor Feature

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