If you are looking to lose some weight, or simply want to improve or protect your cardiometabolic health, emerging nutrition research suggests a simple new tool that may help: slow down!
Fast eating has been associated with excess weight gain and might also have a negative effect on metabolism, raising risk for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Let’s take a closer look.
Weight. In a number of studies, fast eating was associated with higher body mass index (BMI) and prevalence of obesity. While most of these studies were conducted in middle-aged Asian populations, a limited number of studies in other populations showed similar results: there appears to be a connection between eating speed and BMI.
Fast eating may lead to weight gain because it delays feelings of fullness and satisfaction, increasing risk of overeating. It takes some time for the signal that we’re full to reach our brain. When we eat quickly, we may shovel in more than we need before realizing we’ve had enough. Over time, this leads to higher intake of calories, and therefore weight gain. Participants in several studies reported feeling more full after eating a meal slowly compared to eating it quickly.
Hunger. Eating quickly may actually impact hunger and satiety hormones. In one trial, 21 young, healthy individuals with a normal BMI were randomly assigned to consume a 600-calorie meal in either six minutes or 24 minutes. While the participants reported enjoying the six-minute meal more, eating slowly led to a greater feeling of fullness and blood tests found lower levels of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin in slow-eating participants’ blood. Importantly, the slow eaters consumed 25 percent less calories when offered a snack three hours after the meal.
In addition to the physiological impact of lower ghrelin levels on hunger, slowing down may help curb hunger on a psychological level. According to researchers, the memory of a meal has been found to impact future calorie intake, and a longer meal is more memorable.
Health. Several studies have reported an association between eating speed and cardiometabolic risk factors. In a recent randomized controlled trial, consuming a meal in 10 minutes caused significantly higher blood sugar spikes in healthy young women than consuming the same meal in 20 minutes. High blood sugar levels increase risk for type 2 diabetes.
A study in a population of older adults at high cardiovascular risk found that self-reported fast eating was associated with a 59 percent higher likelihood of having high blood triglyceride levels than slow eating. High blood triglyceride levels are a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.
These two findings may be connected: Eating quickly spikes blood sugar (glucose) levels; when there is excess glucose in the blood, the liver takes it up and uses it to make triglycerides, which are secreted into the blood, raising blood triglyceride levels.
Slowing Down. A key strategy for eating more slowly is to eat mindfully. This means sitting down in a designated area, setting aside any distractions, and focusing on the experience of eating. Truly enjoy your food and pay attention to your body’s hunger/fullness signals.
Common tips for eating mindfully include coming to the table hungry (but not ravenous); chewing your food thoroughly; and letting go of the idea that you must clean your plate.
Randomized controlled trials have found mindful eating strategies resulted in significant weight loss compared with no intervention. Results of mindful eating weight loss programs were similar to those of conventional diet programs.
In one intervention, a four-session program on mindfulness and prolonged chewing not only reduced calorie intake, but also led to less cravings and a reduction in emotional eating. Weight loss in the intervention group was maintained after a four-week follow-up.
Whatever strategies work for you, finding ways to slow down may help you eat less, make better choices, and even improve your health.
Try these tips to eat more slowly:
- Don’t be distracted. Avoid eating while rushing and put screens aside.
- Sit down. Designate one or two places for meals, like the kitchen
or dining room and don’t stand while eating.
- Set the fork down. Putting utensils down between bites slows the meal down and ensures you take time to chew.
- Chew thoroughly. Chewing slows you down and also helps you to really taste and enjoy the food.
- Reflect. Are you hungry? Are you feeling stressed, rushed, or bored when you want to eat?
- Be grateful. Appreciating the work that went into getting this food to your table may help you slow down and savor your meal.
- Control portions. It’s easier to be mindful when there’s less temptation. Plate food before sitting down, and never eat out of a package.