Healthy Eating: Does It Help to Slow Down When We Eat?

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At Green Mountain, we’re not proponents of strategies to artificially reduce the amount of food we eat, to try to fool our bodies that we’ve had enough.  They don’t work.  Our bodies know when we need more food.  Even when we try to trick it, the hunger drive wins the vast majority of the time.   

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It’s not our fault we don’t understand that.  We’ve been taught that we can ‘control’ our hunger, but the long-term success of most diets proves that wrong. The good news is many of us have woken up to the fact that our bodies are in charge; we can only listen and respond intelligently if we want to support our best health and healthy weight.  ‘Artificial’ strategies just continue to drive us away from reconnecting with our internal wisdom, which is what really works for women's weight loss and healthy living.

So when I read a study conducted at the University of Rhode Island and published in the Journal of The American Dietetic Association that showed eating slowly did, in fact, reduce calorie intake, I was skeptical that it was just another investigation into ‘ways that help us cut calories.” I did not have high hopes that it was about feeding ourselves in a manner that makes us feel well (a better bet for healthy weight loss, if it's in our cards, and healthy weights).

But I was wrong.  This study offered some potentially good insight into the practice of feeding ourselves well.

The study looked at whether we could be satisfied with less, even when faced with plenty, simply by slowing down.  It wasn’t about trying to restrict, or somehow control what the women who were being studied ate. The women ate as much as they wanted of identical meals twice, once quickly and once more slowly, in random order.

The findings:

•    The average length of meals was 21 minutes longer when the women ate slowly.  The results of which support the idea that it takes about 20  minutes for our bodies to start getting the signals that help us know when we’ve eaten enough before we’ve eaten too much.

•    The women who ate quickly ate more calories.  No surprise there.

•    The women who ate quickly reported lower satiety (translated: I’ve had enough) ratings, even though they ate more calories.  That’s kinda surprising.

•    The women who ate more slowly drank significantly more water during the meal.  So does that mean water was responsible for feeling more satisfied with less?  Don’t know, except that other studies don’t all show that, nor do they all show that drinking more water reduces caloric intake at a meal.  Plus, if we’re drinking water to try to make  us eat less, we’re toying with artificial strategies.  If we truly need more fluid, drinking plenty is a healthy thing to do.  If we don’t, and we’re drinking to fill ourselves up with calorie-free stuff, then it’s a diet technique, a strategy to artificially control our hunger.  (See beginning of this post.)

•    At meal’s end, those who ate more slowly rated their meal as more palatable (although difference wasn’t statistically significant).  Could it be that eating slowly gives us more time to enjoy our food?  Go, mindful eating! (Although at least one study showed those who ate faster gave their meals higher taste ratings.  Must have been something wrong with the study. I admit I’m biased.)

•    Small bites, pauses between bites and thorough chewing ‘resulted in considerably decreased eating rate.’  Some studies show the same thing; others don’t.  The best statement about one that showed the strategy didn’t work: “The authors suggested that timed pauses during meals are frustrating and that increased intake reflects the subjects’ frustration.”  Ha.

•    This study was done on only 30 women.  A small number, plus the researchers question if men would react the same way.  But we know the answer to that, don’t we? ☺

Bottom line, we don’t know if the findings of this study are relevant to all of us.  And that leaves us where we often find ourselves – relying on our own reactions to tell us whether something is right for us as individuals.

Of course, that’s what mindful eating is all about.  Tuning in to find out what feels good and what doesn’t.  And slowing down – at least initially – can help us tune in, especially if we’re fast eaters to begin with (and many of us are).  We can find out what feels good pretty easily by ourselves, I think, if we give ourselves the chance.  The bonus:  We get to enjoy our meals longer.  

Try slowing down while you eat.  Then let us know if it helps you eat less and enjoy it more, not necessarily to lose weight but to feel better!

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