Weight gain isn’t just about what you’re eating, says a new study. It’s also about how fast you’re eating it.
After reviewing the research findings from 23 different studies, Japanese scientists concluded that self-reported fast eaters were more than twice as likely to be obese than those who reported eating more slowly.
Why would zipping through dinner make you fatter than slowly savoring each mouthful? The researchers believe that it’s likely due to a number of different reasons.
Slimming Up By Filling Up
One factor is the experience of fullness. The longer food stays in your mouth, the more it triggers sensors on your tongue and in your oral cavity to send satiety signals to your brain. The act of chewing also activates the release of certain chemicals in your neurons that tell your brain you’ve had enough to eat. And once the food gets down to your stomach, more satiation signals are sent to your brain to join the “you’re done, stop eating!” chorus.
All these internal feedback alerts take some time to come together and create a sensation of fullness, which makes it far more likely that you’ll turn down seconds and consume less calories. But if you’ve chowed down on dinner too quickly, then you may have already overeaten by the time those satiation alerts reach your brain, making self-regulation and portion control far more difficult.
It’s interesting to note, though, that even after the researchers adjusted for number of calories, it became evident that fast eaters are still more likely to gain more weight — even when they’ve gulped down the exact same sized meal as the slower eaters.
While more research is needed to fully understand why this effect occurs, it may be linked to blood sugar levels. When you eat more slowly, your blood sugar rises in a more gradual and controlled way. Eating quickly, on the other hand, leads to more abrupt spikes in your blood sugar, causing greater insulin surges that encourage increased hunger and increased fat storage.
Also, food that has not spent enough time being broken down by physical processes and enzymes in the mouth, stomach and gut is more likely to be improperly digested, to activate internal inflammation and to be stored as fat rather than burned for energy.
Slow & Steady Wins the Weight Loss Race
Obsessively counting the number of times you chew every morsel and eating each meal with one eye on the clock has all the makings of a brand new eating disorder, while trying to melodramatically chomp oatmeal or eat a banana in slow motion will hardly get you to your weight loss goals any quicker.
However, it’s worthwhile adopting some helpful eating strategies that help ensure that you’ll naturally slow down your eating pace, improve your digestion and manage your weight better. At your next meal, try some of these easy techniques:
- Sit down at the table. Eating while standing up encourages more movement, traveling and distractions while eating, all of which lead to a quicker eating pace.
- Do not eat in front of the television, the computer or a book. Engaging in activities that distract your brain during a meal will take its attention away from critical factors that naturally signal satiety, like the amount of food you’re consuming, appropriate chewing and swallowing, etc., all of which encourage over-eating, poor digestion and increased fat storage.
- Focus on the flavors and textures of your food before you swallow it. Savoring the flavor of your food not only increases the pleasure you get from eating it, but also increases the amount of time it spends on your tongue, activating sensors that tell your brain you’re full. Paying attention to the texture of your food also helps you judge more accurately when you’ve chewed it enough and its ready to be swallowed, as gulping down food that feels too large or too tough is a good indication that you haven’t allowed adequate time for it to be broken down sufficiently for good digestion.
- Take a deep breath between each bite. Biting, chewing, swallowing, biting, chewing, swallowing, biting, chewing, swallowing, etc. can very easily become a robotic action that happens on repeat without any thought. This can cause you to eat much too quickly, and to lose focus on the entire eating experience, what you’re eating, how much you are eating, etc. Once you have chewed your food thoroughly and noted the feeling of the food sliding all the way down your throat, be sure to take a deep, slow and cleansing breath through your nose, while your mouth remains empty. Complete a full exhale through an empty mouth – only now should you go for the next bite.
- Wait 15 minutes before going back for more. Before you go for a second helping or for dessert, leave the table and allow 15 to 20 minutes to pass. Research shows that it takes around 15-20 minutes for “I’m full” messages to be processed in the brain, which can accidentally lead to 15-20 minutes of over-eating past your full point if you don’t allow some breathing room during your meal. If you still feel hungry after 20 minutes, then go back for a carefully portioned second helping. However, you’ll often find that once those minutes have passed, you really aren’t that interested in eating more after all.
- Eat small meals every 3 – 4 hours. Eating smaller, portioned meals allows your body to dedicate more resources towards thoroughly digesting your food, and allowing 3 to 4 hours to elapse between each meal gives your body adequate time to completely digest the previous meal before starting on the next one. This eating method also helps to avoid intense pangs of hunger and cravings from hitting hard, which leads to ravenous speed-eating, blood sugar spikes, indigestion and weight gain.
Mindful Eating for a Healthy Body
Recognizing the importance of eating slowly and mindfully adds a whole new dimension to the idea that food was truly meant to be enjoyed.
Zipping through meals and eating on the run may often seem like the most practical way to time-manage busy and stressful days. However, in the long run, it turns out that taking some precious time away from the chaos for a few quiet moments of physical, mental and emotional nourishment is actually far more effective at getting you what you want much more quickly – a balanced, healthy and satisfying life.