7 Ways to Eat More Slowly — and Lose More Weight
Several years ago, my father's best friend started bringing his own silverware to dinner at our house and requesting salad plates to eat off of. Despite the ribbing he endured from my father and their other friends, Arnold remained steadfast in the importance of his new habits.
That's because he had discovered an important secret in being a healthy eater: small utensils. Several studies have shown that our minds tend to misjudge the quantity of food set in front of us based upon the size of the plate we're using. The same amount of food looks scanty on a large plate and overly generous on a small one.
Arnold took this idea one further by also using tiny forks and spoons to eat with. Not only do his portions look bigger when eating them off of wee plates with itty-bitty silverware, but the smaller utensils also force him to slow down while he eats.
Although it's unlikely we'll stop teasing Arnold about his tiny forks and plates, he has been vindicated by science. This habit has made him a more mindful and slower eater, which, as it turns out, is the cornerstone of better digestive health and a healthier weight.
Here's what you need to know about being a slow eater, and how to implement techniques to slow yourself down when it tastes so good.
Why Eat Slow
One of the things I really appreciated about spending time in Europe was adapting to the European view of meals. As Americans, we tend to motor our way through our food, as if dining is an inconvenience that we just have to get through. In the old world, however, meals are an event and a pleasure, and it's considered both bad manners and foolish to try to rush through them.
As it turns out, slow meals are one big reason why Europeans tend to be so much slimmer and healthier than we are.
First, researchers have determined that it takes the brain 20 minutes to register that you feel full. That's the amount of time it takes for stretch receptors in your stomach to indicate they have expanded to capacity, as well as the amount of time the hormone leptin takes to signal satiety. If you have ever scarfed down five slices of pizza, only to feel ill 20 minutes later, then you know that eating quickly can overburden your stomach.
Eating slowly means that you will feel full with less food. Based on this, slow eating has been touted as an aid to weight loss. In fact, researchers have found that diners consume as much as 88 fewer calories per meal by eating slowly.
In addition, eating slowly helps your digestion. As you probably remember from your fifth grade science class (or Slim Goodbody if you're a fellow child of the 80s, like me), digestion begins in your mouth. If you eat quickly, you are likely not chewing your food as thoroughly, giving your stomach a more difficult job, which can lead to indigestion and other issues.
Finally, slow eating means that you really get a chance to savor your food. Instead of hurrying through the buttery and chocolatey delicacy of your Mom's famous cookies, eating slowly allows you to truly taste, smell, and feel each bite, making the experience ultimately more satisfying.
How to Slow Down While Eating
Okay, so eating slower will help you better enjoy and digest your food, and may decrease your waistline to boot. The only question is, how do you go about eating more slowly? Here are seven tactics that will help.
Use Smaller Silverware
Arnold's strategy is an excellent way to force yourself to slow down without thinking too hard about it. If each bite you take is smaller than usual, but you take the usual amount of time to chew and swallow, then you will necessarily slow down the pace of your eating.
It is important to note, however, that researchers have found that diners who are (unwittingly) given larger forks eat less than those using smaller forks. However, the study only found this to be true when diners were sitting down to a meal. Those who are snacking with small forks eat less than those who are snacking with large forks. The thinking is that diners sitting down to a meal have a goal — satiety — and the large fork (and corresponding large bite) makes them feel as if they are making progress on that goal.
However, since you are intentionally switching out your normal fork for a tiny one, you are more likely to allow yourself to anchor on the fork size as the appropriate bite size, while also eating more mindfully.
Time Your Meals
The next time you sit down to eat, start a stopwatch as you take your first bite. Chances are that you'll find you've eaten your final bite within five to seven minutes. That's far too fast, particularly if you're very hungry, since the fifteen-minute wait between the final bite and the signal that you're full will be interminable. (Which is why you'll go for seconds and then feel ill later.)
Once you know how long you usually take to eat, plan on stretching out your meals with the help of a timer. Set it for 20 minutes and try to "beat" the clock by still having a little food on your plate by the time it goes off. If you know you're trying to be slower than your timer, you're more likely to pause between bites and take your time to enjoy the flavor of your food. This strategy has an added benefit if you are trying to encourage your entire family to eat more slowly — it can be a fun game to see who can eat the slowest.
Lower the Lights and Play Soft Music
If you've ever wondered why the atmosphere in chain restaurants is so different from that of fine-dining establishments, it comes down to speed. Applebee's and Ruby Tuesday are in the business of getting you fed and out the door quickly, while your favorite French restaurant intends for your meal to take some time.
Because of this, the chains play loud, fast-paced tunes and turn up the lights, while Chez Pain Sage gives you candlelight and soothing classical music. As it turns out, in addition turning tables over more quickly, the bright-and-loud atmosphere also causes diners to eat more quickly and consume more calories.
That means you can help slow down your own consumption at home by breaking out the candles and queuing up the Miles Davis. (Or the Barry White, depending on who you're eating with.)
Take a Sip of Water Between Each Bite
"Washing down" every bite you eat is a good way to make sure that you slow down, but it also helps you to feel fuller sooner and aids in digestion — you need as much as 12 cups of water to properly digest your food and absorb its nutrients. It is also a trick that you can use anywhere — from restaurants to parties to snacking on the couch — which makes it an excellent habit to get into.
Count Your Chews
Your mother may have told you to chew your food at least 20 times before swallowing, but there is surprisingly little consensus on exactly how many chews is ideal. However, a recent study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that participants who chewed almonds at least 25 times absorbed more unsaturated fat (that's the good kind) than those who only gave the food ten good chews.
Journalist A.J. Jacobs (who attempted to chew every bite 50 times for a week) found many benefits to counting his chews, in addition to eating more slowly. He appreciated the subtle tastes of his food much more; he avoided bloat after a Thanksgiving meal; and he found he was a better listener at the dinner table.
Use Chopsticks for Everything
Even if you are a champion chopstick-user, it's likely that you will eat more slowly with these utensils than with a fork or spoon. You can also try eating with chopsticks with your non-dominant hand to slow yourself down even more. An added benefit of using chopsticks is that they don't scoop up calorie-dense sauces as easily as forks and spoons do.
Snack on Food That Needs to Be Peeled
Snack time is an easy time to go overboard. Since we generally don't eat snacks at a table, we're more likely to mindlessly munch our way through a bag of chips or handful of cookies without even noticing what we've eaten.
An excellent way to combat this trend is to only snack on foods that require some work on your part to eat them: oranges, bananas, pistachios, and edamame are all delicious snacks that will force you to eat slowly and mindfully.
Leaner Waist and Better Taste
Not only can eating slowly help you achieve your weight loss goals, but you'll also enjoy your food more by taking the time to savor it. That's a win-win.
You may have to put up with some teasing, however, if you start bringing your own tiny fork to dinner parties.
Are you a slow eater? How do you slow down at the table? Please share in comments!