Who would have known by simply eating slowly would help you lose weight and generally feel better?
A number of studies showed the side effects of eating fast but importantly, the benefits of eating slowly.
Use the 20:20:20:20 rule
How eating slowly could help you lose weight
The fast pace of modern life can make it hard to take our time over a meal, but studies suggest a number of health benefits.
A sandwich on the go. A salad at your desk. Leftovers polished off straight from the fridge. If you think of a healthy diet, fruit, vegetables and wholegrains probably come to mind. But how much time you spend eating is arguably just as important as what’s on your plate.
The fast pace of modern life can make it hard to take time over dinner or to savour a leisurely lunch. In the past 50 years, how we eat has changed just as much, if not more, as what we eat: it has become commonplace to eat quickly, snack on the go and have dinner in front of the television.
But wolfing down dinner in five minutes flat can cause digestive issues in the short term and predispose someone to serious health conditions in the long term, as well as making it harder to maintain a healthy weight.
There are countless benefits to eating like the tortoise, not the hare. In 2021, researchers from Roehampton and Bristol universities found that a faster eating rate was strongly associated with a higher BMI and a larger waistline in both adults and children. The impact of eating speed on health starts in childhood: a recent study published in the JAMA Network Open found that giving children more time at the dinner table is the key to getting them to eat their greens, improving their diet overall.
Another study, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that in a group of 16 “lean” and 14 obese young men, those who ate slower consumed fewer calories: participants ate 11.9 per cent less after 40 chews than after 15 chews.
Eating speed can sabotage weight loss, as it affects the production of leptin, the hormone that communicates a feeling of fullness to your brain. “If you’ve sat down to a healthy meal but finish it in two minutes, you might go back to the fridge, as there’s no feeling of satiety,” says Juls Abernethy, co-founder of the Body Retreat, a health and wellbeing retreat that focuses on “conscious eating” for weight loss and stress management. “[Leptin] isn’t released until 15 to 20 minutes after you’ve started eating your food.” This is backed up by research: “There were a couple of studies in the US that found those who slowed down their eating lost 25 per cent more weight over a three-month period, and developed other healthy habits.”
Eating too quickly can also have serious long-term health impacts. A study from Hiroshima University, in Japan, assessed 1,083 people with an average age of 51 who were categorised as slow, normal or fast eaters. It found that fast eaters were five times more likely to develop metabolic syndrome – a medical term for a combination of obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes – than those who ate slowly.
“It’s likely that if you eat too quickly, you’re not satisfied with a decent portion, so you’re going to be eating more,” explains Nichola Ludlam-Raine, a dietitian and British Dietetic Association (BDA) spokesman. “Eating too many calories can then cause weight gain, which, if it’s around your middle, can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.”
How can you tell if you’re eating too fast?
If you feel uncomfortably full about 20 to 30 minutes after eating, suffer from bloating or excess wind, or want more after finishing a decent sized plate of food, it’s likely you need to slow down, says Ludlam-Raine.
The magic number is 20. “For those who’ve had bariatric surgery, we use the 20:20:20:20 rule: a 20 pence-sized piece of food, chew it 20 times, put your knife and fork down for 20 seconds between mouthfuls, and take 20 minutes to eat the meal,” she says. “Obviously, if you haven’t had weight-loss surgery, you can eat bigger mouthfuls, but you should still take 20 minutes over a meal and aim to chew each mouthful more.”
Birgit Fetka, a dietitian at the ultra-exclusive Original FX Mayr wellness resort in Austria, takes it one step further. “We encourage our guests to eat as silently as possible; we have an area of the restaurant reserved for those who want to eat in complete silence,” she says. “We have precise mealtimes and we don’t allow smartphones or other mobile devices.”
This may not be practical in everyday life, but the principle is to eat as mindfully as possible and to minimise distractions. “When we’re distracted while eating, for example watching television or on the phone, the body’s not focused on digestion,” she says. “We even do a mindful-chewing exercise to demonstrate what a difference it can make to eat slowly and mindfully.”
So, how can you reset your eating speed? Try putting your cutlery down between each mouthful.
As an experiment, try putting your knife and fork down between each bite of food to slow down your eating speed, says Abernethy. The idea is to take your brain off autopilot and “disconnect the circuit” when it comes to racing through your food. “Sipping a drink also forces you to put your knife and fork down,” she adds, “but don’t drink too much, as this can contribute to bloating.”
Set a timer
If you’re not sure whether you eat too fast, set a timer and eat at your regular speed – you may be surprised by how quickly you eat. Ideally, you should take (at least) 20 minutes to eat a meal. If 20 minutes is too long, start with 15.
Preferably at an actual dinner table and not on the couch. This may sound obvious, but sitting down and giving a meal your full attention will help you eat more mindfully. Avoid eating on the run, says Abernethy. “All the things that are important in life you stop, pause and sit down for,” she says, and eating should be something you savour. Pace yourself to the slowest eating at the dinner table
If you’re out for a meal, match the pace you’re eating to the slowest member of your group, says Ludlam-Raine.
Remove distractions and put down your phone
“It’s easier to slow down if you’re doing it consciously, and you’re more in tune with your hunger and fullness signals,” says Ludlam-Raine. “People eat too quickly if they’re watching television or scrolling.” Consciously chewing while noticing the texture and temperature of your food will slow you down.
Fill your plate with foods that take longer to chew
Simply chewing more can be beneficial for gut health, as digestion starts in the mouth. “You’ve probably heard the old adage, ‘you are what you eat’, but now we know it’s actually ‘you are what you absorb’. The digestive enzymes in your saliva are very important for breaking down food,” says Abernethy. “What you eat, but also how you choose to eat it, plays a huge role in how your body processes the nutrients.”
Guests at the Original FX Mayr resort are given a particularly chewy buckwheat roll with breakfast to literally act as a “chew trainer”. “Anything you haven’t chewed properly becomes a lot more difficult for the body to digest, and you can’t really access all the nutrients,” says Fetka. So, a plate of wholegrains, vegetables and pulses will take longer to chew and help you slow the pace.
Use the 20:20:20:20 rule: How eating slowly could help you lose weight
Abigail Buchanan | smh.com.au
May 15, 2023