It's not just what you eat that can pack on the pounds. It's also how you eat. It seems it pays to be the last person to finish a meal, even if it drives the rest of your dining companions crazy.
Research shows that people who wolf down their meal and eat until they're full are three times more likely to be overweight than those who eat slowly and modestly.
Eating slowly is often advised for weight loss because slower eating allows appetite-related hormones to kick in and tell your brain you've had enough to eat before you overeat. Since it takes roughly 20 minutes for these signals to register, it makes sense that eating quickly can cause you to eat too much before you're fully aware of it.
In one study, researchers from Osaka University in Japan tracked the weights and eating habits of 1,496 men and 2,644 women aged 30 to 69. Participants were asked whether they usually eat until feeling full (yes or no) and to rate the speed of eating (very slow, slow, medium, or quickly).
Both types of eating behaviours were common among men and women. The eating until full group was twice as likely to have a body mass index classified as overweight compared to those who stopped eating before feeling full. (A body mass index, or BMI, of 25 or more is considered overweight.) The eating quickly group was also twice as likely to be overweight than those who ate more slowly.
But the combination of eating habits - eating until full and eating quickly - caused what the researchers termed a "supra-additive" effect on body weight. Engaging in both habits boosted the risk of being overweight by threefold.
Earlier studies have also revealed that fast eaters consume more calories and at a rate 3.5 times faster than slow eaters.
Eating slowly and savouring food may also explain, in part, why rates of obesity are lower in France than North America, despite a fatty diet. A 2003 study reported that the average American McDonald's customer spent 35% less time at the table. The French spent 22.2 minutes eating and sitting at McDonald's, while Americans left the table in 14.4 minutes.
Until recently, we didn't have the opportunity to eat enough calories to promote fat storage. But today a number of factors predispose us to overeat and eat too fast: super-sized portions of processed and fast foods, fewer family meals together, and multi-tasking meals with other activities like watching TV or driving.
It can be challenging to eat slowly, but it's not impossible. Changing the way you eat requires concentration and awareness. The following tips will help you slow your eating pace, savour your food, and possibly even lose a few excess pounds.
To help fill your stomach, drink 8 to 12 ounces (250 to 375 ml) of water before eating your meal. Take sips of water between bites.
Pause between bites
After every bite, put down your knife and fork and chew thoroughly. Do not pick up your utensils until your mouth is 100% empty. Chewing food thoroughly also leads to better digestion.
Assess your hunger level
Listening to your body's hunger cues can help reduce your calorie intake. Determine how hungry - or satisfied - you feel before you eat, halfway through a meal, and after you finish eating. Stop eating when you feel satisfied, but not full (level 5 on the chart below).
Use smaller plates
Instead of piling your food on a large dinner plate, serve meals on luncheon-sized plates. The plate will look full and you'll end up eating less.
Push your plate away as soon as you feel satisfied. Don't pick at food left on other people's plates or take second helpings. To resist the temptation to eat seconds, don't serve food "family style" and cook only one serving per person.
Brush your teeth
To prevent nibbling while cleaning up after meals - and snacking after dinner - brush your teeth after eating to dampen the flavours of the meal. Chances are, your craving for more food will pass.
If you feel famished, you're more likely to eat quickly and more food than you need. Go no longer than four hours without eating to prevent becoming overly hungry. Include between meal snacks such as fruit and yogurt, a handful of almonds, or a small energy bar.
Plan family meals
Sit down to meals with your partner or family and make conversation part of the meal. Talking during a meal slows down the rate of food consumption. Studies also suggest that more family meals mean less fried and sugary foods and more fruits and vegetables.
Eating in front of the TV, while reading, or while driving leads to mindless eating - and overeating. Reserve the kitchen or dining room table for meals and pay attention to the fact you're eating.
Dine to music
If you overeat when you're anxious, stressed or depressed, consider turning on your stereo during meals. Research shows that listening to music can help reduce anxiety, irritability, fatigue and depression. To slow your eating pace, choose mellow music. Calm music with a slower beat helps you relax and slow down eating.
How hungry are you?
Use the following scale you rate your hunger level before, during and after meals.
1 You feel starving. You can't concentrate and need food now.
2 You feel hungry but you could wait a few minutes before eating.
3 You feel slightly hungry. You could eat something, but not a large meal.
4 Your hunger has almost disappeared. You could eat another bite.
5 You are no longer hungry. You feel satisfied, not full.
6 You feel slightly full.
7 You feel overly full and uncomfortable. Your waistband is noticeably tighter.
8 You feel stuffed, bloated, even a little nauseas (a.k.a. "Thanksgiving Day" full).
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.