When most people think of improving their nutrition, they think about WHAT they’re eating. Tweaking the amounts of proteins, carbs and fats, adjusting calories and considering meal timing. However, HOW you’re eating is a major game-changer.
Maybe your New Year's resolution is to lose those last 10 pounds, enter that charity race, learn about the benefits of chia or check out that new CrossFit box in your town. But life happens and it can sometimes hinder your best-laid plans.
But even if you're feeling discouraged, disappointed in yourself, and overwhelmed — unable to muster the willpower to follow that restrictive diet or take another trip to the gym — there’s one nutritional tweak you can make right now that’ll help you get back on track.
It's simple. It won't cost you anything, and if you start right now, you're guaranteed to see results before year's end.
Why You Should Slow Down Your Eating
At first, it might sound a little wimpy. After all, how’s eating slowly going to erase months (or maybe years) of overindulgence and/or missed workouts? Well, you might be surprised.
Not only can eating slowly make a big impact on your daily calorie intake. It’ll also kick-start a host of powerful changes that, over the long run, can get you — and keep you — leaner than you might imagine.
In fact, this one habit is an "anchor" habit. That’s because, whenever people catch themselves making less-than-optimal choices, eating slowly always grounds them and helps them turn things around.
At the drive-thru again? Face down in the nut butter? Invited to an all-you-can-eat BBQ? Offered a piece of grandma's birthday cake? No problem. Just eat slowly.
The research is crystal clear: When we eat quickly, we eat more. When we eat slowly, we eat less. A lot less. Yet we feel more satisfied. Calmer. Happier. We don’t have to think about eating less. Or restrict our calories. We just… do it.
And guess what? When we eat less, we lose fat. It's that simple.
How Your Body and Brain Coordinate Hunger
Eating slowly works because of how our bodies sense appetite during a meal. You see, from the moment we smell or see our food to the moment it hits our intestines, our bodies are making enzymes and hormones to aid digestion. We’re also initiating processes to tell our brain when we’re full.
But this gut-brain communication is slow. In fact, our brain doesn't get the “I’m full” memo until about 20 minutes after we start a meal. So if we’re scarfing food down quickly, it’s easy to stuff ourselves, eating way too much before our brain ever gets the chance to receive the “satisfied” signal.
That’s why slowing down helps. It gives our gut and brain a chance to communicate effectively. You see, our bodies actually do know how much food we need. Most times we just eat too quickly and short-circuit those signals.
Eating slowly allows us to sense back into our body’s cues. This way we can stop a meal when we’re actually satisfied (instead of stuffed).
More Reasons to Slow Down
Eating slowly doesn't just help us drop fat. It can also help with the following:
1. Better Digestion
Eating slower means we chew more often, which leads to better digestion. Digestion starts with the mechanical breakdown of nutrients in the mouth. The more work we do up there, the less our stomachs have to do — which means fewer digestive problems like upset stomach, diarrhea, and bloating.
2. Less Stress
Eating slowly and paying attention to our eating can help reduce stress. Meals become a welcome break from the day's responsibilities and distractions. Instead of another annoyance.
3. More Enjoyment
Scarfing our meals means we miss all the nuances of taste and texture. Sometimes we miss the taste and texture altogether. Slowing down helps us appreciate well-prepared food in ways we never imagined.
4. Social Time
When we eat slowly we have more time to socialize with friends and make real human connection in our day. The benefits of this — for health and body composition — can’t be overstated.
How to Eat Slowly
Convinced of the benefits, but not sure how you'll slow down? Here are a few strategies to get you started.
1. Set aside time to eat.
Set aside a block of time — say 30 minutes — for a meal. And, if you’re a fast eater, and that seems too difficult for now, start smaller. Shoot for 15 minutes, building up to more.
Sure, you may not be able to devote 30 minutes to every meal. However, when possible, carve out some extra time.
2. Use smaller serving plates or alternative utensils.
To further help control portions, serving your dinner on salad plates or in smaller bowls is a great strategy. If you're really hardcore, you can even use chopsticks instead of a fork or spoon. That’ll help slow things down.
3. Put down your utensils between bites.
Another way to slow down in the beginning is to put down your utensils between bites vs. shoveling food in as if it were about to be taken from you. Bonus points for savoring each bite. But even if you don’t savor, at least chew each bite. Finish one bite before starting the next.
4. Set a minimum number of chews for every bite.
While this may seem awkward for easy-to-eat things like yogurt, setting a "chew requirement" will help you slow down your bites. Just don’t get obsessive about this. And don’t keep counting after the first few tries.
By counting, you’re building awareness. Once you’re aware, drop the math and ease into your new eating pace without counting bites. In the end, in our “rush, rush, rush” world, eating slowly can be difficult. But that’s part of the argument for doing it.
Just remember: When you start to practice this important habit, you don't have to be perfect. You just have to do a little better than yesterday. The payoff, in terms of health, fitness and lifestyle is completely worth it.
— John Berardi
Dr. John Berardi is the director of the world's largest body transformation project. In the last five years, his team has helped over 15,000 clients lose more than 250,000 pounds of body fat. (That's more total weight loss than all 13 seasons of the Biggest Loser combined). For more on his one-of-a-kind program — Lean Eating Coaching — click here.