Slow down and you could slim down
When Uncle Percy came to dinner, we always found it hard to keep a straight face with the inevitable lecture on chewing each mouthful 32 times! We later discovered he was a huge fan of The Great Masticator, Horace Fletcher, who believed that ‘prolonged chewing precluded overeating, led to better systemic and dental health, helped to reduce food intake, and consequently, conserved money.’ (J. Hist. Dent. 1997 Nov.) At 45, Fletcher had been ‘overweight, short of breath and in poor condition’. At 60, thanks to his new regimen, ‘he outdid college athletes in gymnasium tests of endurance, went on long tramps and climbed mountains with the vigour of youth. He had considerably reduced his weight and was living on a much smaller ration than formerly,’ according to his bio in The American Journal of Public Health.
The evidence is piling up that Percy, Horace and Grandma were all onto something when they told us to sit down to eat (elbows off the table), chew our food properly (the mouth is where digestion begins), and to leave the table feeling as though we still had room for a little more rather than stuffing ourselves until we were FTB (full to the brim).
In the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, Researchers Ana M. Andrade and her team report that eating slowly may help to maximise satiation (basically how quickly and to what extent we feel full while we eat) and reduce energy intake within meals. In their study, 30 young, healthy volunteer women ate around 70 fewer calories (294 kJ) in a meal when they slowed down. They also felt fuller and more satisfied after eating. The women tucked into the same meal (pasta with tomato-vegetable sauce and grated parmesan cheese, plus a glass of water) on two separate occasions. They ate ‘meal one’ as fast as they could with no pauses between bites, and took their time over ‘meal two’ with small bites, chewing each mouthful 20–30 times and putting their spoon down between bites. Check out the difference. They put away an average of:
- 646 calories (2713 kJ) in about 9 minutes when eating fast.
- 579 calories (2432 kJ) in about 29 minutes when eating slowly.
A recent study published in the British Medical Journal reports that people who wolf down their meals until they are full to the brim are more likely to be overweight. Koutatsu Maruyama and colleagues measured the BMI of some 3,300 adults in Japan and asked them to complete questionnaires about their eating habits over the previous month. After adjusting for confounders including calorie intake, they found that those who reported eating until they were full had roughly twice the odds of being overweight, compared with those who stopped eating sooner. Those who ate quickly were also about twice as likely to be overweight as those who ate more slowly. Being overweight was especially common among those who ate fast and until bursting. However, because it’s difficult to estimate cause and effect in a cross-sectional survey like this, further studies are needed to ‘validate these associations between eating behaviour patterns and being overweight,’ say the researchers.
In an editorial in the same issue of the British Medical Journal, Drs Elizabeth Denney-Wilson and Karen Campbell, suggest how eating patterns might be contributing to the obesity epidemic. On the one hand fast food and fewer families eating together may promote speed eating, while the availability of inexpensive energy-dense foods served in larger portions may encourage eating beyond satiety. So what’s the good news? Speaking to GI News, Dr Denney-Wilson says there’s evidence that we can learn to eat more slowly. Here’s how:
- Make sure your meals include plenty of ‘chew foods’ such as lean meat, crunchy salads and vegetables, wholegrains like brown rice and pearl barley.
- Put your fork down between mouthfuls.
- Take small bites. Cut your meat into tiny bites, before you begin eating.
- Pace yourself. Don’t take your lead from the ‘bolters’ at the table.
- Take a break between second helpings or dessert to let your stomach have a good chat to your brain.
- Don’t get so hungry you could eat the proverbial horse. Wolfers are often skippers. Have a healthy snack between meals to keep the pangs at bay.
- Eat meals as a family (or with partners/friends/flatmates) with the TV off – look at mealtimes as a time to catch up and enjoy the company you keep.
As for eating until you are not quite full, let your plate be your guide while you learn to listen to your tummy for starters. Don’t fill it to the rim. Amanda Clark compares a modest, 350 calorie (1470 kJ) dinner plate with a rim-to-rim, 450 calorie (1890 kJ) dinner plate in her new book, Portion Perfection. And parents, don’t force your children to eat more than they want to – let them learn to recognise the cues from their bodies that tell them when they are full.