Mom was right when she told us to slow down when we ate. Mom promised that wolfing down your food would likely result in a stomachache, but a new study shows something of more consequence: Eating slower could be linked to a lower risk of obesity.
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Researchers from a university in Japan examined data from 59,717 people with type 2 diabetes. Researchers asked people to describe themselves as fast eaters, medium eaters or slow eaters.
“People who were slowest eaters had the lowest risk of obesity. People who self-described as medium-eaters had a bit higher risk, but the highest risk was in the fast-eating group,” says psychologist Leslie Heinberg, PhD, MA.
Dr. Heinberg, who is Section Head for Psychology in Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Behavioral Health Department of Psychiatry and Psychology and Director of Behavioral Services for the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute, did not take part in the study.
The link between eating fast and weighing more
The study’s results are consistent with what experts have seen in the past — people who eat quickly are more likely to weigh more, Dr. Heinberg says.
When we eat, the signals of hunger have to move from our stomach and gut to our brain, she says. It takes the brain about 20 minutes to shut off the urge to eat.
If you’re a fast eater, you’ll consume more food in 20 minutes than a slow eater. By the time a fast-eater gets the satiety signals, it’s too late — they have overeaten and are uncomfortably full.
Stretch out your meals
Eating at a slower pace allows you to feel satisfied before you eat too much. A different study of schoolgirls bore this out: the reduction of eating speed suppressed weight gain and prevented obesity.
“People should take more than 20 minutes to eat a meal — ideally about 30 minutes — so that you can have an opportunity for your brain to catch up with your stomach,” Dr. Heinberg says.
If you’re working toward weight loss and weight management, here are some strategies Dr. Heinberg suggests to slow down your food consumption:
- Use a timer or watch the clock to stretch your meal out to 30 minutes
- Try chewing each mouthful anywhere from 15 to 30 times, depending on the food.
- Take sips of water every few mouthfuls. This can help you to feel fuller, too.
- Put your hand or fork down between each mouthful.
“Small behavior changes — whether it’s just getting a little more sleep, slowing down, not snacking as much, not eating in front of the television – all these little things are small steps that people can take to chip away at that problem,” she says.
Complete results of the study can be found in the British Medical Journal.