Today I’d like to challenge you to try an experiment with slow eating. Eating more slowly can help you eat less food, because it takes about 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal from your stomach that you are full. Eating more slowly improves satiety and satisfaction with your meals, improves your digestion, and creates the conditions where your body can better assimilate nutrients from your meals.
Here are some simple suggestions to slow down your eating:
- •Try to linger over your meal 5 minutes longer than usual. Even if you only make it 1 minute longer, that is an improvement.
- •Eat sitting down, not standing at the counter or over the sink.
- •Eat at a dining table, not on the sofa or in a vehicle.
- •When you eat, actually eat. Be mindful of the smell, tastes, and textures of your food. Savor your food.
- •Eliminate distractions. Don’t watch TV, read, or check your phone during your meal.
- •Listen to some pleasant, relaxing music during your meal.
I already feel like I eat more slowly than most of the people around me. When I am eating at a restaurant with others, I usually have somewhere between one third to one half of my plate remaining when others are finished. Even though I am already eating relatively slowly compared to my friends, I needed to up the game for today’s slow eating challenge. Here are the changes I made in my slow eating experiment:
1) I set aside some time to cook myself a special treat lunch. Ordinarily I would quickly make a lunchmeat sandwich or salad for lunch, but today I decided to cook myself a brunch treat: scrambled eggs, hash browns, and a single almond flour pancake. This is pretty close to a meal that I would order if I were going out to brunch- except a restaurant brunch would have bacon. For the purposes of this experiment, we’ll set aside the fact that this meal needs more protein and vegetables.
2) I set the table for lunch. First, I had to eliminate distractions by clearing the table of all the mail and catalogs and receipts that sometimes clutter the table. I laid out a placemat, set out the utensils, prepared a cup of hot tea, and poured myself a glass of ice water. I made sure that everything I would need during lunch was laid out on the table.
3) I used a meal timer. I used a free app, Eat Slower, to pace my meal. Eat Slower is a simple interval timer. You can choose how long you want to wait between bites of food, anywhere between 20 seconds and 3 minutes. The timer will ring an alert (or vibrate) at you when it’s time to take a bite, then count down until you can take the next bite. I chose a one-minute interval. Because I wanted to stay as relaxed as possible, I alternated between “eating” minutes- when I could eat as many bites as I wanted- and “resting” minutes- when I put my utensils down, focused on breathing, and sipped water or tea.
4) I took 5 deep breaths before beginning to eat. I used a breathing pattern that has been shown to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and create relaxation: inhale for the count of 5, hold for one second, then exhale for the count of five. You can increase the relaxation by making the “ahhh” sound as you exhale. While breathing, I expressed gratitude for my meal. I thanked the chickens for their eggs. I thanked the farmers for their chickens and potatoes and almonds. I thanked the universe for bringing this abundance of food too me.
So how did it go?
I felt rather hungry while I was preparing the food. I was choosing to cook more deliberately and consciously, and I was paying extra attention to the sight, sounds, and smells of the food as it was cooking. It seemed to me that all of this paying attention resulted in my getting hungrier as I prepared the food. On a scale of 1 to 10, my hunger was about an 8 or 9 by the time I sat down to eat.
I was able to stay conscious as I ate the bites of food. I paid attention to the taste and texture of the food as I chewed. I explored my taste for specific ingredients that I knew were in the food. Could I taste the pepper that I had sprinkled on the hash browns? Could I taste the butter that I had spread on the pancake?
Perhaps because I was so hungry, I felt shaky during the first few rest intervals. I don’t think it felt like a compulsion like someone feels when they are binge eating, but I did feel a little impatient about wanting to take the next bites. The shaky feeling dissipated with deep breathing, and when I felt the urge to take the next bite, that is when I sipped my water or tea. I also used the waiting intervals to cut up the pancake for my upcoming bites, and to refill my glass of water.
I started to get curious: How long was I chewing the bite of food I had put into my mouth? When I would glance at the timer, it seemed like I was chewing somewhere between 20-25 seconds for each bite.
I experimented with taste. I didn’t smother the pancake with maple syrup before tasting it. I tasted some of the pancake without syrup, and then poured a tiny amount of syrup on just a corner of the pancake. I discovered that I didn’t want the pancake smothered in syrup- I could taste all the flavors better when it was plain. I also discovered that the butter wasn’t really adding much flavor to the pancake. Maybe the next time I make a pancake, I will omit the butter and go very light on the syrup.
I finished the eggs and hash browns, but reached a point about half way through the pancake where I began to feel that I had eaten enough. I had given myself permission to eat all the pancake, and I didn’t expect that I would feel finished before the pancake was gone. I waited two more “eating” rounds before I decided I’d had enough. And it really was enough. I was satisfied.
How long was my meal? That’s a good question, because I don’t have an exact answer. Somewhere around 20 minutes total. While the Eat Slower app is a decent interval timer, it does not keep track of the total number of intervals that have passed in any session. If I am interested in measuring total meal times, I’ll need to try something different. Some additional feedback on Eat Slower: if you have the screen lock feature activated on your phone, the app pauses when the phone goes into screen lock. That’s sort of inconvenient when are counting on it to signal the end of a time interval. You can get around this by deactivating the screen lock. It’s not a fatal flaw… just important to know.
Did I eat less? Without a doubt, yes. I didn’t use nearly the same amount of syrup on the pancake as I normally would have, and if I were to do this again I’d skip the butter on the pancake as well. I ate only half of the pancake, when usually I would have eaten the whole thing. I finished two glasses of water during my meal. Perhaps the water is what had a big influence on my lack of desire to finish the pancake. But drinking more water is another goal of mine, so I’m going to call that a win.
What do you think? If you try an experiment in eating more slowly, I’d love to hear how it goes for you.
For more of the science explaining why slowing down helps your digestion and how it can help you lose weight, check out The Slow Down Diet by Marc David.