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Posted: Monday, February 15, 2016

One Bite at a Time: The Benefits of Eating Slowly

Let’s say you’re about to have your favorite meal. You know the one. It’s the one you look forward to, the one you enjoy the most and the one you simply can’t wait to have. And yet, once you have it in front of you, you chow down like there’s no tomorrow, consuming bite after bite until it’s all gone without ever stopping to savor the flavors of the dish you love so much. Yes, this is wish fulfillment at its finest – we want the meal so badly, we inhale it the first chance we get. What’s the point in that, though? Why not slow down and enjoy it?

Blount Memorial registered dietitian Heather Pierce says, in addition to more time to enjoy a meal, eating slowly has a few other benefits, as well. “Most of us are taught early in life to eat quickly,” she said. “On average, we spend between two and 11 minutes eating a meal. But with all that rushing to finish, we’re missing out on some of the perks of eating at a more-reasonable pace. Digestion, for instance, is aided greatly by slower eating. Obviously, digestion starts in our mouths, and the more we chew, the better we assist with the whole process,” she explained.

“Satiety and weight loss are two more benefits of eating more slowly,” Pierce said. “As you practice slowing down, you may begin to notice that you stop eating sooner because you’re feeling fuller. Our brains get the signal that we are full about 20 minutes into the eating process. This hormone signaling doesn’t start until our stomachs start to stretch, so if we slow down and take a listen to what our bodies are telling us, we actually can stop eating sooner and, therefore, eat less food. This, of course, can lead to weight loss because you’re stopping when you’re comfortably full, rather than stuffed,” she said. “If you’re not quite ready to change what you eat, try changing how you eat it first,” she added.

Finally, Pierce says, you may actually choose better foods if you eat slower. “When you start trying to eat more slowly, you’ll begin to notice the textures and flavors of food a bit more,” she said. “Most commercial foods are designed to taste good for the first three bites, but after that, they tend to become bland. For instance, try chewing a potato chip 25 times and you’ll see how difficult that becomes due to the loss of flavor. By contrast, try chewing a piece of fruit the same amount and you’ll notice that it starts out with a burst of flavor and becomes more interesting as you continue to chew it,” she added.

Pierce says there are a few tips to ease you into learning to eat more slowly. “First, try putting your fork or spoon down between bites,” she said. “This is the most popular first step in slower eating. Next, remember to sit down for all meals and snacks instead of standing, and avoid multitasking while eating, particularly eating while driving. Another way is to take smaller bites, something that can be aided by using toddler forks or spoons, or even chopsticks. It may sound silly, but it definitely helps you choose smaller bites. You also can try using your non-dominant hand for feeding yourself. Some people have even had luck slowing down their eating by setting the stage for their meal by playing some slow music in the background,” she explained. “Perhaps most importantly, take a minute about halfway into the meal to rate your hunger. See how full you think you feel, and decide how much you want to continue eating,” she added.

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