How To Become A Slow Eater

by | Apr 18, 2012
day211/mom always said not to play with your food. but this is too much fun!

Photo by he half-blood prince

Busy people are experts in efficiency. Everything we do is quick, effective and goal-directed. But when it comes to eating, efficiency is not the highest virtue.

Quick eating almost always results in overeating. This is because your brain is not focused on the eating process, but on the goal of filling your stomach. Unfortunately, a full stomach does not automatically create satiety in the brain.

Satiety is only perceived after a culmination of sensory cues and signals indicate a meal is over. Some of these cues are internal, such as spending time chewing, tasting and swallowing. Others are external, like seeing an empty plate or noticing a restless dining partner.

Only after about 20 minutes will you actually be able to tell if your belly is full or not, but if you’ve been stuffing your face the entire time it is already too late.

You can learn to eat more slowly by focusing on satiety cues rather than on cleaning your plate. Here are 12 tips for learning how to slow down and eat less.

12 Tips For Eating Slowly

  1. Practice Eating quickly is a habit that needs to be broken. Make a point to practice mindful eating by scheduling it into your day. Write it in your calendar, leave notes on your fridge and send yourself reminders before meals until your new habits become automatic. Habits typically take 3-4 weeks to develop, here’s some tips on how to develop mindful eating practices.
  2. Sit at a table Sitting at a table to eat tells your brain you are having a meal. If you eat while running errands or standing at the counter you can quickly lose track of how much you’ve eaten. Even if you eat a lot while standing, you may still feel like you haven’t had a meal and want to eat more later.
  3. Serve small portions A clean plate is an incredibly powerful cue that a meal is finished. For this reason, large portion sizes often lead to overeating simply because of our tendency to eat what is in front of us. Serve yourself smaller portions as a reminder to take your time and savor each bite. Use small plates so your brain doesn’t perceive the portions as skimpy.
  4. Remove distractions If you are reading or watching TV, you are not paying attention to the food you put into your mouth. I know you are busy and want to multitask, but resist the urge for 15 minutes and eat a real meal. I admit I’m bad at this one, but I always eat less if I go offline while I eat.
  5. Chew You might think that you chew your food, but there’s a good chance you are swallowing a lot of it whole. Take smaller bites and chew your food thoroughly. Notice the texture of what you are eating and appreciate what it adds to your meal. This is something I need to remind myself of directly before I eat, so I keep this on my to-do list.
  6. Drink Another way you can force yourself to slow down is to consciously sip your drink throughout your meal. This requires you to put your fork down, chew and swallow before eating more. It also adds liquid to your stomach and can help you feel more full. Water is a perfect choice, but even sipping wine can slow down your meal.
  7. Put down your fork The classic recommendation to put down your fork (or sandwich) between bites has stuck around for one simple reason: it works. When we are not eating mindfully our hands go into shoveling mode, where your fork is primed with another bite almost instantly after popping the last one in your mouth. Putting your fork down forces you to relax a bit and focus on chewing what you already have.
  8. Have a conversation You only have one mouth, and if you are using it to talk it’s really difficult to shove food into it. Eat with friends, have a great conversation and use this as an opportunity to slow down your meal.
  9. Eat with other slow eaters We all have an unconscious tendency to imitate people we are near. If you are dining with a ferocious eater, you might find yourself mimicking their bad habit and eating quickly just to keep up. To train yourself to eat slower, try finding slow eaters to influence you instead.
  10. Don’t eat when you’re starving Nothing makes me more likely to eat quickly than being famished. But sooner or later circumstance will get the better of you and you’ll end up hungrier than you should be. I always carry almonds or other nuts around with me for times like this, and I eat exactly 10 nuts to tide me over for an hour or so. After about 15-20 minutes, my hunger subsides enough for me to regain control of my eating speed.
  11. Dim the lights Environment can have a big impact on our mental state, and you can set your dinner mood by dimming lights or lighting candles. Dim lights induce an inner calmness and make it easier to slow down. On the flip side, be careful when eating under bright, fluorescent lights as they can spur frantic overeating.
  12. Play mellow music Slow, mellow music can also help set an appropriate eating pace. Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue is one of my favorite dinner albums. However, this trick only works if the music is truly slower than your natural, silent eating pace. If your music is any faster you may experience the opposite effect.

What are your favorite tricks for slowing down your dining?

This article was originally published September 9, 2009.

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39 Responses to “How To Become A Slow Eater”

  1. SergioM says:

    Hi Darya!

    I always eat quickly at home and this is why I want to do a lot of things in a single day. In my case, I watch the kitchen clock when I finish my meal :-(

    On the other hand, I think if the meal is not good enough according to your taste then you’ll eat quickly.

    My tip: I recommend reading something you enjoy with in order to eat slowly, and yes, I know you won’t be able to be focus on your dish but It can be your first step ;-)

    Thought-provoking post! Thank you!

  2. Matt Shook says:

    Sometimes I abuse #8 too much and I’m the last one to finish eating…maybe that’s a good thing! Hahaha…

  3. You have no idea how much I need to learn this skill. I am fast enough to be a competition eater. While I used to say that braggingly, now I say it with my head hung in shame. It is so hard to break old habits though. I am slowly getting better though.

    • Ellie says:

      These are all good ideas, but one more to mention that the picture brings to mind is to play with your food. Of course, this isn’t an adult thing to do, but kids do this naturally. For a good visual on an adult playing with food, see “50 First Dates”. :)
      I guess the point I am trying to make is to have fun and don’t make eating such a precise, orderly, step-by-step event.

  4. And may I add, don’t eat watching the cable news network. This totally causing over-eating. The brain is so busy it goes numb to the food.:)

  5. Maria says:

    Great post/tips! We try to eat at the table so we can sit down and enjoy our meal and each other.

  6. Dani says:

    Oh! I’ve been working on this for a while now… I am/was the queen of speedy eating. I know this may sound like a given, but my tip for slowing down while eating is to BREATHE! Taking a few deep breathe automatically resets the mind and body putting us into a more relaxed state. When I catch myself “speed eating” I try to stop and take three to five deep breaths in between bites.

  7. Natalie says:

    What a great post! I will definitely be implementing these tips in my day-to-day life! Thank you

  8. Nicky Jurd says:

    I’ve just downloaded an iPhone app to help slow down my eating. It’s a brand new app and I think it’s free for a week. It’s great because you can vary the breaks between chewing and has discreet settings for when you’re in public.

    http://itunes.apple.com/app/id371289118?mt=8

  9. Michael says:

    Miles Davis Kind of Blue? You can invite me to dinner at your place any day of the week. :-)

  10. Bob says:

    On the subject of chewing, I had a bit of an synthetic moment recently. I remembered reading an article talking about buying unsplit cordwood, because you get more actual wood. If it’s been split and broken up, the same logs actually take up more space. It occurred to me that if I chew my food thorough and break those fibers into smaller pieces mixed with saliva, the same amount of food will occupy more space. And it coincidentally follows that you get more from your food by exposing the materials to more digestive enzymes. I know this is old news, but it helped me to be able to picture the chopped-up cord of wood.

  11. So .. being the slow eater at the table means I’m more awesome? awesome!

  12. Kat says:

    I’ve gotten really good at eating slowly. I’ll even get my food first and still have half left by the time everyone else has finished eating. It’s awesome because I’ve been doing a lot of the points you suggested for so long that it has actually become a habit to eat slowly and I don’t even have to think about it.

  13. Chris says:

    I love your thoughtful, detailed tips. I slowed down my eating by learning to chew my food thoroughly. I used to count the chews until I got in the habit. Now I consciously feel the food in my mouth as I chew until the particle are all chomped up very tiny. Bonus: you get to savor the flavor longer.

  14. I agree about the TV, but would argue that not all distractions are created equal. When I eat alone I like to read a book–the old-school, non-digital kind that I have to hold open with at least one hand–which forces me to put my fork down when I turn the page, and, if it’s a good one, grips me enough that I forget for a minute to take the next bite.

  15. Kate says:

    Love these Darya, but I have a query about drinking during meal times. I have always been taught that drinking – even water – during meal time is a no-no, because the fluids dilute the digestive juices and you don’t get a full digestive process. What are your thoughts on this?

    • Darya Pino says:

      I’ve never heard anything like that. Do you have a reference? I doubt drinking does any harm, your stomach has a whole bunch of acid :)

      • monique says:

        It is a classic principle of Ayurvedic nutrition. For those interested in improving digestion, one should not take water throughout the meal according to Ayurveda. Drinking water throughout the meal is actually a strategy to not overfill your stomach with food, and therefore calories, so that is a principle of weight loss or maintenance more than anything.

      • Marcelo Lopez says:

        To piggy back on what Monique, and Kate said. It is a norm for bariatric patients to drink liquids up to no sooner than 15 minutes to 1/2 hour prior to eating so they are well hydrated. And then, not to drink liquids with their meals, but rather chew as thoroughly as possible your food.

        The consumption of liquids with a bypass patient, for instance, where they don’t have the benefit of a pylorus to contain the intake of food before proceeding to the intestine. Taking in liquids would cause food to progress into the intestine more quickly than would normally. Therefore counteracting any feeling of “fullness” they would ( and should ) be accustoming themselves to.

        With patients of the LSG ( or VSG, depending on who you’re speaking to ), they will have both the pylorus and hiatal to “assist”, but the basic idea applies with one further wrinkle. Since LSG patients have what amounts to a vertical stomach sleeve, the incidence of reflux would be greater because while the pylorus is restricting outflow, the consumed liquid mixes with food and digestive juices, and be more likely to be dispelled upwards, or back up into the lower esophagus.

        And if it helps any, I’m speaking from personal experience.

      • Darya Pino says:

        Interesting, thanks.

  16. I do everything really fast, and sometimes dinner is gone in a blink. I have to sloooow down.

  17. Matt says:

    Try the app Eat Slower Pro for iPhone! It helps me to slow down.

  18. Geoff says:

    I think it is all about efficiency. If you wolf something down it takes no time but then you are left with solid food getting transferred down the pipe.

    If you take time eating, fully chewing and allowing the saliva to mix and start the digestive process, you are eating much mo efficiently.

    - saying not efficient sounds less agreeable

  19. I like to view Slow Eating as an extension of the Slow Food movement…I find that the more time it takes me to make a meal, the more likely I am to eat slowly and appreciate every bite. I’d hate to spend hours carefully selecting ingredients from the farmers market and then lovingly preparing a meal from scratch, just to have the finished product disappear in a matter of minutes!

  20. Great post! I think a lot of people can benefit from this. Slowing down when you eat is definitely something that may help with weight loss/maintenance.

    “Taking time to eat (and discover foods/taste) something I noticed intuitively in my babies: http://nutrisavvysblog.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/how-your-baby-can-help-you-become-a-healthier-eater/

  21. Jennifer G says:

    I used to work with a lady who would pace her eating by the slowest eater at the table. She would aim to eat slower than that person and then stop eating at the same time (s)he did. It was a way for her to ensure that she ate slowly and also managed to leave behind a good portion of her often over-sized meal.

  22. Nicholas Casteel says:

    It pretty simple: Don’t eat food fast and don’t eat fast food.

  23. Jessie says:

    Haha I like this post! Anyway before I eat I open the windows and turn everything off (tv computer) but if it’s dark I leave a dim
    Light on and zone out while I’m eating and I stare out the window and it helps me! You can just stare at something then I clam down and take deep breaths. I also play with my food while chewing and swallowing.

  24. Sarah C says:

    Any advice as to how best to teach an 8 year old to slow down? My 8 yr old daughter inhales her meals, requests junk food as her first choice, is obese and has many stomach problems. My 6 year old son eats mind-numbingly slowly, but is fit and always make the best food choices. I can’t figure out how I’m raising such different children. I redirect my daughter to healthier choices, but she eats so quickly she is constantly asking for more. She is a very creative kid but even many of her stories and drawings revolve around food. – Help

  25. Kashif Ansari says:

    i think it has so much to do with developing the patience to actually sit through eating say a slice of gourmet pizza for 15-20 minutes and savoring each small mouthful like it were your last. you have to really close your eyes and feeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeel the cheese, black olives and succulent chicken with juicy mushrooms melt into each other (deconstruct) in your mouth. go with the flow but try to enjoy the experience by freezing each passing second so that the experience becomes a detotalized totality of sorts. you understand what i mean. you don’t need to become obsessed but neither do you need to rush it. just let it do its work by becoming a part of your mouth and later digestion and body. it will become an ingrained habit in 3 weeks time hopefully. till then you gotta sometimes fake it till you make it.

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