Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How Do You Eat?

In a previous post (which of course I can't find--at least for now), I asked the question, do you eat when you're hungry? Today, I'd like to talk about how we eat.

Many dieters obsess about what they are eating, how much they are eating, what time of day they are eating (or refraining from eating). However, I don't think enough thought is given to how we eat what we eat.

Recently, as I sat eating breakfast in a hotel dining room and looking around, my gaze drifted to a table of three women. They looked (at least from a distance) to be all of "regular" size--neither extremely thin nor particularly heavy.

What I did notice was the way they were eating: calmly and slowly, putting their forks down between bites, not rushing. They were eating as though they were neither afraid of nor intoxicated by their food.

Until this year, when I started learning about intuitive eating, the only thing I thought would help me to lose weight would be just to eat less. And that's not a false idea. But the way I was trying to eat less was totally unproductive. I would serve myself a small portion of whatever food I was going to eat and proceed to vacuum it up, perhaps not as fast as humanly possible, but quite quickly. And then I felt angry, and I was still hungry and far from satisfied.

The portion may have been right but the method was totally wrong.

It really does take more than a few instants for the "full" signal to get from your stomach to your brain. When you inhale your food, no matter how much or how little, you don't give your brain sufficient time to process what's going on. And that feeling of fullness, which we all eventually get to (even binge eaters and bulimics eventually get to a point where they don't feel comfortable), is reached much, much later than when you eat slowly and consciously.

Cutting down one's energy intake (aka food) will eventually lead to weight loss, especially when coupled with an increase in energy expenditure (aka exercising) but cutting down the amount of food without INCREASING the time it takes to eat that nice, reasonable portion of food might turn your new, healthier eating programme into a nightmare you just can't wait to wake up from and lead to the yo-yo syndrome of deprivation (sometimes for months or even years at a time) followed by regaining the weight.

Eating more slowly and consciously has another interesting and positive effect that goes beyond the quantity of food we eat. You might be surprised at how your food tastes when you take the time to taste and chew it slowly. Addicted to Doritos? Take one, rather than a fistful. Eat it really slowly, give yourself the time to taste it. The salt blast is unreal. The chemical undertaste is disconcerting. Have I learnt to hate Doritos? No. But I'm more aware now of what I'm eating and it is easier to refuse them or at very least, not to gorge on them.

Eating more slowly and letting the brain catch up with the stomach also helps--at least to a certain extent--to curb cravings. I find that when I recognize that I am no longer hungry, the sweets that I love so dearly are slightly less attractive. I did say slightly...I'm not perfect!

I believe that slowing down one's eating and taking the time to taste one's food is almost a pre-requisite for long-term changes in how we eat and how much we weigh. I would go so far as to say that even if you have decided on a particular diet plan (like WW), you should prepare by first slowing down while eating everything that you normally eat. Binge eat, but do it slowly. I suspect it's really hard. Eat what you love, but do it slowly. I think you'll be surprised to see that you'll end up eating less than you expected.

Just my two-cents' worth.


  1. Hi - Excellent post, I think you're absolutely right that eating slower increases awareness of hunger signals.

    I have sometimes tried (a Beyond Chocolate suggestion) to eat a meal with no - TV, radio, book, magazine, conversation or other person. Just me and the plate. It's quite difficult! but makes me realise more about my usual speed of eating.

    Hope your travelling is all going ok !

  2. This is definitely something i need to work on! I have to admit i shovel it down.

  3. Totally agree with everything you said...and I see we also agree on TBL being a horrible show. :)

  4. Oh absolutely! I find that the meals I enjoy the most are the ones eaten at a table, with conviviality. I eat more slowly and really savor my food. Subsequently I eat much less.

  5. You're quite right, food should be treated with the respect it deserves. I have found that since I adopted the "primal" lifestyle, and taking the time to prepare everything from scratch, I don't want to consume it in front of the tv without even seeing it! I want to sit down at the table to eat, even when I'm alone, so that I can really taste and appreciate it.