Why ‘slowing down’ can help those seeking to lose weight

My blog on Wednesday focused on research into exercise ” a pastime that traditionally sees a bit of an upsurge at this time of year. Of course, another focus for the attention of those undergoing a bit of a New Year overhaul will be to cut back on what passes our lips. For many, this will mean eschewing some ‘favourite’ foods and perhaps the elimination of anything other than three ‘healthy’ meals a day.

Not eating between meals can certainly shunt someone into calorie deficit and help in the shedding of any excess weight accumulated during the festive period. However, there are several reasons why this may not turn out to be such an effective strategy in the long term.

One of these concerns the effect of eating less on appetite. Going for long periods without eating can induce hunger that may make us simply eat more at meal time. This can be particularly evident in the evening. For many, any deprivation they have endured during the day just comes back to bite them when the sun goes down.

One reason for the phenomenon of over-eating in the evening may relate to the body’s attempt to make up for food it feels it has missed out on earlier on. However, in addition to this, there is some evidence to suggest that another reason why hunger can lead to the over-consumption of food relates to its impact on the speed with which we eat.

Researchers from the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, USA, recently presented data from a study which explored this phenomenon [1]. In this study, 30 women were asked to eat a pasta-based meal under two distinct conditions. At one sitting, they were asked to take small bites and chew each one 15-20 times. At another sitting, they were asked to eat as quickly as possible. The women ate until they were satisfied.

Compared to the speed-eaters, the women instructed to take their time and chew thoroughly consumed about 70 calories less. Not only that, but these women felt more satisfied immediately after the meal and an hour later.

This study suggests getting too hungry and the speedy eating this can induce could quite easily cause our intake to be surplus to requirements in the long term.

Another reason for not getting too hungry before meals is that it makes it difficult to keep a reign on not just how much is eaten, but what is eaten too. In short, when we get hungry, it becomes a lot harder resist stuffing ourselves full of quite rubbishy foods that are likely to do nothing for our weight loss efforts such as bread, pasta and rice.

So, for any of you reading this that are in the process of or contemplating tidying up your diet, my strong advice is not to do this by going hungry.

My suggestion would be to concentrate not on the quantity of food you eat, but its quality. The general principle here is to eat a diet based on foods that are natural and unprocessed as possible. Meat, fish, fruit vegetables and nuts are all good candidates here. Many people find such a diet is inherently satisfying, but should hunger strike, do not resist any temptation to eat a healthy snack (e.g. fruit, nuts) between meals if need be. By doing so, you may well keep yourself out of trouble later on.

The idea here is to come to main meals ready for food, but not so hungry that speed-eating is inevitable. By putting a brake on our appetite, healthy snacking between meals can actually help to ensure that meals are eaten slowly, chewed thoroughly and properly savoured. This, in turn, may actually help to moderate intake in the long term.

It is this effect that could explain why it is that evidence links regular eating with a reduced risk of obesity. In one study, individuals eating 5 or more times a day, compared to those eating 3 or less times each day, were half as likely to be overweight [2].


1. Study presented at the Annual meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity. October 20-24, 2006 Hynes Convention Center, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

2. Fabry P, et al. The frequency of meals its relationship to overweight, hypercholesteremia, and decreased glucose-tolerance. Lancet 1964;2:614-5

One Response to Why ‘slowing down’ can help those seeking to lose weight

  1. Jane McWhirter 19 January 2007 at 12:40 pm #

    Dear Dr John,
    You are so right that it is the quality of food not the quantity that matters. Yesterday my 11 year old daughter left her packed lunch behind and had to have a school lunch. Their kitchen was taken out 10 years ago to make an IT room, so the food is cooked “centrally” at another school and then spends 2 hours in hot boxes being driven round 6 other schools. The ingredients are typically grim to start with but there can’t be an ounce of goodness left by the time it reaches their plates. And as serving out takes some time, there is less time in which to eat. She commented that “school lunches give me a sore tummy yet I’m starving 2 hours later!”
    I find it very worrying that you can generally tell which children have school dinners and which bring their own, just by looking at them side on.

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