Slow Down at Mealtime to Avoid Overeating

Filed under: Big Kids, Tweens, Teens, Nutrition: Health, Mealtime


A new study published in The Endocrine Society's Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, has revealed that eating fast rather than slow limits the release of hormones in the gut that trigger the feeling of being full.

In the study, volunteers ate 300 mL of ice cream (just over 1 cup) at different rates. Those that took 30 minutes to finish their ice cream had higher levels of the gut hormones peptide YY (PYY) and glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1) and felt more full than those that eat their ice cream faster. These two hormones act on the brain and induce a state of satisfaction with your food, which helps to regulate your appetite to normal levels.

How many times have you felt rushed to eat and head out to the door to your next activity? With kids booked in many events (or even the full plate of having a career), it is sometimes hard to sit down at the table and give each meal the full attention it deserves.
When we eat, it is not our brain that receives the signal of being full, but rather, our intestines. The intestines need time to recognize the food in our stomach and initiate the release of hormones and enzymes. It takes about 20 minutes just for food to move from our stomach into our small intestine.

A study published in 2004 with 30 women eating big plates of pasta, showed just how much more we can eat in times of being rushed. These women were given unlimited amounts of pasta in each time period. The first pasta meal they were told to eat quickly and on average consumed 646 calories. In the second meal they were told to eat slower, at a rate of about 20 chews per bite, and they ate an average of 579 calories, still feeling equally as satisfied as they did from the first meal. This means the women ate 67 more calories in meals that they ate quickly. If we carried that number through three meals to represent one day, that equates to 201 calories more per day from eating fast. That can represent a weight gain of 17.5 lbs per year alone.

While the studies focused on adults, the concept of eating slowly certainly applies to children as well. The suggestion is to sit down with your family and pace your meal over a 20 to 30 minute time period. For little ones who get antsy at the table, you could try making this into a game, as sometimes we have faster eaters in our family and set up a challenge to see who can eat the slowest. As for how much you should chew your food, each bite should be chewed until it becomes a paste in your mouth. I challenge you to try this with your next snack and chew each bite until you can no longer tell what it was from the texture. And don't worry if it takes a while to get used to the idea of eating slow -- it really goes against the grain of the rush-rush world that we've all become accustomed to. Many people are lucky to get five or six chews from one bite, but keep in mind that ideal digestion calls for a number closer to 20 chews per bite.

Here are some other tips that can help you slow down with food:
  • Put your fork down in between bites
  • Keep the conversation going -- this keeps you busy engaging instead of eating
  • Take smaller bites of food
Karla Heintz is a Nutrition Educator and Author of Picky? Not Me, Mom! A Parents' Guide to Children's Nutrition.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.