The simplest and easiest way to lose a few pounds and still eat what you want.
One of my favorite systems for losing weight is just one simple step.
You don’t have to buy any equipment or any ingredients, or even learn anything new.
All you have to do is slow down when you eat.
Try it for one month! You have nothing to lose, except for stubborn bodyfat.
Eat slowly and mindfully
We often focus a lot on “what” we eat and not so much on “how” we eat.
But it is important to remember that one of the best ways to change “what is happening” is to change the situation.
If how you are eating is distracted or rushed, then you will eat too much. Period. You will also eat things that you don’t really enjoy or even want to eat.
Fixing this is very simple - all you need to do is make sure that you are eating slowly and mindfully.
Why this happens
We are all busy. We have jobs, family, and hobbies. We have stuff we plan on doing and then emergencies pop up that take away our time. There are errands and entertainment. What better way to get it all done than multitasking or rushing through the things we have to do.
One of the things we all feel confident about how to do, is eating. So it seems like a great place to get back some time by rushing through meals, or doing something else while we eat.
Why is this a problem
When we eat quickly and are distracted, we miss the hunger and fullness cues that our body is giving us. We also miss the feedback from our body on how the foods we are choosing make us feel.
Additionally we start psychologically “linking” eating with other tasks. For example, if you eat when you watch TV, your body starts to associate the “need” to eat while watching TV. Now when you start a show or a movie you start getting feelings that “feel” like hunger.
In certain circumstances it can even be dangerous. Driving seems like a great time to eat, but it is a distraction. Inattentive driving is the cause of about 25% off all accidents. (1)
What happens when we eat quickly and are distracted
When you’re not paying attention when you eat, you take bigger bites and don’t completely chew your food. That is what you need to do mechanically to eat quicker. If you don’t completely chew your food, you don’t get many of the nutrients you need from it. But you will get most of the calories, as human beings are designed to be able to consume more calories than we need at any moment.
This is called overeating. The important thing to understand about overeating is that it is a feature, not a bug. In a “natural” environment overeating is an important and useful strategy. In a “natural” environment food is not always available, much less the exact food that you are craving in unlimited amounts. For many of us (very fortunately I might add) we have almost instant access to unlimited amounts of every food you could dream of. If you live in a developed country, and aren’t living in real poverty in a food desert, this is you.
Why slowing down solves overeating
You body is constantly talking to you. But it is easy to miss the messages. One of the major reasons for overeating is not paying attention to the messages and the “delay” in when the messages are received by the conscious brain.
In all scenarios of life when you aren’t paying attention you miss things. If I tell you a story while you are reading a book, you will miss parts of both. Louder messages tend to take precedence. If the TV is blasting and someone whispers a message to you then you will miss the whispered messages much more than the TV program.
Almost everything in our modern world is designed to maximize taking your attention, including the taste of food. It is easy to confuse the sensation of tasting food with still being hungry. But one is in your mouth and one is in your stomach: they are not the same. If you aren’t being mindful you might think you still want to eat for hunger when you have actually switched to eating for taste.
There is also a delay for hunger signals, unlike taste. Your body doesn’t give you real-time feedback on how full you are. It takes about 20 minutes for the fullness signals to get from your stomach to your brain. (2) This means that when you eat fast you don’t know how full you are until after you finish. Think about if you had to fill a cup with water from a sink but had your eyes closed, it would be very easy to overfill the cup. And the faster the water is coming from the faucet the more you would overfill it.
If you are distracted by something else completely it does even more damage. How can you feel your body getting full while enjoying the taste of food when you are focused on a movie?
What science says about this
There are many studies that show that people who eat faster are heavier. Additionally, there are many studies that show that when people slow down their eating they consume fewer calories.
Ossuka et al. found in a study published in 2006 that eating fast leads to obesity. (3) His study was based on the data from 3737 males and 1005 females, all middle-aged. Another study by Angelopoulos et al. in 2014 found that slow-paced eating causes increased fullness and decreased hunger in people who are overweight and obese. (4) And in yet another study published in 2008 by Andrade et al. it was found that women who ate fast consumed more calories and yet felt less full. (5)
The science is undisputed: eating slowly causes lower caloric intake which leads to a lower weight over time.
How to Eat Slowly and Mindfully
This is a very simple habit that will help you lose weight.
But it is not an easy one to implement. It is easy to fall back into default patterns. Especially when life gets crazy.
I have found the trick to implementing this habit is to focus on a specific strategy that helps you slow down and be mindful.
For example, you could put your fork down between every bite of food. Or make sure that you fully swallow each bite before taking the next, or even use a timer to start adding extra minutes to a meal.
Why this is the best weight loss habit out there
One of the major complaints about following a diet and lifestyle changes I have heard over the years is how it can be hard to handle the “impossible situations” life throws at us.
For example, last week I had a client traveling for a work conference and every meal was catered and at the hotel. What if there isn’t any protein? What if there are no veggies? What if the only food option is starchy carbs?
Or when you go out to eat and there is nothing on the menu that fits your “diet”?
Situations like these are where this habit shines the brightest. Unless you want to be the “weird” person who brings tupperware to every event, you will eventually end up in a situation where you don’t have control of what you can eat right now. Your options will be eat what is available or fast until you can get food that meets your requirements.
You can try to use your “willpower” to control your portions….
But how has that worked in the past?
Instead you can control your portions naturally by listening to your body, which you can only do by eating slowly and mindfully.
The Hard Part
Don’t confuse this being simple with it being easy, because it is not.
I have found that for most people the hardest part is making the time. When you slow down your eating your meals take longer. When your meals take longer you have less time for other things.
There are many ways you can deal with this problem, but ignoring it is not effective. The most effective is to plan for it.
When planning you have to be an adult.
If your job gives you a half hour lunch break, but you rush through in 10 minutes (or eat while working so you don’t have to stop), you need to set limits and take your half hour to eat. The work will still be there when you finish and in the long run you will be more productive because of the mental break and better physical nourishment.
You can schedule times for meals, and make sure you schedule enough time. In a perfect world you would only eat when your body tells you it is ready for food. In the real world sometimes it needs to go on the calendar. This is especially relevant if you are planning on eating with someone, such as with a friend or a spouse. Make sure you plan for the preparation time (or prep in advance) as well.
Sometimes you just need to get better at prioritizing and saying no to obligations. Most often when I see a new client who has struggled for years with exercising or eating healthy consistently the root of the problem is poor time management. If we can teach you to manage your actions better, we can often “magically” find time for exercising and eating well.
The fundamentals are often the key to improvement. But they are easy to overlook completely.
Eating slowly is the most basic and fundamental skill you can learn if you want to learn how to maintain a lower body weight.
That last statement is worth breaking down. Because very rarely is losing weight the actual goal. Only if there is a specific date tied to your goals, such as a competition, is losing weight the goal.
On the other hand if you want to lose 10 lbs. and keep it off forever you don’t need short-term tricks for losing weight. You need to modify your lifestyle in a way that your body naturally will maintain a weight that is 10 lbs. lower.
It is not the same lifestyle that you are living now. That is the lifestyle that ensures your body maintains the weight that you are currently. To maintain a lower (or higher) weight, something has to change.
You need to find the habits and skills that will allow you to change your body to where you are happy with it. Eating slowly and mindfully is the first, and biggest, step.
1. “The Essentials of Sport and Exercise Nutrition” Dr. John Berardi