“They call me the vacuum cleaner!” one of my patients told me recently. He’s been a fast eater his entire life. “I grew up with six brothers and sisters – so, counting my folks, there were nine of us at the dinner table,” he told me. “As soon as mom put the food down, we’d all scramble to get our share, and then eat it up as fast as we could – because the fastest eater had the best chance of getting a second helping before it was all gone!” Even though he no longer has nine people at his dinner table, those old eating habits die hard. This guy can still demolish a plate of food in seconds flat.
I’ve asked clients like this to actually keep track of how long it takes them to eat, and I’m often astonished at how much food they can put away in just six or seven minutes. Sometimes, like my client, the eating habit traces back to childhood. But there are other reasons we eat fast, too. When you get too hungry, or are presented with really enticing food, you tend to eat more quickly – and to eat more. When you finally do get the chance to eat, you’re likely to shovel it in. And, when you’re really hungry, you’re more likely to reach for the unhealthy, high-calorie stuff, too.
Your stomach needs time to send signals to your brain to let you know that you’re full – about 20 minutes or so. And it is a matter of time, not how much food you eat. Eating more food won’t make the signals travel any faster – there will always be about a 20 minute delay. So you can feel full on less food – as long as you can slow your pace enough to give your body time to figure it out. Here are some tips to help you slow your eating habits.
Improve your eating habits by slowing down
Eat in courses
Rather than sitting down with a whole plate of food at one time, try eating in courses. Have your salad or veggies first – which will allow you to start to fill up on the lowest calorie part of your meal – then dig into the main course. If you have limited time to finish your meal all at one time (like on your lunch break at work), then eat the main portion of your meal at lunch and save the rest for a snack, so you don’t feel pressure to eat everything quickly and at once.
Take smaller bites
The larger the bite, the faster you’re going to finish your food. When you take smaller bites, you can make the meal last longer, which gives your brain some time to catch up with your stomach. If you’re eating food that has to be cut up first – like a piece of meat or chicken – cut it as you go. If you cut it all up into bite-sized pieces and then dig in, it’s too easy to get it all down quickly.
Eat more high fiber foods
High fiber foods aren’t just more filling than low-fiber foods, they also take longer to eat. Crunchy raw fruits and vegetables and whole grains require more chewing than foods like snack crackers or cookies, which slows you down.
Swallow each bite before loading up your fork again
Fast eaters often have their fork loaded and ready to go while they’re still chewing the previous bite. If you find yourself doing this, then make a point to change the sequence. The next step after “chew and swallow” should be “reload fork”, not “shovel in the next bite”.
Put utensils and hand-held foods down in between bites
This is another habit that may take some time before it feels “natural”, but it really can help. Once you’ve mastered the “swallow – load fork – take another bite” tactic above, you can add another couple of steps: “swallow – put down fork – pick up fork – load fork – take another bite”. And if you’re eating something that doesn’t require utensils, like a burger or a sandwich, try to resist the temptation to simply pick it up and gobble away. Instead, practice putting it down between bites.
Sip on water throughout your meal
Train yourself to take sips of water frequently during your meal. It not only slows your pace, it also allows you to consume more water with your meal, which – in combination with the food you’re eating – could help to fill you up.
Eating slower has been shown to lead to weight loss, but maintaining a slower pace is hard for people to do – and just as with other weight loss strategies, it takes a lot of practice. Set aside time so you can have a leisurely pace to your meals, rather than trying to “work them in” to your already overscheduled day. Because when it comes to race to the finish, this is one time when it’s good to finish last.
Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.
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