We live in a distracted world.
We’re inundated with work emails, advertisements, social media, TV, family demands… We can’t focus.
And for most of us, eating is an afterthought. Until we get so hungry it feels like an emergency.
Then we overeat. Then on to the next distraction.
And another coffee to get through the day.
Then you crash from the caffeine and the pastry you had (or did you have the pastry yesterday? You can’t remember. Doesn’t matter anyway) so you head out for another snack and then move to the next distraction.
Then the day is mercifully over. To unwind from the stress, you throw on some Netflix – another distraction. And maybe a glass of wine or a few chips. For comfort.
Living this way is making you gain weight. But the nice thing is there’s a simple way to get back some control – over your weight and your life.
By slowing down.
In this post I’ll cover everything you need to know about:
1. How eating slowly helps you lose weight (it’s even better than counting calories!)
2. Exactly how you can learn to control your eating, no matter what foods you’re having
3. How to make sure you’re eating the right amount to lose weight without counting calories
How The Heck Does “Slow Eating” Help Me?
Here’s a fun fact:
It takes about one day to fully digest the food we eat.
When we eat, we chew food to break it down and send it down our esophagus to our stomachs. There, the food is further broken down and processed through the rest of our digestive tract. Ultimately, nutrients are absorbed to be used by our body and the rest is disposed of as waste.
As part of this process, food has to sit in our stomachs for a least a few hours.
But it takes a full 20 minutes for your stomach to send signals to your brain saying that it’s full.
That means that, if you slam 6 000 calories in under 20 minutes, you won’t necessarily feel full… Until the 20 minute mark at which point you’ll probably start to feel pretty sick.
Now most of us aren’t crushing 6 000 calorie meals (unless you’re a competitive eater or Michael Phelps) but many of us easily overeat by a few hundred calories every meal without even noticing it.
Do that every day and it’ll make you gain weight.
However, if you slow down your eating and make your meals last 20 minutes or longer, a few awesome things can happen:
- It’s easier to eat less – Your stomach has time to signal to your brain when you’re full, making it easier to eat less
- You improve your digestion – When you chew your food more it becomes easier to break down and helps you absorb more nutrients, keeping you healthy, satisfied, and full
- You enjoy food more – no matter what you’re eating, you can appreciate and enjoy it more than if you wolf it down
- You’re less likely to experience bloating, gas, and indigestion
But slow eating is difficult to master at first. Let’s chat more about how to make it easy for you to do on your own
All You Need is 5 Minutes
If you’re a fast eater, you’ve likely been a fast eater for as long as you can remember. And old habits die hard.
Don’t start off expecting to slow down every meal to a snail’s pace and reap the benefits right away. Start very small.
All you need is 5 minutes.
Choose one meal per day where you’re either alone or in a setting you can control (at home or in your office with little-to-no distraction).
Figure out how long an average meal takes you and add 5 minutes to it. Set up a timer on your phone or just watch the clock and make sure that meal lasts you 5 minutes longer than usual. That’s it.
You won’t get it right the first time around. You’ll probably devour all but a mouthful then dutifully wait till the last second on the clock to eat it.
The point is not to be perfect on day one but to set the intention and build the habit. Eventually, you’ll fall into the habit of taking that extra 5 minutes at that meal.
Eventually, you’ll get to a point where meals take you about 20-30 minutes to eat and you can feel what your stomach is telling you. Maybe you’ll get to the 20 minute mark and find yourself totally satisfied already. You aren’t obliged to eat the rest of the meal.
By focusing on just one meal where you have no distractions, you can zero-in on what it feels like to eat slowly. You can start noticing things like:
- When do I feel full?
- How does the smell, taste, and texture of the food make me feel?
- How does my body feel when I eat this?
Here are a few strategies you can use to force yourself to slow down while you’re eating:
- Put your fork down between every mouthful
- Stop for a sip of water between bites
- Count how many times you chew. Aim for 20-30 times per mouthful. Use more if you need to
- Stop to smell the food and to notice things like taste, texture, and how it makes you feel
- Go somewhere peaceful and put away distractions like your phone if you can
- Use a timer and put it somewhere you can see it while you eat
Try some of those strategies while you’re eating. You may be surprised at what you notice.
Once you’ve done this with a distraction-free meal, you can start applying it elsewhere like when you’re out with friends, eating dinner with a client, at a dinner party, or any place where you might be eating while distracted.
If you’re in a group setting, you can do a few things to slow down your eating. For example:
- Eat slower than the slowest eater at the table. Make a game out of it. Can you finish your meal after they finish theirs?
- Put your fork down between every mouthful and take in what’s around you. Try to connect with the people you’re with.
- Focus on having an engaging conversation. If you’re talking, it’s hard to be eating at the same time. Use the good company around you to slow down your pace.
Learning slow eating is tough. You’ll get distracted and forget about it many times.
That’s natural. Don’t let those times discourage you.
Keep reminding yourself that you’re only ever one meal (or one mouthful, really) away from getting back on track and slowing down. Remember this whenever you can and stay positive.
Now, slow eating alone may or may not help you to lose weight. But if we add in one more piece, you’ll end up with a dirt simple, guaranteed weight-loss prescription no matter what or where you’re eating.
The Simplest, Most Effective Weight Loss Prescription
Now that you’ve learned how to eat slowly and you’re gaining the benefits, let’s maximize things so that you can lose fat and maintain it for the rest of your life.
Ready for this?
Stop eating your meal when you feel 80% full.
Even if there’s food on the plate. You don’t have to finish it. Pack it up and save it for later.
By stopping at 80% full, you’ll be putting your body is in an energy deficit so it has to lose weight. Eating this way, along with a sensible diet and consistent exercise will help you burn fat and feel light and lean throughout the day.
That’s it. That’s all you have to do. No matter what you’re eating or where you are. Eat your meals slowly and stop eating when you’re 80% full.
And if your goal is to maintain weight, stop at 100%. If you want to gain weight, fill up to about 120%.
The secret to this is being patient and persistent. It takes some time to gain the self-awareness to do it. Don’t give up. You’ll make a mess of things many times before you get it right but once you do, you’re set for life.
What’s the Next Step?
Here’s my challenge to you:
For the next two weeks, make this your nutritional priority above. See if you can make eating slowly and stopping at 80% full into a habit. You might not notice drastic changes in just two weeks but you’ll be building one of the foundational habits of a healthy diet and start to feel a lot better as well.