Is eating more slowly the key to eating less?

Barely a day goes by that we aren’t reminded of the pending obesity crisis that is set to befall the Western World.

Some experts have suggested that learning to eat more slowly might help us to eat less. Doing so leads to the subjective feeling that we’ve eaten more, and allows more time for our body’s satiety mechanisms to kick in.
But now new research suggests while this simple approach could work for men, it doesn’t work with women.

Corby Martin and colleagues at the Pennington BioMedical Research Centre in America, invited 48 participants with a body mass index “similar to those who seek behavioural weight control interventions” to their lab, to eat three meals at lunchtime on different days.

The participants were asked to avoid eating or exercise for 12 hours beforehand, and were to eat the meal of ‘Banquet Popcorn Chicken’, cut up into bite sizes, either at their own rate, at half their normal rate (as paced out by a beeping noise), or at a mixture of their own rate and then the slower rate. They could stop eating whenever they wanted.

For some reason, eating at a slower rate caused the men but not the women to eat less. The gender difference may be related to the fact the men’s baseline eating rate was faster. The women were already eating relatively slowly at baseline, so maybe they didn’t gain any benefit from the slower eating condition. Also, as dieting is more common among women, perhaps they had already restricted how much they ate in the baseline condition, not leaving any room for improvement in the slower condition.

The researchers also looked at the effect of eating speed on the participants’ appetite, as reported before and after the meal, while controlling for the amount actually eaten. A surprising finding here was that the combination of beginning the meal eating at one’s own eating rate, and then dropping to the slower eating rate, had the biggest reductive effect on appetite for both men and women, even more than eating slowly all the way through.

So it seems the secret to feeling satisfied after a light meal, is to really tuck in at first, but then slow right down and savour every mouthful.

Martin, C.K., Anton, S.D., Walden, H., Arnett, C. Greenway, F.L. & Williamson, D.A. (2007). Slower eating rate reduces the food intake of men, but not women: Implications for behavioural weight control. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 45, 2349-2359.

Post written by Christian Jarrett (@psych_writer) for the BPS Research Digest.