This post is about a simple intervention that can help you lose weight and improve your health, without any major changes in your diet or exercise habits.
Now don’t get me wrong, it’s important to eat healthy. And it’s a good idea to move and get sweaty every day. But that discussion can wait.
This intervention is so simple and easy, I guarantee every person reading this post can do it.
It almost sounds too easy, right? Let me unpack it a bit.
Losing weight isn’t complicated, although it is very difficult to do. On the one hand, we eat a bunch of food every day and consume calories. On the other hand, we burn off a bunch of calories every day. Your body burns off a certain number of calories just to stay alive (called your basal metabolic rate), and then you can burn extra calories by going to the gym and running around.
If you consume the same amount of calories as you burn off, your weight will stay the same. If you consume more calories each day than you burn off, you will gain weight. If you consume fewer calories each day than you burn off, you will lose weight.
Here’s the problem with eating: We often consume more calories than we need. Have you ever had an extra helping of pasta even though you were full? Have you ever said yes to dessert even though you weren’t hungry? If so, you probably consumed more calories than you needed that day.
Another problem with eating is there is a delay between the time we are actually full and the time we feel full. The delay is about 15 minutes. So you might keep eating for an extra 15 minutes because you don’t feel full, even though you actually are. This is a big problem, and it’s one of the reasons why many diets focus on portion control. (Some diets even have you weigh and measure your food!) They take all the guesswork and feeling out of it.
Eating slowly can help you get around this problem and eat less. By eating slowly, you give your body the time it needs to catch up. You will feel full more quickly, and so you will naturally eat less food.
Here’s a good question to ask yourself: Why do you like to eat unhealthy foods like pizza and ice cream? If you’re like most people, it’s because they taste good. When you eat slowly, you get the same benefit of the taste, with fewer calories. For example, let’s say you order a pizza. Maybe your normal routine would be to eat three slices of pizza in 10 minutes. If you eat slowly, it might take you 10 minutes to eat one slice of pizza. You still get the benefit of enjoying the taste of the pizza for 10 minutes. But you consume 1/3 of the calories.
So how do you eat slowly? Here are two tips:
- Put your fork down after every bite. Often I shovel food into my mouth so fast, I’m forking for more food as soon as I put the previous bite of food in my mouth. My natural tendency is to be an aggressive eater. Instead, a better strategy is to put down your fork (or spoon) after every bite. Set it down on your plate as you chew your food. Pick up your fork only after you are completely finished with the previous bite of food.
- Chew your food completely. Often I put food in my mouth, chew it a couple times, and then swallow. This strategy leads to fast eating. Instead, chew each bite of food completely. Try to chew each bite of food for 10-20 seconds. When the bite of food is completely chewed up, then swallow. Take a breath, and then move on to the next bite.
When I started to put this intervention into practice, I found myself naturally eating less because my body had a chance to catch up and let me know I was full. Also, because I was being more mindful in my eating habits, I was able to better recognize when I was hungry and when I was full. Finally, I began to enjoy eating more, because I focused more intently on the taste and pleasure of eating. It was a win-win.
Action Step: Try eating slowly for one meal. How did it go? Was it easy or difficult? If it was difficult, what part of eating slowly was tough? Were you able to recognize more easily when you became full?