Tips to Avoid Overeating: Eating Slowly
The best and most effective way to avoid overeating is simple. The concept of eating slowly as a means to avoid overeating is based on the fact that your brain needs about 20 minutes to get the “signal” that you are not hungry anymore and that you can stop eating. Our bodies need time for the digestive and hormonal processes to take place at a point, or phase far along enough to generate the “satisfied signal.”
On the other had, given our fast food culture today, this point is often challenged and lead to overeating and even obesity.
How to Eat Slowly to Avoid Overeating
Eating slowly can help you better understand your real hunger signals and can help you recognize false reasons for fast eating, such as emotions or simply liking the taste of the food. However, eating slowly is not a decision that you make on the spur of the moment; rather, it’s a habit that one can develop with perseverance and practice. Try these tips on how to stop overeating or how to avoid binge eating simply by eating slowly.
1. Reprogram your mind.
Mentally rehearse eating slowly in your mind. This will help you when you are actually eating real food. Continue to do the mental rehearsing for several weeks. Relax and use your imagination to create mental images, virtual pleasant experiences that your brain will register and remember. As part of this visualization process, imagine yourself lean and fit. Visualize:
- Eating slowly and savoring your food.
- Trying to taste both the flavor and the texture; imagining how the texture changes as the food is slowly broken down by your saliva.
- See a glass of water to drink before, with, and after your meal to get the sensation of fullness in your stomach.
- Be sure to visualize a desired end result such as a lean, fit, and energetic body. Also see in your mind the end result: how you are going to look in that dress or those jeans, suit, etc.
- Consider keeping a food journal during this time, to map out the triggers surrounding your hunger. Note where you are, what you’re eating, how fast you’ve consumed and how you feel after eating it (especially how hungry or otherwise you feel). This will be a useful source of information to draw on, as each person’s hunger triggers and set points differ.
2. Remove as many processed foods as possible.
Remove as many processed foods from your pantry, fridge, or food storage as possible. Eating slowly isn’t just about slowing down the chewing; it’s also about slowing down your dietary choices and preparation processes.
Start making time for including healthier food into your diet because a busy life can only be fueled by healthy choices, and slowing down to cook healthy meals is an act of caring for yourself and can even be therapeutic in a busy life. As you toss out the processed food, replace it with healthy, unprocessed, or much less processed choices.
3. Try to eat when you start feeling hungry.
The problem with eating is eating only until you feel you’re already practically starving and feel like eating the proverbial horse; thus you’re bound to eat quickly and therefore risk eating more than needed.
Feeling so hungry that you’re dizzy, weak, and irritable means that you’ve deprived your body of your much-needed food for too long, and the payback will include an inability to eat your food in a relaxed and enjoyable way. Instead, you’ll be obliged to shovel in the food to try and alleviate the symptoms of weakness and feeling deprived, and this won’t help your cause!
4. Always relax before you start eating.
Take a few deep breaths through the nose and out through the mouth. As you do so, hold your breath briefly and exhale slowly by the mouth. Get rid of the stress before you start eating; in this way, you start to remove your risk of comfort eating, where you use food to alleviate stress and bring yourself to focus on relieving stress independently of food.
- Look at the clock and mentally add 20 minutes. That is your goal: take at least 20 minutes to relax and enjoy your food.
5. Drink water.
Drink a glass of water and/or eat a small bowl of light soup before your main dish. Also try to drink water with your food as you eat.
This will help give you a sensation of fullness.
6. Put the fork down after putting food in your mouth.
Put down your eating utensils, chew slowly, take a sip of water, then engage in conversation before having another bite or spoonful. Savor each bite and make it a pleasant experience so you will want to repeat it.
This is the essence of slow eating: it’s about reconnecting with the people you’re sharing a meal with and treating meal time as a true break, worthy of your attention.
7. Concentrate on your food and really enjoy it.
Your brain will keep a record of that pleasant experience and this new way of eating will become automatic (second nature) with practice. This means NOT eating in front of the television, not reading while eating, and not trying to surf the internet when eating.
Distractions from the food belittle the value of the food and encourage you to think you’ve eaten less than you have, and your ever working brain will be likely to trick your appetite into thinking you need to eat more food.
Give your brain and body a rest and truly focus on the food before you. Savor it, appreciate it and be present for the food and the ritual of eating.
8. Dedicate at least 20 minutes to finish your meal.
Try placing a wall clock in plain view from the table to adjust your eating speed. Eat your last portion really slowly. Recognize when you feel pleasantly full or neither hungry nor full.
- There is a “sensor” in our brain (in the hypothalamus) that needs about 20 minutes to get activated (give or take a few minutes for individual differences). Digestive and hormonal processes need to take place before our brain realizes we are not hungry anymore. In other words, we could feel bloated and still be hungry before this recognition of satiation is set off.
9. If you still feel a little bit hungry after eating, stop anyway.
Simply stop eating to avoid overeating especially at night. Instead, drink a bit more water (but make sure you don’t drink anymore at least 2 hours before bedtime to avoid waking up in the middle of the night to urinate) to make yourself feel fuller.
Unless you truly have not eaten enough, this is where you will need to use a little willpower and to recall your motivation and visualizations and stop yourself from eating and fake it with water. In five more minutes, you likely won’t want to eat more, even if food is delicious, because you will feel satisfied and full.
- Having a hot drink can help to overcome residual hunger feelings. Try a coffee, tea, warm water with lemon, etc.
- Use distractions if visualization fails at this point. Go for a walk, watch a favorite TV show, write a poem, call a friend on the phone, go for a swim, knit a sweater, feed an animal, groom your pet, wash the car, change the sheets, etc.
- If you’re still feeling hungry after eating slowly, you might have nutritional deficiencies or an illness; there may also be continuing underlying psychological problems. It is wise to speak to your doctor about this if it’s the case for you.
- Reduce the portions on your plate. Help yourself by downsizing the plate and the plate’s contents to what is normal rather than to what is generous.
- Do not wait till you see the consequences of overeating by looking at the scale; take corrective action at the table. Monitor constantly your eating speed, drink water, watch the wall clock, etc. Eating slowly will become automatic (natural) after you experience the rewards.
- Try to go for a small walk after eating, even a short five minute gentle walk will help.
- Take smaller proportions. You can always get more. Or, use a smaller plate and fill the plate to trick your mind into thinking you are eating a plateful of food.
- If you have a craving, wait it out at least 10 minutes. Even better, eat something healthy instead.
- Do not confuse being full with being satisfied; you can be full, even bloated and still feel hungry and therefore continue to eat. Eating slowly will help to release the internal set point, while allowing you to pay more attention to your own hunger signals, which will help you to overcome the desire to keep eating when you’re already full.
- And don’t neglect the strength of emotional eating, which can often override satiation because you’re trying to anesthetize feelings rather than feed the body. If this continues, seek professional help.
- If you have nutritional deficiencies, no matter how slowly you eat, you won’t overcome these without eating healthy food. Eating a burger and fries slowly is still eating burger and fries. Eat only healthy food in order to ensure that your body is receiving all the nutrients it needs.
- Try to not watch TV, play video games, or read a book while eating; this will distract you with how much you’re eating and you won’t pay much attention to what your brain is trying to tell you.
Adapted from How to Eat Slowly to Avoid Overeating.