When you’re trying to lose weight, it’s helpful to track calories and macros and use tools like measuring cups and food scales. While these strategies work well, they can work even better when combined with the body’s own internal hunger and fullness cues.
“Until about the age of 5, humans retain the body’s internal ability to sense hunger and fullness,” explains Christen Cupples Cooper, RD, founding director of the nutrition dietetics program at Pace University. In other words, we are born with the ability to eat when we’re hungry and stop when we’re full. But because we’re constantly surrounded by food (much of it ultra-processed and hyperpalatable), we tend to lose our ability to eat just what we need, which can make weight loss more difficult.
Working to connect to that internal sense of hunger and satiety can amp up weight loss results. “Making an effort to eat more slowly can help us regain and utilize our internal cues,” says Cooper. “When we eat slowly, we have the chance to appreciate flavors, textures and colors. Most importantly, since it takes about 20 minutes for our stomachs to register as ‘full,’ we have time to let our bodies tell us when enough is enough.” That means a lower chance of overeating and a higher likelihood of feeling satiated with a smaller portion.
To eat more slowly, take advantage of these five strategies:
1. EAT WITH INTENTION
“Mindful eating” has become a buzzword, but here’s what it really means: “When you take a bite of food, think about how it tastes, what it’s texture feels like in your mouth, where it could have been grown and how it nourishes the body,” suggests Cooper. By taking the time to notice as much as you can about what you’re eating, you’ll almost inevitably slow down.
2. TAKE SMALL BREAKS
Instead of going straight from one bite to the next, try to space them out as much as you can. “Take sips of water every few minutes during the meal,” suggests Diana Gariglio-Clelland, a RD at Balance One. Not only will this slow your eating, but being adequately hydrated also contributes to the feeling of satiety. “The feeling of being thirsty can sometimes mask itself as hunger,” she adds.
Another option: “Set your utensils down a few minutes after starting a meal and give yourself a chance to sit back and relax,” says Gariglio-Clelland. The simple act of putting your fork down can remind you not to rush.
3. ADD MORE WHOLE FOODS TO YOUR PLATE
You may have noticed how it takes much longer to eat a massive salad compared to a bag of chips or a plate of fries. “The more processed a food item, the less chewing is typically involved,” explains Joanna Foley, RD. “Focus on foods that require more chewing such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and lean proteins.” Not only are these foods easier to eat slowly, but they’re also more likely to help you achieve the results you’re after.
4. ENGAGE IN CONVERSATION
If you’re eating with other people, use conversation as a way to slow your eating. “We have lost the art of conversing with loved ones over our meals,” Cooper points out. Rather than watching TV or reading emails on your phone, “aim to eat meals with others and enjoy conversation as a way to pause and savor both the good company and good food.”
5. PRACTICE GRATITUDE
“Many of us roll our eyes at saying grace, but there is something to be said for pausing and being grateful that we have access to nourishing food,” notes Cooper. “Millions of people don’t have access to healthy food and that number is much higher in the developing world. As you eat, be mindful of how important food is to our physical and mental health and a happy, healthy life.”