It's not just what you eat that can pack on the pounds. It's also how you eat. It seems it pays to be the last person to finish a meal, even if it drives the rest of your dining companions crazy.
According to a study published last week in the British Medical Journal, people who wolf down their meal and eat until they're full are three times more likely to be overweight than those who eat slowly and modestly.
Eating slowly is often advised for weight loss because slower eating allows appetite-related hormones to kick in and tell your brain you've had enough before you overeat.
Since it takes about 20 minutes for these signals to register, it makes sense that eating quickly can cause you to eat too much before you're fully aware of it.
In the study, researchers from Osaka University in Japan tracked the weights and eating habits of 1,496 men and 2,644 women aged 30 to 69. Participants were asked whether they usually eat until feeling full (yes or no) and to rate the speed of eating (very slow, slow, medium, or quick).
Both types of eating behaviours were common among men and women. The eating-until-full group was twice as likely to have a body mass index classified as overweight than those who stopped eating before feeling full. (A BMI of 25 or more is considered overweight.) The quick-eating group was also twice as likely to be overweight than those who ate more slowly.
But the combination of eating habits - eating until full and eating quickly - boosted the risk of being overweight threefold.
Previous research has revealed that fast eaters consume more calories, and at a rate 3.5 times faster than slow eaters.
A 2008 study of 30 women found that eating lunch under slow, versus fast, conditions resulted in fewer calories and smaller quantities of food being consumed, even though the meal took 20 minutes longer to eat.
The slow eaters also reported feeling more satisfied than the fast eaters. (To eat slowly, the women were given small spoons, asked to take small bites, put down their spoon between bites and chew each bite 20 to 30 times. Fast eaters were given big spoons and told to consume food without pauses between bites.)
Eating slowly and savouring food may also explain, in part, why rates of obesity are lower in France than in North America despite a fatty diet. A 2003 study reported that the average McDonald's customer in the United States spent 35 per cent less time at the table. The French spent 22.2 minutes eating and sitting at McDonald's, while Americans left the table in 14.4 minutes.
It can be challenging to eat slowly. It requires concentration and awareness. The following tips will help you slow your eating pace, savour your food, and possibly even lose a few excess pounds.
To help fill your stomach, drink 250 to 375 millilitres of water before eating your meal. Take sips of water between bites.
Pause between bites
After every bite, put down your knife and fork and chew thoroughly. Do not pick up your utensils until your mouth is empty. Chewing food thoroughly also leads to better digestion.
Assess your hunger level
Listening to your body's hunger cues can help reduce your calorie intake. Determine how hungry - or satisfied - you feel before you eat, halfway through a meal, and after you finish eating. Stop eating when you feel satisfied, but not full.
Use smaller plates
Instead of piling your food on a large dinner plate, serve meals on luncheon-sized plates. The plate will look full and you will end up eating less.
Push your plate away as soon as you feel satisfied. Don't pick at food left on other people's plates or take second helpings. To resist the temptation to eat seconds, don't serve food "family style," and cook only one serving a person.
Brush your teeth
To prevent nibbling while cleaning up after meals - and snacking after dinner - brush your teeth after eating to dampen the flavours of the meal. Chances are, your craving for more food will pass.
If you feel famished, you're more likely to eat quickly, and more food than you need. Go no longer than four hours without eating. Include between-meals snacks such as fruit and yogurt, a handful of almonds, or a small energy bar.
Plan family meals
Sit down to meals with your partner or family and make conversation part of the meal. Talking during a meal slows down the rate of food consumption.
Eating in front of the TV, while reading, or while driving leads to mindless eating - and overeating. Reserve the kitchen or dining room table for meals, and pay attention to the fact that you're eating.
Dine to music
If you overeat when you're anxious, stressed or depressed, consider turning on your stereo during meals. Research shows that listening to music can help reduce anxiety, irritability, fatigue and depression. To slow your eating pace, choose mellow music. Calm music with a slower beat helps you relax and slows down eating.
Leslie Beck, a Toronto-based dietitian at the Medcan Clinic, is on CTV's Canada AM every Wednesday. Her website is lesliebeck.com.