Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Is Taking Your Time With Meals the Secret to Weight Loss?

For a long time, one important piece of advice regarding weight loss or maintenance was to take your time with your meals instead of wolfing them down in a hurry. The point was to really pay attention to the flavours and sensations - be present in the moment (not distracted by the TV or computer) and be able to notice when you are actually full. You know, it takes about 20 minutes for your stomach to tell your brain 'I'm full', and if you eat way too fast, you might just miss that cue. But does this theory really pan out? Does slowing it down really help when it comes to your weight?

Researchers from the Netherlands wanted to find out. Naturally, they designed a study where two dining situations were created - one was a lengthy affair where the food was presented in a staggered fashion with breaks in between, and the other was a regular, shorter, casual meal experience lasting only 30 minutes with all the food presented at once. Each participant experienced both situations on different days. Despite the difference in the length of the meal time, the number of calories and amount of food that the participants were given in both groups was the same. The meals were balanced in terms of protein, fats and carbohydrates, including a salad, pasta with meat sauce, vegetable lasagna and some dessert. Two and a half hours after their meals were finished, the diners were presented with tea and an array of sweets like cookies and cake. So what happened?

It turns out that people ate just as many snacks in both cases! Blood samples had been drawn before and after meals, and participants were asked how full they felt after eating. The blood work showed that eating more slowly caused the levels of their 'fullness' hormones to rise more slowly, whereas eating faster made them spike. Those who ate more slowly said they felt fuller, but their behaviors weren't in line with their feelings or beliefs.

The bottom line, the researchers believe, is that we can't just look at biological markers like hormones to understand who will eat more and who will eat less. Knowledge doesn't necessarily translate to behaviour (in fat, it usually doesn't). We're pretty much suckers to our environments! That's why gimmicks and diet pills don't work - they do absolutely nothing to help us resist what is in front of us and overtly decide to avoid eating more than we need to. Unless we consciously resist snacking when we know we've eaten enough calorie-wise, we simply can't help it, no matter what our stomachs tell our brains!