Slow down and chew your food more!
Almost every expert on weight loss will assure you that eating slower helps you to lose weight. But is this true, or is it just another myth? The theory is that people who eat fast don’t give their brains enough time to recognise that they are full.
Quite frankly, that makes a lot of sense. Slowing down, chewing my food and savouring my meals is one of the first thing I put into practice when I started this blog.
But here’s the problem. If you’re anything like me, you have to eat a lot (and I mean a lot) before you actually feel full. Turns out, there’s a reason for that.
[Man, I love science!]
Leptin – the thin hormone
Off the back of this discovery, came the hormone called Leptin. The name comes from the Greek word leptos, which means thin. Yup, you heard me right folks. There’s a hormone that makes you thin.
But before you all go rushing out in search of leptin injections, don’t bother. I already tried, and there’s no such thing. This isn’t like Botox. You won’t be able to pop round to your mate’s second cousin’s tanning salon in order to get your next fix.
In the words of my 14 year old, big sad.
Satiety – a fancy term for feeling full
Anyway, leptin is secreted by fat cells (the technical term is adipocytes) and this is how the brain knows how much energy reserves (fat) we have. If you think about it, this was essential for thousands of years when food was not always readily available.
The less fat you had, the less leptin you produced and the more you wanted to eat. So that should mean that in today’s society where calorie dense food is readily available, the opposite should be the case. The more fat you have, the more leptin you produce and the less you want to eat. Right?
Feeling full is called satiety, and leptin is thought to control long-term satiety. In other words, it is supposed to tell the brain that you have enough fat stores to keep you going for the next few weeks… OK, months …Fine, years in my case! Your brain is supposed to recognise this and tell you to stop eating.
There’s more. When food moves from the stomach to the small intestine, another hormone called CCK is released. CCK is supposed to tell the brain that you are full and it is time to stop eating. CCK is pretty fast-acting (within a matter of minutes) whereas Leptin acts much more slowly.
These are the two hormones that control satiety. What’s more is that CCK and Leptin are supposed to work together synergistically to tell the brain that you are full. That means that on their own they produce some effect, but together they produce a much bigger effect.
So why don’t people feel full?
So that’s the theory. Now for the problem. Obese people have been shown to be resistant to both CCK and leptin. We can still make the hormones, but the receptors in our brains don’t respond the way they should.
So if we are not sensitive to either CCK and/or leptin, we aren’t very good at recognising that we are full. That means we have to rely on other things to control our appetite.
The good news is that satiety is not just dependent on hormones. Psychological factors and other parts of the body, such as the sense of smell, influence hunger too.
The take home message here is that our bodies don’t automatically recognise that we are full, so we cannot rely on them to tell us how much to eat. We need to take control of it ourselves, but most of us have never been taught to do this.
Why calorie control is so important
I guess this explains why calorie control is an essential part of staying healthy. Let me give you an example. Diabetics are resistant to the hormone insulin which results in too much sugar in the blood. So what do diabetics need to do? They need to eat a lot less sugar. Not just for a week, a month, or a year. For the rest of their lives.
It sucks, but that’s life. There are medications out there and insulin injections when all else fails. But eating a low-sugar diet is the safest and most effective way to treat (and in some cases reverse) diabetes.
In the same way, overweight people are resistant to hormones like leptin and CCK. So what do we need to do? We need to control the amount of calories we consume because there is no other way for our bodies to recognise that we have eaten enough and we need to stop.
No one ever sat me down and explained this to me before.
Now that I know, I am beginning to understand that calorie control is not just going to be a quick fix. This is something I am going to have to do for the rest of my life and I have to come to terms with it. I am not able to recognise when I am full which means I can never eat until I am full. I have to be a lot more intentional about food.
This means I have to start to change the way that I eat and that change has to be permanent. At the moment I am consuming less calories than I used so that there is an energy deficit at the end of each day. That will hopefully change over time, but I can never stop monitoring it altogether.
That might sound a bit depressing, but I have faith that it is going to get easier with time. And I’m of the belief that it is better to know and to make plans accordingly.
So should I slow down?
So, does eating slowly help us to lose weight? Well, yes and no. Eating slowly may not have much of an effect on whether we feel full, especially in those of us who are resistant to Leptin and CCK.
However, eating slowly does still have benefits though. To start with, digestion begins in the mouth. The more you chew, the more saliva you produce and saliva contains Amylase which starts to break down food.
But the biggest benefit takes place inside our mind. We can train our brains to believe most things with a little time and patience. I am slowly training my brain to recognise when it is full by eating slower.
I sit down to eat with my family and make sure to eat slow enough that I am the last to finish. By the time the kids are loading their plates into the dishwasher, my brain thinks I am stuffed but I have actually only eaten a small portion.
If you don’t sit down to eat with other people, you could always time yourself. Try measuring how long it takes you to eat a meal and then trying to extend this time a little bit more each day. I’ve found that this actually works really well for me and I can trick my brain in to feeling full no matter what I am eating.
But don’t worry if it doesn’t work for you. If you are planning your meals and know exactly how much you can eat each day because you have calculated the number of calories in each meal, then it doesn’t really matter if you are a hare or a tortoise at mealtimes. The end results will be the same.
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