Coaching Kids to Eat More Slowly Can Slash Weight

by Sandy Todd Webster on Mar 22, 2016

Behavior Change

Culturally we pretty much inhale our food. We eat at our desks; we gobble standing up; we down food mindlessly in the car and while multitasking. Such practices are not only unhealthy for adults; they also send kids an unhealthy message that negates the importance of appreciating food and enjoying its social aspects. Eating fast literally drowns out the critical satiety signal that would tell kids to stop eating.

Researchers reporting in the online edition of Pediatric Obesity (doi: 10.1111/ijpo.12091) concluded that waiting 30 seconds between bites of food allows children to realize they’re no longer hungry before they overeat—preventing excessive weight gain.

The study’s goal was to minimize the amount of food children ate before their stomachs told their brains they were no longer hungry—the so-called “satiety reflex.” That signal usually takes about 15 minutes to kick in. But in modern society whole meals can be consumed in much less time, the researchers said.

The study monitored the eating habits of 54 children aged 10-14 in Durango, Mexico, for a year. They were divided into two groups: those who ate slowly, as instructed by researchers (compliant group), and those who didn’t (noncompliant group). Students with similar demographics served as a control group.

Compelling results showed that weight decreased among compliant students by 2% ± 5.7% in 6 months and by 3.4% ± 4.8% in 1 year. By contrast, weight increased among noncompliant students by 5.8% ± 4.4% in 6 months and by 12.6% ± 8.3% in a year. In the control group, weight increased by 8.2% ± 6.5% in 1 year.

Unlike most diets, the slow-eating approach has the advantage of being sustainable over the long term because it doesn’t require you to change what you eat on a daily basis, said Geert Schmid-Schonbein, PhD, a study co-author and bioengineering professor at the Jacobs School of Engineering, University of California, San Diego. Slow eating doesn’t deprive you of your favorite foods, and it can be applied in any cultural and ethnic context.

“You can adopt this slow eating approach for yourself and keep it up for the rest of your life,” Schmid-Schonbein suggested. “You can teach this approach to your children, and they can teach it to their children in turn.”

To avoid overeating, students were instructed to chew each bite for 30 seconds before taking the next bite. This gave them time to realize that they were no longer hungry and to stop eating. To make sure they waited the right amount of time, they all received small hourglasses that emptied in 30 seconds. Researchers instructed them to take a bite, flip the hourglass and not take another bite until the hourglass ran empty. Researchers also instructed the students to drink a glass of water before each meal and avoid snacking between meals.

The results were so promising that the Mexican states of Michoacán, Yucatán and Veracruz have invited researchers to take the study’s methods into schools.

The study authors would like to conduct further research with a larger sample size, drawn from both Mexico and Southern California, targeting the region’s large Hispanic population. The authors also noted that this approach is untested in adults.

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About the Author

Sandy Todd Webster

Sandy Todd Webster IDEA Author/Presenter

Sandy Todd Webster is Editor in Chief of IDEA's publications, including the award-winning IDEA FITNESS JOURNAL and IDEA FOOD & NUTRITION TIPS, the industry's leading resources for fitness, wellness and nutrition professionals worldwide. Sandy joined IDEA in 2001 as executive editor of IDEA PERSONAL TRAINER and IDEA FITNESS MANAGER magazines and was promoted to lead the editorial team in 2003. More than 20 years in magazine publishing, marketing communications and creative services have shaped her straightforward approach to multi-channel communication. Early experience in Los Angeles as a sports writer/reporter, and then enriching years as a managing editor in allied health care publishing have pulled her across a spectrum of stimulating subject matter. Fitness, health and nutrition reside at the perfect center of this content continuum, she feels. A Chicago native, Sandy grew up fully engaged in various competitive sports. Her drive and dedication as an athlete translate to a disciplined work ethic and unwavering approach to challenge in her career. Shortly after graduating journalism school from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, she was recruited to L.A. for her first post in magazine publishing. After two decades of working on magazines--and now in the throes of applying the unbelieveable multi-media content delivery options available in the magazine 2.0 world--she is still "completely in love" with the creative process it takes to deliver meaningful, inspirational content to end users. She is an accomplished home cook and gardner who would love to combine those skills and passions with her health and fitness background to continue educating readers about a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle.