Chewing food thoroughly has the potential to curb overeating

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In my last blog post I declared that, generally speaking, I follow my own advice, but I’m no angel either. One area which I quite often fall down in concerns the speed of my eating. I have, for as long as I can remember, been a rapid eater. If I’m eating with my girlfriend, it’s not uncommon for her to gently remind me to ‘eat mindfully’. So ingrained is my speed-eating habit that I always welcome the reminder.

One of the main reasons I believe food should not be bolted is because when it is, there’s little chance that we are going to have the opportunity to truly savour it. Also, though, thorough chewing enhances the digestion of food, which has benefits including reduce risk of digestive discomfort after meals.

Another reason for chewing food thoroughly is that it can often lead to us automatically eating less than we otherwise would. Anything that can help us eat as much as we need and no more without us needing to consciously restrict our food intake is a good thing in my book.

Recently, a study looked at the relationship between speed of eating and weight in Chinese men [1]. Overall, compared to normal weight individuals, those who were obese ate more quickly and chewed food less. The researchers went on ask men to consume a set meal under two different occasions. At one sitting, the men were asked to chew each mouthful of food 15 times. On the other occasion, they were to chew each mouthful 40 times. Overall, chewing food more thoroughly led to the men eating about 12 per cent less food in terms of its calorific value. Longer chewing was also associated with lower levels of the appetite-stimulating hormone ghrelin, and higher levels of appetite-sating hormones cholecystokinin and glucagon-like peptide 1.

This is not the only study that has found that consciously slowing down one’s eating can help individuals eat less quite automatically. In another study, 30 women were asked to eat a pasta-based meal and to take small bites and chew each one 15–20 times. At another sitting, they were asked to eat as quickly as possible. In this setting, the women consumed about 70 calories more, and felt less satisfied immediately after the meal and an hour later.

Other evidence for the importance of slowing eating food down has come in the form of a study in which chocolate custard was fed to volunteers under a number of different conditions [3]. On one occasion, individuals were instructed to consume the custard using relatively small bites. At another time, they asked to take bites three times as large. In both of these settings, but on different occasions, test subjects were also asked to process the food in their mouths quickly (3 seconds before swallowing) and slowly (9 seconds per bite). In all test settings, individuals were instructed to eat as much as they wanted and to stop when satisfied.

One notable finding from this study was that individuals ate less when they took small bites compared to when taking larger bites. Average intake was about 100 fewer calories (about a 23 per cent calorie reduction). Also, though, the longer the food stayed in the mouth, the less was eaten, too.

Taking small bites and chewing them thoroughly may lead to a natural and unconscious reduction in the amount of food consumed during a meal. Here’s a few tips on how to achieve this:

1. Avoid getting too hungry before meals

This is the most important thing of all – it’s very difficult to eat in a controlled fashion and savour food if you’re ravenous. Eat the right foods regularly enough to ensure you’re appetite never runs riot.

2. Put less on your fork or spoon

Be conscious of how much food you’re putting into your mouth. If you’re stacking your fork or piling your spoon high with food, you might want to re-think this. Make a conscious effort to keep each mouthful small and manageable.

3. Chew thoroughly

Thorough chewing not only aids digestion, but also slows down the eating process. Make a conscious effort to chew each mouthful of food about 20 times before swallowing. While you are chewing, put your cutlery down, and don’t pick it up again until you’ve fully chewed and swallowed the last mouthful. At the very least, even if you are going to keep hold of your cutlery, do not reload your fork or spoon until the previous mouthful has been thoroughly chewed and swallowed.

4. Savour Food

Have you ever eaten a meal or snack and hardly tasted it? If so, the chances are rapid, distracted eating was a factor. It’s not always possible to take time over eating, but when the occasion allows, savour whatever it is you are eating and enjoy it.


1.     Li J, et al. Improvement in chewing activity reduces energy intake in one meal and modulates plasma gut hormone concentrations in obese and lean young Chinese men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;94(3):709-16

2.     Study presented at the Annual meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity. 20-24 October 2006, Hynes Convention Center, Boston, Massachusetts, US

3.     Zijlstra N, et al. Effect of bite size and oral processing time of a semisolid food on satiation. Am J Clin Nutr 2009;90(2):269-75

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