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How to Eat Slowly to Avoid Overeating

The concept of eating slowly as a means to avoid overeating is based on the simple fact that your brain needs about 20 minutes to get the "signal" that you are not hungry anymore and that you can stop eating.[1] Our body needs time for the digestive and hormonal processes to take place at a point or phase far along enough to generate the "satisfied signal". Prior to the invention of convenience food, more chewing and slower eating was normal and therefore people were likely to reach the 20 minute natural stopping signal without having to be conscious of slowing down. However, given our fast food culture, this set point is often missed because the meal is well and truly over before reaching it!

Eating slowly can help you to better understand your real hunger signals and can help you to recognize reasons for faster eating, such as emotions or simply liking the taste of a food. However, eating slowly is not a decision that you make on the spur of the moment; rather, it's a habit that you'll need to persevere with and acquire with practice.


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    Reprogram your mind. Do not even attempt to acquire the habit of eating slowly before mentally rehearsing it in your mind for at least 21 days. Relax and use your imagination to create mental images, virtual pleasant experiences that your brain will register and remember. As part of this visualization process, imagine yourself lean and fit and:
    • Eating slowly and savoring your food.
    • Trying to taste both the flavor and the texture; imagining how the texture changes as the food is slowly broken down by your saliva.
    • See a glass of water to drink before, with and after your meal to get the sensation of fullness in your stomach.
    • Be sure to visualize a desired end result such as a lean, fit and energetic body. Also see in your mind the end result: how you are going to look in that dress or those jeans, suit, etc.
    • Consider keeping a food journal during this time, to map out the triggers surrounding your hunger. Note where you are, what you're eating, how fast you've consumed and how you feel after eating it (especially how hungry or otherwise you feel). This will be a useful source of information to draw on, as each person's hunger triggers and set points differ.
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    Remove as many processed foods from your pantry or food storage as possible. Eating slowly isn't just about slowing down the chewing; it's also about slowing down your dietary choices and preparation processes. If you're worried that you don't have time to prepare food from scratch, ask yourself whether your internal health is as important to you as it should be or if you'd rather fast-track to degenerative disease by putting nutritious food low on your list of priorities. Start making time for healthier food because a busy life can only be fueled by healthy choices and slowing down to cook is an act of caring for yourself and can even be therapeutic in a busy life. As you toss out the processed food, replace it with healthy, unprocessed or much less processed choices. For example:
    • Remove white pasta and white rice and replace with wholemeal pasta and brown rice.
    • Remove pre-made meals in cans, packages and frozen forms and replace with the ingredients that go to making that item from scratch.
    • Remove processed desserts and replace with fruit, yogurt and healthy dessert choices.
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    Try to eat when you start feeling hungry. The problem with leaving eating until you're starving and feel like eating the proverbial horse, then you're bound to eat quickly and therefore risk eating more than needed. Feeling so hungry that you're dizzy, weak and irritable means that you've deprived your body of much-needed food for too long and the payback will include an inability to eat your food in a relaxed and enjoyable way. Instead, you'll be obliged to shovel in the food to try to alleviate the symptoms of weakness and feeling irritable won't help your cause any!
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    Always relax before you start eating. Take a few deep breaths through the nose and out through the mouth. As you do so, hold your breath briefly and exhale slowly by the mouth. Get rid of the stress before you start eating – in this way, you start to remove any risk of comfort eating, where food is used to alleviate stress and bring yourself to focus on relieving stress independently of food.
    • Remind yourself of the rewards (good health, good looks, etc.).
    • Look at the clock and mentally add 20 minutes. That is your goal: take at least 20 minutes to enjoy your food.
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    Drink a glass of water and/or eat a small bowl of light soup before your main dish. Drink water with your food. This will help your sensation of fullness.
    • Be aware that not everyone advocates drinking during a meal though, as some people believe that this can dilute the nutrients from your meal. However, this theory doesn't convince other nutrition specialists, who believe water actually aids in digestion.[2] In other words, listen to your own body's reaction to consuming liquids during a meal and go with that.
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    Put the fork down after putting food in your mouth. Take a sip of water, engage in conversation. Savor each bite, make it a pleasant experience so you will want to repeat it. This is the essence of slow eating and it's about reconnecting with the people you're sharing a meal with and treating mealtime as a true break, worthy of your attention and cherishing.
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    Concentrate on your food and really enjoy it. Your brain will keep a record of that pleasant experience and this new way of eating will become automatic (second nature) with practice. This means not eating in front of the television, not reading while eating and not trying to surf the internet when eating. Distractions from the food belittle the value of the food and encourage you to think you've eaten less than you have and your ever working brain will be likely to trick your appetite into thinking you need to eat more food. Give your brain and body a rest and truly focus on the food before you. Savor it, appreciate it and be present for the food and the ritual of eating.
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    Dedicate at least 20 minutes to finish your meal. Have a wall clock in plain view from the table to adjust your eating speed; eat your last portion really slowly. If you are still hungry after 20 minutes, it means you are eating too fast! Another way to see this is to recognize when you feel pleasantly full or neither hungry nor full.[1]
    • There is a "sensor" in our brain (in the hypothalamus) that needs about 20 minutes to get activated (give or take a few minutes for individual differences). Digestive and hormonal processes need to take place before our brain realizes we are not hungry anymore; we could feel bloated and still be hungry before this recognition of satiation is set off.
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    If you feel still a little bit hungry after this, stop anyway. Drink a little bit more water. This is where you will need to use a little willpower and to recall your motivation and visualizations. In five more minutes, you won't want to eat more, even if food is delicious, because you will feel satisfied and full.
    • Use distractions if visualization on your reason for eating slowly fails at this point. Go for a walk, watch a favorite TV show, write a poem, call a friend on the phone, go for a swim, knit a sweater, feed an animal, groom your pet, wash the car, change the sheets, etc.
    • Having a hot drink can help to overcome residual hunger feelings. Try a coffee, tea, warm water with lemon, etc.
    • If you're still feeling hungry after eating slowly, you might have nutritional deficiencies or an illness; there may also be continuing underlying psychological problems. It is wise to speak to your doctor about this if it's still the case for you.


  • Do not wait till you see the consequences of overeating at the scale; take corrective action at the table. Monitor constantly your eating speed, drink water, watch the wall clock. Eating slowly will become automatic (natural) after you experience the rewards.
  • Take smaller proportions. You can always get more. Or, use a smaller plate and fill the plate to trick your mind into thinking you are eating a plateful of food.
  • Try to go for a small walk after eating, even a short five minute walk will help.
  • Reduce the portions on your plate. Help yourself by downsizing the plate and the plate's contents to what is normal rather than to what is generous.
  • Remember that you do not ever have to finish all the food on your plate! While over time it is to be hoped that you learn to heap less onto the plate and to even cook less than you should be eating, at least start to learn to leave food on the plate the moment you start to feel satiated or pleasantly full.


  • The moment you're uncomfortably full, you've eaten too much.
  • Do not confuse being full with being satisfied; you can be full, even bloated and still feel hungry and therefore continue to eat. Eating slowly will help to release the internal set point, while allowing you to pay more attention to your own hunger signals will help you to overcome the desire to keep eating even though you're full. And don't neglect the strength of emotional eating, which can often override satiation because you're trying to anesthetize feelings rather than feed the body. If this continues, seek professional help.
  • If you have nutritional deficiencies, no matter how slowly you eat, you won't overcome these without eating healthy food. Eating a burger and fries slowly is still eating a burger and fries. Eat only healthy food in order to ensure that your body is receiving all the nutrients it needs.
  • Try to not watch TV, play video games, or read a book while eating, this will distract you with how much you're eating and you won't pay much attention to what your brain is trying to tell you.
  • If you have a craving, wait it out at least 10 minutes. Even better, eat something healthy instead.

Things You'll Need

  • Wall clock
  • Water

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