As a child, my parents used to describe my throat as a needle. “Oosi thondai,” they used to say disapprovingly, referring to the slowness with which I ate. I was painfully thin at the time. Attending weddings was torturous for my family because I would eat across two pandhis, or dinner services. This continued all the way to adulthood.
Numerous studies link eating slowly to satiety, that crucial feeling that tells us to stop eating. A 2015 study, titled Effects Of Eating Rate On Satiety: A Role For Episodic Memory? and published in the Physiology & Behavior journal, states that eating slowly caused participants to report greater fullness, not just at the end of the meal but also during intervals between meals. It typically takes us 20 minutes to experience satiety. I remind myself of this when I am ravenously hungry. “Hara hachi bun me,” I tell myself. This is a Japanese phrase that tells you to eat until you are 80% full. It became popular because of the Okinawans, who have a high percentage of centenarians—people who are over 100 years old—among them. According to numerous studies and books, including The Okinawa Way: How the World’s Longest-Lived People Achieve Everlasting Health—And How You Can Too, a key aspect of longevity and health has to do with calorie restriction. The Okinawans practise eating less, using ageless proverbs such as “eight parts of a full stomach sustain the man; the other two sustain the doctor”, to help them stop scarfing down Christmas cakes and New Year goodies.
Those of us used to eating until our stomachs burst find it hard to stop when we don’t feel full; when we’re still “feeling” hungry. Mindless eating, some books call it. All very well, but how do you stop when there is all that delicious food waiting to be consumed?
There are a few things you can tell yourself to reduce the speed with which you consume your food, particularly at home. The first thing is to internalize the fact that the food is not going to disappear. The second thing is to force yourself to pause. Make conversation, or at least look around the table. Pace yourself with the slowest eater of the table. It could be a child; it could be that monotonous guest at the other end of the table, who talks more than he eats; and who should be eating to keep his mouth shut. No matter. Remind yourself to take another spoonful only when the garrulous slow-eating guest is taking one.
I find that one simple technique helps me slow down: breathing deeply. I find that I can stuff my mouth and breathe deeply at the same time. I have to pause to expel the breath before taking the next mouthful.
Eating slowly allows your stomach to catch up with your tongue. When you are full, your stomach sends signals to your mouth asking it to stop eating. The problem is that we eat so fast that we don’t allow these signals to come through until it is too late. So take a breath. Count to five before every spoon. Keep a fund of jokes that you can entertain the table with. Whatever your way, keep in mind that you must eat slowly. Now that I have sped up on the dining table, I pace myself with the slowest eater. That’s the only way I can slow down.
Shoba Narayan eats fast nowadays but is trying to slow down. Write to her with your tips, tricks and short cuts. She blogs at Shobanarayan.com, tweets at @shobanarayan and Instagrams at #shobanarayan.