To not give our readers false hope, we'll say from the get-go that the following study does not prove that eating slowly will help you to lose weight. But it does offer a very strong "hint" that it might.
We don't need to tell you that the obesity crisis in the United States is dire; everybody knows that.
What a lot of people don't know, however — apart from those who are living the struggle every day, of course — is how discouragingly hard it can be to shed those extra pounds.
According to a recent survey, over 49 percent of overweight or obese U.S. adults are actively trying to lose weight, but this percentage is a decline compared with that of previous years, perhaps due to the frustrations of failing to lose weight permanently.
Some studies have shown that only 1 in 6 U.S. adults who have been either overweight or obese managed to lose weight and maintain the weight loss over a longer period of time.
So, in the long-standing fight that millions of people have had with their unwanted kilograms, researchers have also tried to help along the way, attempting to understand which diets and lifestyle changes yield the best weight loss results.
However, as the authors of the new research point out, few studies have actually investigated the causal relationship between lifestyle changes and weight gain.
For instance, we all "know" that it's good for us to have a disciplined lifestyle — ideally with meals at regular intervals — but do we know for a fact that if we implement these changes, we're going to lose weight?
We may also know, either from hearsay or intuitively, that snacking after dinner or eating too close to our bedtime is not a good idea. But does the evidence support this claim?
The new study, which has now been published in the journal BMJ Open, forays deeper into the relationship between lifestyle interventions and weight gain. Specifically, it looks at the effects of eating speed, snacking after dinner, eating within 2 hours of going to bed, and skipping breakfast on weight loss.
For the sake of clarity, however, it's worth bearing in mind that this "effect" that the researchers describe is purely a statistical one; the study does not explain causality, but it does tackle the probability that you lose weight if you start implementing some of these changes.
The study was carried out by Yumi Hurst and Haruhisa Fukuda, both of the Department of Health Care Administration and Management at the Kyushu University Graduate School of Medical Sciences in Fukuoka, Japan.
Slowing eating speed may lower BMI
Hurst and Fukuda examined health insurance data from almost 60,000 people living with diabetes in Japan. Between 2008 and 2013, these people had frequent medical check-ups that included body mass index (BMI) measurements, waistline measurements, and blood and urine tests.
The check-ups also included lifestyle quizzes that inquired about the participants' smoking and drinking habits as well as their eating and sleeping routines.
The participants were specifically asked whether their eating speed was "fast," "normal," or "slow," and whether they regularly ate dinner within 2 hours of bedtime, skipped breakfast, or snacked after dinner.
Overall, those who reported eating slowly were more likely to be physically healthy and lead a healthier lifestyle overall. Over the 6-year period, more than half of the total sample of people slowed down the speed at which they ate, and this change correlated with a decrease in both waistline measurements and BMI.
More specifically, eating at a normal speed correlated with a 29 percent decrease in obesity risk, and changing to a slow speed resulted in a 42 percent decrease in obesity risk.
Having dinner within 2 hours of going to bed and post-dinner snacking also correlated with a higher BMI. Skipping breakfast, however, did not seem to affect BMI in any way.
The authors conclude:
"Changes in eating habits can affect obesity, BMI, and waist circumference. Interventions aimed at reducing eating speed may be effective in preventing obesity and lowering the associated health risks."