Caution: Avoid Speed Eating

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The British Medical Journal recently published interesting results regarding use of a mandometer with overweight kids. A mandometer is a device used to gauge one's rate of eating. Kids ages 9-17 that used the device were compared to children who didn't. After 6 months, the mandometer-users had lower fat mass and an overall lower body mass index (BMI), and ate smaller portions and at a slower rate than their non-mandometer using counterparts. Better yet, six months later the effects were still in place- the children continued to eat smaller portions at a slower eating pace. In other words, having spent time with the mandometer for six months really influenced a behavior change in users.

So what does this mean? It's just nice when something we believe based on anecdotal evidence is proven through research-especially with results this significant. As a reminder, it takes our bodies anywhere from 15-20 minutes to recognize we're eating. The brain and stomach don't connect the second we put food in our mouths. When you eat fast you may ingest an entire meal before your body recognizes you've eaten. Then you reach for seconds, thinking you're still hungry, and you don't feel the discomforts of overeating until it's too late. Eating too fast can also result in reflux, gassiness, and bloating. Past research has suggested eating too fast may nearly double a person's risk for being overweight.

Since few of us have access to mandometers, I like to use a Hunger Scale with kids. A series of five faces are shown representing someone who is extremely full, full, satisfied but not full, hungry, and starving. The idea is to help a child match what they're physically feeling to one of the pictures to help guide appropriate eating times. It's one way to help them learn not to eat when they're bored, sad, angry, etc. There are versions of adult hunger scales available as well.

There is another theory worth mentioning called unit bias. This theory explains that we'll eat one of something, no matter how big it is. For example, if someone puts a slice of pizza, a cookie, or a bagel in front of us, we'll likely eat the whole thing, whether large or small. Our eyes recognize this "unit" as a portion of food and our mouths and stomachs take care of the rest. Again, we find the entire unit eaten before our stomach tells us we've had enough. This is just one more reason to cut large portions in half, and more importantly eat more slowly. It's more enjoyable when you take your time.

So what else can you do to slow down eating and monitor portions? • Start with soup or salad, or even a piece of fruit. The idea is to start filling your stomach with lower calorie, but high volume foods (think fiber) to prevent you from overindulging on the main course. • Remember, certain nutrients matter. Protein is the most satiating nutrient (it helps us feel full), fiber helps us fill up on few calories, and something to drink (water, low fat milk are good choices) helps us fill up faster too. • Talk over a meal- but not with your mouth full, of course. Take time to exchange stories from the day or catch up with a friend. You'll eat much more slowly. If you're dining alone, practice some deep breathing between bites. You'd be surprised how many people skip breaths while eating. You could even pick up a book- set goals to read a page before taking your next bite. Try something that will work for you because you'll love the way you feel when slow down.

Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD is a nutritionist and founder of She is also the creator of The F-Factor DietaC/, an innovative nutritional program she has used for more than ten years to provide hundreds of her clients with all the tools they need to achieve easy weight loss and maintenance, improved health and well-being. For more information log onto