When it comes to weight loss or maintenance, of course, what you eat is crucial, and some research suggests when you eat is important, too. But a new study in Scientific Reports suggests another big component of your eating habits can help: chewing food more slowly.
To determine the potential effects of slow chewing, researchers asked 11 healthy, normal-weight men to go through three trials: drinking liquid food normally every 30 seconds, drinking liquid food but keeping it in their mouths for 30 seconds before swallowing, and chewing food for 30 seconds before swallowing.
All three approaches resulted in the same level of fullness, but it was the slow chewing that turned out to be unique, because it increased what’s called diet-induced thermogenesis, or DIT. This refers to how much heat is generated in the body after eating and how it affects your metabolic rate. A low level of DIT tends to promote weight gain, while a high level has the opposite effect.
Even though it might seem like a minor action, increased chewing among participants elevated their DIT and the researchers noted that the difference per meal or snack might be small, but the cumulative effect done every time you eat could be substantial.
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Although the study has limitations based on its small sample size, it’s not the first to make the connection between slow eating and weight loss or maintenance. For example, a clinical trial published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that increasing the number of chews before swallowing reduced meal sizes in part because people ate for longer, and that led to eating less.
Another study in Frontiers in Psychology suggests there may be a mental component as well. In that research, participants who paid more attention to chewing showed a change in their brain’s reward circuits, which led to less impulsive eating behaviors.
Another benefit to slow eating is becoming more mindful about what you’re eating, and simply enjoying the taste more, says New York-based dietitian Vanessa Rissetto, R.D., co-founder of Culina Health. She says it can feel overwhelming to try to eat every single bite with mindful attention, but like a meditation exercise, start with a modest attempt.
For example, try being mindful of your next three bites of food. As you work the strategy into your eating more often, you’re more likely to get to that other big question around food, which can help you improve your eating habits in order to achieve your weight loss goals.
“Are you eating because you’re actually hungry, or it because you’re bored, stressed, or tired?” says Rissetto. “Are you feeding into that habit loop where a sugary item makes you feel good, so you just grab one because you’re on autopilot? Understanding why you’re eating makes a big difference.”
With that much awareness, it can lead to healthier eating habits without feeling deprived along the way, she adds.
For more, check out The Best Dinner Combinations for Faster Weight Loss.