7 June 2016 Slow Down To Help Weight Loss: Your Gut-Brain Connection

How fast do you eat? If you are wolfing down a meal in less than 20 minutes, then you might be eating too fast. This could affect your ability to limit calories at meals regardless of macronutrient content (fat, carbs, or protein).

As we eat, our gut releases hormones which are then absorbed into our bloodstream. Eventually, the brain detects these gut hormones and processes the information as hunger or satiety. Over time, we develop a feeling of being satisfied with our food intake - our hunger and drive to eat is reduced or stops completely. This is not just the feeling that our stomach is full or stretched - this is a gut-brain signaling system at work to drive feeding when we are hungry and stop feeding when we are full. Count on about 20-30 minutes for this gut-brain connection work most effectively.

Tips to Help You Slow Down

  1. Time yourself and take 20-30 minutes to eat. Over time, you won’t need the clock but in the beginning, it will help you slow down.
  2. Group dining. Pace yourself with the slowest eater, but still aim for taking 20-30 minutes to consume the meal.
  3. Eat with a utensil (e.g. fork or spoon) and put it down between bites.
  4. Chew well. Try counting out 15-20 chews before swallowing.
  5. Eat one piece of food at a time instead of a handful. This applies to foods such as nuts, seeds, popcorn, chips, crackers, chocolate, sweets, etc. For beverages, sip instead of gulp.
  6. Savor the food. Eat like a foodie, instead of a hungry dog. Look at your food and smell the aroma – it will enhance your perception of taste and enjoyment. Chew carefully, enjoying both taste and texture. Focus on the experience of eating your food.
  7. Avoid distractions such as reading, TV, computer, or multi-tasking. If you listen to music, pick slower tempo songs. Eating with fast-paced music can increase the speed at which you eat.
  8. Drink water with your meal. You can alternate between eating food and drinking water. The exception to this rule is if you have had bariatric surgery – in that case; do not drink fluids with your meals. For more information about eating after bariatric surgery, please read “Can You Use Calories Tracking Apps If You Have Had Bariatric (Weight Loss) Surgery”.

Related Issue – Correcting a Low Blood Glucose

The carbs we consume directly affect our blood glucose. If you feel like your blood glucose is low, then consider that it takes about 15 minutes to register a significant blood glucose rise even after consuming just plain sugar, pop, juice, glucose tabs or the like. Don’t chug a can of pop or a bottle of juice to correct your blood glucose – it is an unnecessarily high sugar load and won’t correct your blood glucose any faster. The standard recommendation for treating low blood glucose is the 15/15 rule: consume 15 grams of easily digested carbs (e.g. some form of sugar without fat or protein such as 3-4 glucose tabs or 4 fl oz of juice) and then wait 15 minutes to recheck blood glucose. Read “Do You Get Low Blood Sugar” for more information on how to correct a low if you have diabetes. This is important since many people with diabetes eat or drink too fast and over-correct low blood glucose – causing them to rebound high as well as consume too many calories.

Now think about what eating an 800 calories burrito with fat, protein, and carbs must be like on your system when you consume it in 10 minutes. Think you are going to feel satisfied? I don’t think so. And maybe that is why you feel you need chips and guacamole to complete the meal. If you take 20-30 minutes to eat just that burrito, you might feel very satisfied with nothing else but water. Or you might find that even just a half of a burrito satisfies your hunger, saving you 400 calories.

Gut-Brain Signaling Can Be Overridden

Many factors can affect the gut-brain connection. Learned behavior is a striking example - we eat until the plate is empty despite appetite signals telling us to stop. That would be the “Clean Plate Club.” And to make matters even more difficult, once we have too much extra weight, our signaling system can fail or not work as effectively. It feels like we lose the ability to feel satisfied after a perfectly good meal that has plenty of macronutrients. But don’t assume your signal system is broken! Try slowing down your rate of eating and see if that helps you control your meal calories without undue hunger. Also read “4 Tips for Feeling Full on Fewer Calories” for more information about how food choices can help with satiety while we lose weight.

Stop relying on just your stomach extending as the cue that you are full. Take the time to slow down and discover how your gut-brain connection can support calories controlled eating without undue hunger. This will help you lose weight and keep the weight off.

Katherine Isacks, MPS, RD, CDE
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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.

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Weight Loss/Behavior

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