Recently, I ate lunch with a pastor who was seeking some nutrition advice. Turns out his wife had been nagging him for years to eat more slowly! Like all loving wives, she was concerned about his health. He admitted that he almost always ate his meals very quickly because, “I never have enough time to relax and enjoy my food. You know what it is like with sermons to prepare, saints to visit, funds to raise, and complainers to pacify. I don’t have time to eat slowly!”
I asked him if he thought his health was suffering from rushing his meals. He thought a moment and then replied, “In recent years, I have been putting on extra weight. My wife has been telling me that eating slower will help me feel full before I have eaten too much. But I really don’t know why I am tempted to snack between my meals.”
Yes, we can swallow a lot of calories so quickly that we still think we’re hungry even though our stomachs are full. So, it makes sense to eat more leisurely meals. But does eating more slowly deter us from snacking between meals? Research suggests it may not. A Dutch research team fed 38 men and women, ages 23–30, the exact same meal on two different days. One day they got the food all at once and finished eating within 30 minutes. The next time, the food was served with up to 25 minutes between courses.
On each day, blood samples were taken to measure the levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite. Each volunteer was quizzed about his or her feelings of fullness or hunger.
After the staggered meal, participants felt less hunger and higher fullness, and their ghrelin levels were lower than after the quick meal. What was surprising, though, was that those differences did not influence their eating behavior two and a half hours later when the diners were presented with a feast of snacks that included cake, chocolate-covered marshmallows, chips, nuts, and waffles. There was no significant difference in the number of calories they consumed from their favorite goodies!*
Common sense, physiology, and reason were overcome by the presentation of delectable, mouthwatering morsels. Eating slowly was no guarantee they would abstain from snacks just two and a half hours after they finished their meal.
I can easily assume I have greater self-control than those participants did. If I were full, why would I snack when I know I don’t need the calories? Yet, I can think of times when my mouth has watered at the sight of a juicy morsel when I knew I had eaten plenty. The Bible describes this dilemma in Romans 7:19: “I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway” (NLT).
What can those of us who fight the “battle of the bulge” do? Often we need to eat less at meals, and eating more slowly can help with this. We also need to resist unneeded calories between meals. Taking the time to get at least 30 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise every day helps too.
We still need grace in order to exercise our God-given power of choice to do what we know is right. While we quote these texts to our parishioners frequently, we need to internalize them ourselves. “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13, NASB). “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13, NLT).
I need that strength every day to eat slower, avoid snacks, and exercise more.
* Sofie G. Lemmens et al., “Staggered Meal Consumption Facilitates Appetite Control Without Affecting Postprandial Energy Intake,” Journal of Nutrition 141, no. 3 (2011): 482–488.