What if I told you that one nugget of information could radically change the way you approach food this Thanksgiving and Christmas?
Maybe you’ve heard this tidbit before. Perhaps this is revolutionary news. Either way, I encourage you to intentionally meditate on this truth as the holidays loom closer.
The Fact: Once you begin eating, it takes between 5 and 20 minutes for your stomach to signal to your brain that you’re belly is full.
Essentially, once you start chewing, there is a delayed timer that screams, “Stop eating now!”
Questioning that extra helping of turkey on Thanksgiving? Or perhaps wondering if you really needed those 3 extra Christmas cookies to feel full?
Why this fact should alter how you eat
Why do you care about the pathway between your mouth, stomach and brain? Let’s have a mini anatomy lesson first.
The eating process begins with your eyes and hands coordinating to shovel delicious foods into your mouth. Your taste buds quickly determine your response; “This is amazing” or “Eh, this is just okay” or “Ew, spit this out!”
Assuming it tastes alright, your teeth start chewing, your saliva gets flowing, and you swallow that yummy goodness. It gets dumped into your stomach. Once in your tummy, the food continues to be broken down.
At this point, your body begins to absorb glucose from the food. When your glucose levels increase, your insulin also rises. Recognizing these two things, your brain sends out satiety hormones (which basically say, “Yum, this is good!”). Finally, your brain can signal to your body to stop eating.
So why should you care about all of these scientific details? Because it’s helpful to know that it takes between 5 and 20 minutes for your stomach to signal to your brain that your belly is full.
That means you could scarf down your food as fast as possible (like in a hot dog eating contest). And by the time your body signals caught up and told you to stop eating, you would feel overstuffed like a Thanksgiving turkey.
How to apply this fact to your eating habits
There are a few simple techniques that can help align the timing of your eating habits with your body systems.
- Chew your food more thoroughly, such as 32 times per bite. Scientists have a variety of evidence for chewing 32 times. Try counting one day and you’ll notice how much longer food stays in your mouth before swallowing. This breaks down the food more efficiently in your mouth, allowing your stomach and intestines to fully absorb nutrients. Bonus, it also means you’ll eat less in the 20 minutes before your brain recognizes that you’re full.
- Eat off of a lunch plate. Not because you’re a small child, but because you’ll put less food on your plate. Combine that with chewing more frequently, and you’ll be better able to understand when your belly says, “No more food please!”
- Use smaller utensils. Again, not because you’re a kid, but because you’ll pass smaller amounts of food into your mouth if you have a tiny spoon or fork.
- Eat smaller portions, but eat more frequently. You’re probably wondering if eating more slowly means you’ll eat less food? Yes, you probably will eat less food…in one sitting. The human body needs adequate calories and nutrients to function a maximum capacity. However, you may notice that you need to eat three meals (of a smaller quantity) and 3 snacks throughout your day to keep fueled. Speaking of nutrients, there is one macronutrient you should know about…
One more fact that could impact your eating habits
Could I peak your curiosity further with one more fact that will alter how you interact with food over the holidays? It’s related to feeling full while eating. You could gorge yourself on cookies or stuff your face with potatoes and possibly still feel hungry. Here’s why:
There is one macronutrient that you should be aware of: protein.
Protein seems to be the key ingredient that elicits your hormones to announce that you’re full. Theoretically, you can continue eating and not feel full until you eat a certain amount of protein. But many times we fill our bellies with carbs and fats. When there is a large amount of those, they will eventually signal the same response to stop eating.
This doesn’t mean that you should eat a protein-only diet. It’s important to balance out your diet with fats, carbs and proteins. Meats, beans and eggs are excellent sources of protein to include in your meals!
Don’t forget this fact over the holidays!
Over the holidays, keep this in mind as you sit down to a Thanksgiving meal or a Christmas cookie exchange.
And when your family and friends ask why you’re eating larger quantities of protein or why you count to 32 with every bite, use that as an opportunity to share this fact! If it changed your life to eat more slowly and intentionally, perhaps it can alter the lifestyle of the people you love as well.