Eat Slowly to Prevent Weight Gain in Kids

Conventional wisdom and medical experts alike tell us that in order to weigh less we need to eat less, but this simple advice can be hard to follow. Eating slowly is one way to help children curb their calorie consumption without restricting their favorite foods or strictly limiting portion sizes.

A study published in the journal Pediatric Obesity in December 2015 shows that slowing down the pace of meals can help prevent overeating and weight gain in kids. In this study, children who consistently waited 30 seconds between each bite of food lost between 3.4% and 4.8% of their body weight at after one year. In comparison, kids who did not space out their bites gained between 6.5% and 12.6% of their body weight by the end of the study. Children monitored the time between bites by using a 30-second hourglass. They were also encouraged to drink a glass of water before meals and to avoid snacking between meals.

So, what explains the difference in weight gain between the fast eaters and the slow eaters? It turns out that it takes about 15 minutes from the start of eating for our gut to send a satiety signal to the brain. This signal helps your body recognize that it is full so that you stop eating before you “overdo it” and wind up feeling stuffed. In our rushed and sometimes over-booked lives, meals can be consumed in a matter of minutes, falling well under the 15-minute time frame needed to allow our bodies to know when we have had enough.

There are many ways to slow down your eating at home, even if you don’t have a 30 second hourglass. Here are a few tips for your family to try:

  • Put down your utensils between each bite
  • Choose high fiber foods that take more time to chew such as fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Eat family meals together at the table
  • Avoid eating in front of the TV
  • 20-minute rule: no second helpings for at least 20 minutes after your first serving
  • Chew each bite of food 15 to 20 times
  • Sip water between each bite of food

When you slow down the pace of eating, meals become more enjoyable and more satisfying. Learning to eat slowly might be one of the most important nutrition lessons that you can teach your child! Find out more about the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition, here or listen to our PediaByte on chew time and obesity from our PediaCast podcast, here.

Marnie Wagner, MD
Marnie L. Wagner, M.D. is a general pediatrician at the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition at Nationwide Children's Hospital. She also serves as an assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at the Ohio State University College of Medicine. Dr. Wagner's clinical interests include nutrition, the primary prevention of obesity and the management of obesity-related comorbidities. She sees patients in the medical assessment and bariatric clinics. Prior to joining the Center for Healthy Weight and Nutrition, Dr. Wagner completed her pediatric residency training at Nationwide Children's Hospital.

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