How much does eating speed matter? Depends on your weight

Fort Worth, TX | January 8, 2014 12:07 PM | Print this story

Around the start of the New Year, it seems everyone is fighting the battle of the bulge. Obesity is an epidemic in the United States, and its rapid rise may partly be due to an increase in reported energy intake. Put simply–

we eat more than we used to, so we weigh more. One possible strategy to control caloric consumption is to eat more slowly.


But does it really work? A new study says that may all depend on how much you already weigh. Led by Jen Copeland, a former graduate student in TCU’s Department of Kinesiology, under the guidance of professor Dr. Meena Shah, the study showed that eating speeds affect different weight groups differently. Specifically, overweight and obese individuals may not reap the same benefits of eating slowly as their normal-weight counterparts.


Titled “Slower Eating Speed Lowers Energy Intake in Normal-Weight but not Overweight/Obese Subjects,” the study is especially noteworthy because it analyzes the intricate relationship between eating speed and calorie consumption in two different weight groups. Previous studies on eating speed and body weight primarily focused only on normal-weight individuals. That’s why findings have garnered significant attention since being published in the latest issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the official peer-reviewed publication of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (


In the study, Dr. Shah and her team asked both weight groups to consume two meals in a controlled environment: one at a slow speed and one at a fast speed. Subjects were asked to eat the slow meal as though they had no time constraints – taking small bites, chewing thoroughly and pausing and putting the spoon down between bites. For the fast-paced meal, they were told to do the opposite.


While normal-weight subjects ate 88 kilocalories less during the slow meal, the overweight and obese group only ate 58 less. Dr. Shah and her team determined that this 58-kilocalorie drop was not large enough to be considered statistically significant, meaning that eating more slowly doesn’t necessarily aid in controlling calories if you are already overweight or obese.


But there is a silver lining: satiety. Although the overweight or obese group didn’t eat much less calorie-wise, they reported feeling significantly less hungry 60 minutes after the start of the slow meal than after the fast one. The same went for the normal-weight group.


Dr. Shah and her fellow researchers surmised that this feeling of being less hungry might be linked to increased oro-sensory signals influencing the metabolic processes that determine hunger and fullness. Another theory is that slower eating makes subjects more mindful when it comes to meals – providing more time for sensory experiences that help determine levels of hunger and fullness. It may also be partly linked to the increased water consumption (both weight groups drank significantly more water over the course of the slower-paced meal).


With obesity rates continuing to soar, information about how different weight groups approach and consume food will be helpful in crafting strategies to lower energy intake, but for now, Dr. Shah suggested, “Slowing the speed of eating may help to lower energy intake and suppress hunger levels, and it may even enhance the enjoyment of a meal.”


Wise words to remember the next time you pick up a fork.


  • The full study can be found in the January 2014 issue of the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
  • To listen to a podcast about the study, visit

*Along with Jen Copeland and Dr. Meena Shah, the study research team included Dr. Lyn Dart, an associate professor in the University’s Department of Nutritional Sciences; Ashlei James, a TCU graduate student at the time of the study; and Dr. Debbie Rhea, a professor in TCU’s Department of Kinesiology.