Put Down The Fork

In last week’s article, there was something I touched on with regard to diet strategies and things to work on when weight loss isn’t necessarily the conducive route to follow. I wanted to elaborate some more on this strategy in hopes that it helps some of you.

Because of the nature of my work, I read a lot of books about diets, food psychology, healthy habits, you name it. There is one topic that has come up so frequently that when I see it, I just acknowledge it and move on. The reason being, that I have suffered with this issue for most of my adult life.

And that topic is the speed at which I eat.

Most of you know that before I started this business, I spent 16 years in retail. 13 of those 16 years was in a managerial role. And if you’ve ever worked in retail you know that things like meal breaks don’t come the way they should. So, one nasty habit I picked up along the way was absolutely inhaling the food in front of me.

There’s a story I’ve told before and I’ll share it again if you haven’t heard it. There is a little BBQ place that I pass on the way home from work. When they first opened, I was there at least twice a week. I loved it. So, when I would leave work, en route home, if I knew my wife would not be home for dinner, I’d hit up the BBQ joint. Without fail, I would order my food, eat it at a speed that made you think I’d never seen food before and head home.

One night, one of the employees, unbeknownst to me, was watching me eat. When I finished in my typical frantic pace, I got up from my seat to throw the containers away and she said “You are the fastest eater I’ve ever seen!”

Needless to say, I was a little bit embarrassed. Of course, that didn’t stop me.

A few days later, I was back again and the same employee was there. I ordered my food and went right back to my default pace of consumption. When I was done, the employee said something to the effect (I don’t remember the exact number) of: “That took you 3:40 to eat!”

Yes, she timed me.

Yes, it was also embarrassing.

Yes, I finished my entire meal in less than four minutes. Not exactly something I carry a badge of honor over.

And I think the reason why I’ve never embraced eating slower, even though conceptually I understand why someone should do it, is because I’ve never needed to lose weight. Why embrace a concept that doesn’t really affect me?

Except it does.

On a social level, anytime I eat with others, I am normally the one staring at my empty plate while others are barely halfway through theirs. I also couldn’t tell you any specifics of what the food tastes like. It’s either tasty or it’s not (more on that later).

However, I recently finished a book that talked more about diet skills and this whole eating slower thing came up again. (Shout out to Josh Hillis for his excellent new book “Lean & Strong”).

So, about a week and a half ago, I tried it.

I literally put my fork down after every bite. I forced myself to sit, and chew, and taste and smell and just be present.

It was extremely difficult to do.

One thing that helps is to not eat in front of a screen. No TV, no phone, etc. Just sit with your plate and whoever else you’re dining with and set your fork down after every bite.

There’s a belief (it’s somewhat arbitrary) that you need to chew the food about twenty times. This was a novel concept for me too. It’s not easy to do.

If what you’re eating doesn’t require a fork, rather your hands and fingers, the same concept applies. Let’s say it’s a sandwich or even a cookie. Take a bite, set the food down, and just chew. See if you pick out flavors, pay attention to what you smell, and just try to enjoy for a moment.

I’ve noticed that I can’t put as much food on my fork now either. When I was eating with reckless abandon before, I couldn’t pile the fork high enough. Now, I am forced to pick up less. I simply cannot chew as much when I’m doing it deliberately, thoughtfully.

One thing that I have to do, lest I forget, is I have to remind myself right before the meal starts: SLOW.DOWN. It’s something of a mantra and it reminds me that regardless of how hungry I am (or think I am) I need to slow my pace down. The food isn’t going to walk away.

A rather shocking (although I shouldn’t be shocked) effect of this, is that by and large, you will eat less. Your body will have a chance to register fullness. This is HUGE.

The first meal I did this with was dinner on a Saturday night. We ordered BBQ from a different place and typically I would have been able to down those foods in a shamefully fast fashion.

But I didn’t. I took my time, I chewed my food several times and I set my fork down after every bite.

Oddly enough, the food didn’t taste as good. This was kind of surprising. I actually, normally, like the food from this place. But when I took my time, the food just tasted mushy and somewhat flavorless. That was disappointing but there is an upside.

Years ago, I read a book written by a doctor who I generally don’t pay a lot of attention to. However, he also embraced this eating slower philosophy and used it in a slightly different manner.

He had a weight loss patient who refused to give up on fast food. So, he asked the patient to make a small compromise: Order whatever you like from the fast food establishment but I want you to take twenty minutes to eat it.

Getting his patient to slow his pace down so dramatically not only gave the patient pause, but the patient realized that the food didn’t taste good at all when it’s not being devoured quickly.

Shortly after this experiment, the patient gave up fast food altogether.

So, if you’re looking to try something while we have time on our hands, I would suggest this tactic. Put the fork (or food) down after every bite. Spend time chewing. Don’t eat in front of screens. And re-assess. You will probably eat less which means you will probably lose weight.

Not a bad thing for some folks at this time.

“We Make Great People Greater”