Eat Slower, Enjoy It More, And Eat Less


You eat more under stressful conditions.

Did you ever notice that you eat much more popcorn during the tense scenes at the movies? It’s a self-comforting thing to do, a response to stress. Researchers Brian Wasink and Koert van Ittersum at Cornell University recently discovered a parallel in a study done at one of the Hardee restaurants, an American fast-food chain offering items like bacon and cheddar fried potatoes. The Hardee restaurants feature a typical fast-food hectic ambiance: lots of bright lights and color, and fast, loud music – all forms of stress. (Here at Green Prophet we’ve wondered if stress makes us fat.)

To accommodate the study, the restaurant made over an isolated area to resemble a fine-dining experience. Low lights, white tablecloths, and relaxing jazzy music – but the same fast-food menu as offered in the regular area. Subjects under study were assigned to eat in either area.  Expectations were that the slower-paced diners would order and eat more, but it turned out to be the opposite. We reported on Dr. Wasink’s previous study on overeating in this post.

The study found that the fine-diners spent more 4.7% more time time at the table but ate 86% of their orders, as compared to the 95% of the subjects in the regular room. In other words,  people in the typical fast-paced room tended to eat faster and to eat more, consuming 949.2 calories compared to the slow eaters’ 775.3 calories. Evaluations given by the subjects showed that the fine-diners enjoyed their experience more and gave the food a higher rating.

“You create a nice atmosphere, people talk more, they concentrate less on the food,” said van Ittersum.

Wasink adds, “These results suggest that a more relaxed environment increases satisfaction and decreases consumption. This is important information for fast-food restaurants, which are often accused of contributing to obesity. Making simple changes away from brighter lights and sound-reflecting surfaces can go a long way toward reducing overeating — and increase their customers’ satisfaction at the same time.”
It’s an intriguing development in the fight against obesity, and one anyone can do at home. This brings to mind studies on rural societies, where family members gather to lunch together every day, giving themselves an hour or longer to eat and catch up. These farmers and peasants famously live into trim, healthy old age. Healthy diet and physical activity have much to do with that, but habits of leisurely, stress-free eating are an essential factor .
Going even further back into into human life, any parent knows that a stressed baby gulps his milk and then suffers from colic. That process seems to stay with us as long as we live. So when eating out, why not search for places that offer a peaceful feeling, instead of getting pumped up with loud music and glaring lights? Your digestion will surely benefit, and according to the Cornell study, your calorie intake will go down.

Try slow dining for a week, instead of nuking something and gulping it down. Set your good china on the table and light candles. Turn on some mellow music, and sit down to enjoy your meal in peace – even if you’re alone with a good book, doing this for your own pleasure. Do this for a week and then weigh yourself. Let us know how you liked it.

More on healthy – and unhealthy eating habits – from Green Prophet:

Image of three lads cringing at the television via Shutterstock

Miriam also blogs at Israeli Kitchen.



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