It has never been harder to eat a healthy diet.
Our paleolithic taste buds evolved to crave endless amounts of salt, sugar, and fat to help us survive in an ancient world where food was scarce.
When we weren’t sure when we’d get our next meal, it was critical to capitalize when we got lucky.
Our tendency to hoard whatever calories we can get our hands on is a deeply hard-wired – and previously integral – feature of our evolutionary biology.
Over the past 100 years, the mode and scale of food production have radically changed.
The calorie-dense foods we once craved but rarely acquired are now produced in abundance, creating a glaring mismatch between our environment and our biology.
Not surprisingly, the obesity epidemic is only getting worse. Recent data show that 73.6% of adult Americans are overweight , and 40% are obese .
While on a macro level, we’re fighting an uphill battle, it doesn’t do your waistline any immediate good to lament your evolutionary wiring.
The question remains…
What can you do on an individual level to improve your nutrition?
The most common advice given to people asking this question is to count calories. If the number of calories out exceeds the number of calories in, you’ll lose weight.
While this can be a helpful strategy – and has worked for many – calorie counting lacks the precision with which it is advertised.
Calorie counts on food labels are often inaccurate, we don’t absorb all the calories we consume, and we all absorb calories differently .
Here’s another suggestion, which is much simpler, and has been shown in controlled experiments to stop people from overeating .
Here’s the rationale: it takes your hunger hormones about twenty minutes to tell your brain that you’re full.
If you inhale your meal in five minutes and get up to grab seconds – and thirds – before your gut tells your brain enough is enough, you’re hijacking your built-in satiety mechanisms.
In fact, bodybuilders trying to gain weight leverage this principle in the opposite way, stuffing their faces as quickly as possible before their satiety hormones kick in.
Here are five concrete tips for integrating this practice into your life:
- When you sit down for a meal, set a timer for twenty minutes. Commit to waiting at least that long before getting up for seconds.
- Find a slow-eating friend, and match their pace.
- Chew each bite of food at least 15 times. Alternatively, eat foods with more fiber, which require more chewing (when is the last time you over-ate a bag of carrots?).
- Avoid eating in front of the TV, or in other multi-tasking scenarios that promote mindless eating.
- Put down your utensils, and take a breath between bites.
These tactics aren’t going to save us from the obesity epidemic.
But small behavior changes, consistently performed and compounded over time, can yield amazing results.
No calorie counting. No restrictive diets. No stress. Just eat slowly.
 Fryar, C. D., Carroll, M. D., & Afful, J. (2020). Prevalence of overweight, obesity, and severe obesity among adults aged 20 and over: United States, 1960–1962 through 2017–2018. NCHS health e-stats, 1-7.
 Stierman, B., Afful, J., Carroll, M. D., Chen, T. C., Davy, O., Fink, S., ... & Akinbami, L. J. (2021). National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2017–March 2020 Prepandemic Data Files Development of Files and Prevalence Estimates for Selected Health Outcomes.
 Andrade, A. M., Greene, G. W., & Melanson, K. J. (2008). Eating slowly led to decreases in energy intake within meals in healthy women. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 108(7), 1186-1191.