Holiday Eating: The Secret Things Slim People Do

Holiday Eating: The Secret Things Slim People Do

If your waistband gets tighter with every holiday party, give yourself a traffic ticket -- for speed eating. It's tempting to blame your aunt's famous triple-chocolate rum balls and that box of sugar cookies in the office coffee room for seasonal waist gain, but a compelling Greek study suggests that how fast you eat may be as important as what you put on your plate (or eat right out of the bag, carton or box).

Researchers already know that speed eaters are twice as likely to be overweight as those who munch leisurely. Now they know why: Scarfing down food faster than a mini-vac reduces the release of appetite-regulating hormones into your bloodstream. These chemicals normally tell your brain to get your hand out of those sugar cookies, pronto. You need them more than ever during the all-you-can-eat buffet that stretches from Thanksgiving to New Year's Day. Yes, the time of year that makes 90 percent of us gain anywhere from 1 to 5 pounds or more during just 5 weeks or so.

On one day of the study, volunteers wolfed down 2 1/2 scoops of ice cream in 5 minutes flat. On another, they made the treat last for 30 minutes. The Athens University scientists measured blood levels of two types of appetite-lowering hormones (PYY and GLP-1) before and after and discovered that when people slowly savored their ice cream, the hormone levels were 25 to 30 percent higher.

PYY and GLP-1 are two of more than a dozen hormones responsible for feeling full and satisfied. Other mechanisms, such as stretch receptors in the lining of your stomach, play important roles, too. Fortunately, we know more than ever about how these checks and balances work -- and how modern food choices and eating habits can short-circuit them.

There's no better time to help your body's natural appetite-control system along. Here's how:

"Spoil" your dinner with a handful of nuts. Munching on the right snack, like 70 calories of nuts, 20 minutes before a meal jump-starts the release of feel-full hormones, so you'll eat less when you get to the table. That lets you eat for pleasure rather than vacuum down everything in sight because you're soooo hungry. Great choices: 6 walnut halves (toasted for 9 minutes or so in a toaster oven at 275 degrees Fahrenheit), 12 almonds, or 20 peanuts.

Begin with a crunch. Like a new bathing suit, your stomach can only stretch so far. Take advantage. Filling it with chunky, low-calorie, raw veggies activates stretch receptors that signal your brain that you're full to the brim. Studies have found that people who start meals with a large low-cal salad eat 12 percent fewer calories during the meal than those who skip the strategic bowl of leafy greens, cherry tomatoes, carrots, and peppers.

Dine in the slow lane. Leisurely munching isn't rocket science: Take small bites, chew thoroughly and put utensils down in between bites. But our fast-food culture trains us to do the opposite, gulping at warp speed like a hungry Labrador retriever with a stolen Christmas ham. To really get into slow eating, focus on the whole experience. Fill your senses -- notice the colors, aromas, flavors, textures, and temperatures of foods before and while you eat them.

Fill your tank to 80 percent. Ever notice that when you eat till your buttons burst, your stomach feels fuller and fuller for nearly an hour afterwards? That's delayed-reaction satiety. Harness it by stopping your next meal when you're just 80 percent full. Wait 20 minutes and -- we promise! -- you'll feel fully satisfied. In Japan, they call this trick hara hachi bu and consider it a key to longevity.

Related: Take our quiz Eating Mindfully for more slimming secrets.