For anyone who has ever walked the streets of Paris or ever enjoyed a french restaurant, you’ll appreciate it when I say that French cuisine is one of the richest in the world. Thick sauces and high fat cheeses abound, and desserts are richly irresistible.

However, as one takes a moment to people watch in that restaurant or cafe in France, one can’t help but be amazed by how thin most people are. How can they eat such rich cuisine without packing on the pounds?

There are many contributors to this phenomenon, but amongst these, one element rings crystal clear: the French take time to enjoy their food. As it turns out, eating slowly is a stronger stimulus to tell your brain and body that you are full than noshing your food in a rush.

There are several hormones involved in the sensation of hunger and fullness. There is one predominant hunger hormone called ghrelin; it is secreted by the stomach, and its release decreases in response to food. There are several hormones that act in the opposite fashion, to tell you that you are full; these hormone levels increase in response to food and include peptide YY (PYY), Glucagon-like-peptide-1 (GLP-1), and others. These hormones act on the hypothalamus in the brain to signal fullness, and also slow the forward movement of food through the intestine so that food stays longer in the stomach and takes longer to move through the intestine.

Taken together, these hormones act in a very complex fashion, and their levels vary depending on many different factors, including the content of the meal and the speed with which it’s eaten. As far as time frames go, the satiety hormones take 10-15 minutes to start to kick in; recent studies have shown that taking 30 minutes to eat a meal results in higher concentrations of satiety hormones than taking 5 minutes to eat the same meal.

Back in our Parisienne cafe, then, we can see that the thin couple who are enjoying their rich meal are taking their time to do so, with the result that they feel full and satisfied with a smaller portion. This phenomenon is well known by the chefs in the restaurant, who have been sure to serve up a small portion, knowing that a large portion is likely to be wasted.

So next time you find yourself ravenous or in a hurry and about to inhale your meal, set aside 15-30 minutes and allow yourself to enjoy it. Give those natural satiety hormones time to kick in and allow you to feel satisfied with a smaller portion!

Dr. Sue © 2010