Gum Chewing for Weight Loss, Does Chewing Help?

Feb 01 2012 Published by under Health Care/Medicine, Uncategorized

As preparation for this post and in the interests of full disclosure, I felt the need to pop in a piece of gum while writing. Never mind that the only gum I could find was caffeinated. That gives this post a little extra...zest.

Anyway, in talking with several friends over the years about methods of weight loss, especially controlling cravings and preventing snacking, many of them have mentioned that they chew a lot of sugar free gum. Some said it helped prevent cravings, others said it fooled them into not thinking they were hungry. Me, I feel like it stops me from eating because it feels like I've just brushed my teeth. But I've always wondered, does it really work? Does chewing gum help with your weight loss?

Luckily, the boys over at Obesity Panacea found out for me. And sadly, the answer is apparently no. 🙁

Shikany, et al. "Randomized Controlled Trial of Chewing Gum for Weight Loss" Intervention and Prevention, 2011.

It turns out that people in obesity related fields have hypothesized that gum might help weight loss for a while. Possible mechanisms are many, from the extra 11 Kcal (11 Calories with the big C) per hour that you burn while chewing gum, to the suppression of appetite and food intake, to reductions in craving. But for all this thinking about it, no one had actually TESTED whether chewing gum could help with weight loss. It's time for a trial.

The authors took 200 overweight and obese people, people who were not currently trying to lose weight. They gave all of them literature on nutritious eating, and instructed half of them to chew sugar free gum 6 times a day, for a total of 90 minutes per day. I bet this was the hard part to control. I mean, do you just STOP after 90 minutes? What if you're enjoying it? How do you divide up your 90 minutes, evenly into 15 minutes each of chewing time? Is that enough?

And of course, how do react to being told you must, under no circumstances, chew gum? I don't actually chew a lot of gum but if you tried to stop me I'd probably be reaching for the Wrigley's just out of rebellion.

Anyway, they got the participants to prove they chewed gum by having them fill out a diary, AND by having them hand in the gum wrappers (hopefully not with the gum in them. I would feel sorry for the study authors then). The gum was provided for free. They kept up the gum condition for 8 weeks. Then they took both participants and controls back to the lab, weighed them, measured them everywhere, and looked to see if the gum did anything.

Nothing.

Nothing at all. The gum chewing group DID show a significant small decrease in waist circumference, but since the control group also showed a small decrease in waist circumference (though nonsignificant), there was no difference between the two groups. No differences in weight or blood pressure. So chewing gum alone is not going to help you lose weight.

But I'm not prepared to write off gum completely just yet. Sure, chewing gum alone is not going to help you lose weight (I'm busily chewing at 11 kcal per hour...but that's about one bite of pasta right there). But could it help weight loss in other ways? Could it, say, prevent weight gain in normal weight individuals? Could gum chewing coupled with food restriction help to keep people on a diet and reduce food cravings? This study didn't track what people were eating. Could gum chewing reduce calorie intake over time? Could it have an effect at higher doses (chewing for more than 90 min a day) and over a longer period?

I would hypothesize that, if there are any effects of gum chewing, it'd be mostly in food craving, and maybe helping you stick to your diet. I'd like to see a study as to whether or not there's an effect there. In the meantime, chewing gum alone doesn't help you lose weight. But that solution probably seemed too simple anyway.

Shikany, J., Thomas, A., O. McCubrey, R., Beasley, T., & Allison, D. (2011). Randomized Controlled Trial of Chewing Gum for Weight Loss Obesity DOI: 10.1038/oby.2011.336

8 responses so far

  • Aaron says:

    Wow, I always imagined chewing gum would help weight loss.

    I've tried it a few times myself, but in the end chewing gum is more of a fun fad for me and I have a hard time keeping it up for any period of time.

    I always thought it would be a good distraction. Sure you don't burn a lot of calories but maybe it helps calorie intake?

    If you can kick an addiction like smoking with gum why doesn't it work for kicking eating?

  • Ria says:

    There are two other issues here. (1) 200 people for a weight loss study in humans is not a very large sample size given that the diet and environment were not being monitored/controlled in any way, and (2) 8 weeks is a very short period of time to expect a significant weight loss even of moderate exercise...6-12 months would have been a better span of time to gauge what would normally be expected to be a relatively small impact upon weight such as chewing gum.

    • Scicurious says:

      Yes, I tried to address the short time period in my questions, I think it's definitely an issue.

      I've seen studies of 200 before in other human studies, but I have little experience with weight loss studies in particular so I wasn't sure if the sample size was small.

      • Ria says:

        There are definitely plenty of studies in obesity research where they've only studied 200 humans. Unfortunately, without moderate to large effect sizes, they are underpowered. I've done a fair bit of research in the obesity field myself (animal models) and we would never use a sample size of a mere 200, even if the animals were limited to two alleles at every gene, which is demonstrably not the case in outbred populations like humans.

      • Ria says:

        Although obviously since this is a purely environmental study without a genetic effect, if they had anticipated a large effect, the sample size would have been sufficient. But gum chewing doesn't seem likely to be the kind of thing that would have a huge effect, at least not to me. Maybe 5% over the course of a year for a human, at the high end of the distribution would be my hypothesis.

  • Danita says:

    hi there, I think the biggest reason why gum chewing wont work is due to a lack in nutrition intake... you can chew all you like and gum all day long. Without any good nutrition you will still crave and starve your body. So my advice would be rather chew on a apple... thanks for the blog

  • [...] snacking, many of them have mentioned that they chew a lot of sugar free gum. Some said it … weight loss – Google Blog Search This entry was posted in Lose Weight and tagged Chewing, Help, Loss, Neurotic, Weight. Bookmark [...]

  • My son has been told to chew gum to help him with tests at school. Everyone has their theories about gum. By chewing, the muscles of mastification increase the blood flow to the brain supposedly increasing focus. So if I put it on the bottom of my shoe will it help make my feet warm?

    The absolute 100% best way to lose weight is the eat small meals throughout the day...balanced meals. If we all made it a point to ingest the amount of fruits and vegetables we are supposed to eat per day, with protein, throughout the day, we would not have these cravings we are trying to curb.

    Aspartame is also usually the culprit to make something sweet sugar free. It's been found that diet soft drink, while having no calories, cause such and insulin release that people will crave food a short time after ingestion.

    I coach my patients to eat good 85-90% of the time and enjoy the other 10-15%. Even if they only eat 3 times per day, that's 3 cheat (not overdoing it) meals per week.

    I enjoyed this. Take care.

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