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 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