Having six children, you can imagine what the dinner table must be like! Sometimes the scene resembles something out of the Hunger Games…no pun intended. You would think they had not eaten in weeks!
If the serving dish on the table only has one piece of chicken left, you can be sure someone will be stabbed with a fork as everyone grabs for it at the same time. Blood everywhere… Tears… Pointing fingers…Whining…
Seriously, it’s not just children who eat quickly, without thinking. Many people have developed the habit of eating as fast as possible. Often it’s because you developed the habit while in elementary school, when lunch breaks were short.
And then you continued when you got home from school, wolfing down dinner in order to get to some rehearsal, or practice, or study session on time.
Then as an adult, you work long hours, rush home through painful traffic or on overly-crowded public transportation, only to rush through eating again, because there are bills to pay, bathrooms to clean, kids to shuttle….Our fast-paced society includes fast-paced eating.
Yet, there are plenty of reasons to eat slowly.
If you eat slowly, it helps your digestion, you stay hydrated more easily, it’s easier to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight, and you enjoy your food more. If eating slowly creates these benefits, eating too quickly obviously causes the opposite effects.
One of the most important reasons to eat more slowly is it allows your brain to catch up with your stomach. It takes about 20 minutes from the time you begin eating for the brain to recognize when you are satiated, that is, full.
Many people eat so fast, their brain doesn’t have time to tell them they are done eating, and they end up consuming more calories than they need!
In addition, if you eat slowly, you help your digestion. Like any system, digestion has to go from step 1 to step 2 to step 3, etc. But it takes time to get ready for each step.
Here’s what I mean. When you think about eating, you start to salivate. Saliva contains enzymes that break down your food and moisten your mouth for easier swallowing.
While this is happening, your stomach starts to secrete more acid in order to digest the food completely. In addition, your small and large intestines begin to get ready to do their jobs. Etc.
When you eat too fast, you send food into this relatively fragile system before it’s ready. This is especially true if you don’t take time to chew your food sufficiently; it lands as a lump in your stomach without having been as well processed as it should be.
So if you suffer from indigestion or other GI problems, you might want to evaluate how quickly you eat your food.
Let’s take a look at a study done by the University of Rhode Island STUDY, in which they brought in 30 women of “normal” weight, for two visits.
The women were told to eat until full (satiated), but one time they were told to eat quickly, and the other time they were told to put down their fork after each bite.
When they ate quickly, they consumed 646 calories in 9 minutes. When eating slowly, they consumed 579 calories in 29 minutes. That’s 67 fewer calories in 20 more minutes! In addition, when they ate slowly, the women drank 209 grams of water (fast) vs. 410 grams (slow).
Finally, when they ate quickly, the women felt hungry sooner than when they ate the same amount of food slowly.
If you imagine these kinds of results three times a day, seven days a week, week after week, you can see how quickly these women would eat more calories and drink less water, when eating fast.
OK, so I hope I’ve convinced you that eating slowly is much better for you than wolfing down your food. So how do you do that?
There is actually a mindful eating movement afoot. This is when people count their bites, or how often they chew each bite. To do mindful eating very thoroughly, people first sit and look at their food, experiencing it with as many senses as possible – sight, smell, touch – just thinking about what it’s going to taste like and feel like. After five or more minutes of this, THEN they begin to eat their food… slowly.
So sitting and looking at your food for five minutes doesn’t fit your particular lifestyle, here are a few suggestions you can consider incorporating. Even doing a few of them each day will make a big difference in how quickly or slowly you consume your food, and give you the attending health benefits:
- Eat more high-fiber foods (like fruits and vegetables) that take longer to digest.
- Cut your bites smaller before putting them in your mouth. Then actually count how many times you chew before swallowing.
- Drink a glass of water before you sit down to eat – and during the meal – as this will make you feel more full, and less desperate to get the food into your mouth.
- Use smaller plates for smaller portions.
- If you usually use a fork, try using chopsticks! (If you’re not familiar with them, this will definitely slow you down.)
- Give yourself at least 20 to 30 minutes to eat…. Not the usual 5 to 10.
- Eat with others and engage in witty, engaging conversation. 😉
- Put down your utensil after each bite to savor both the flavors and the company
- Don’t eat when you’re bored; only when you’re truly hungry
- Don’t multitask while you eat; pay attention to the experience of eating
- Eat on a schedule, not all day long
- Pause to consider where your food came from. The people who harvested it, transported it, stocked the shelves with it, and prepared it; maybe even the animals that were raised for your sustenance. Consider the cultural traditions that brought you to that table, and the recipes shared among family and friends. When you stop to consider all this, it may slow you down and help you make wise choices about sustainability and healthy food.
If you’re like most people I know, you probably lead a pretty busy, hectic life. But when you mindfully, intentionally slow down during your mealtime, you will feel healthier, have more control over your weight, and feel more connected to your food and to those at the table with you.
I’d love to have the chance to speak with you about this, and other health issues that you may be wondering about. Please click this link and sign up for a time for us to chat. I look forward to speaking with you!
About the Author:
Michael Houle is the Owner MUVEMENT a functional fitness and wellness Center located in Manchester, CT. Michael is a (FDN-P) Functional Diagnostic Nutrition practitioner as well as (CSCS) Certified Strength & Conditioning Specialist.