I confess: I’ve been a fast eater as long as I can remember. And I’ve tried to learn how to slow down and enjoy meals the same way as slow eaters in France do. This post Is a collection of insights gathered thorough years of trials and errors and from research. And we can learn much from the eating habit in Mediterranean cultures.
Are you also a fast eater? If so, let’s begin with stating that this may not be entirely your fault. Why?
Pushed by a stressful environment
The pace of today’s society pushes many into the habit of eating in a hurry, as if they are constantly late for their next appointment. In the US, many people spend only a few minutes on breakfast and lunch every day.
In such a a fast-moving society, people have a tendency to hurry many activities. They might talk fast, drive a vehicle fast, they even spend money fast! The development of a large fast food industry makes eating fast seem normal. We eat while working, drive a car, on public transport, or the drive-through. We eat while watching TV or a computer screen. So the environment is a powerful factor, but there is one more.Why eat at fast-food restaurants – PubMed (nih.gov)
Let me ask you this: Can you patiently wait a moment for an elevator to arrive, for a traffic light to change, or for a computer to boot up? Or does it feel like it takes forever? It can be very hard to remain patient and composed. For some, impatience has become a personality trait.
Psychologists have observed that the modern environment create a need for “immediate gratification” and we expect things to move quickly and in the way we want. If this doesn’t happen, we might become increasingly frustrated and irritable—a sign of impatience. In such a mental state it can be a challenge to enjoy a meal peacefully and to chew food thoroughly. As a consequence, digestion suffers.
However, some exceptions are Mediterranean cultures where people still have a more relaxed relation to food—meals are enjoyed and savored slowly and in good company.
Summary: Two reasons why many people eat too fast boils down to a combination of a stressful environment and an impatient mindset. The problem is that in the long run the gut suffers.
Push back—on the reset button
My parents live in small, carefree town where people do everything slowly—many speak slowly, drive slowly, and eat slowly. In such an environment, it should be easy to push the reset button and deliberately slow down. However, even though the environment might be calm, I am not—my impatience still plays tricks on the mind. Impatience is a formidable enemy no matter the environment.
To make slow-eating a lifestyle you need to address both the environment and your own mindset, attitude, and personality traits.
Here are three suggestions that will be discussed below:
- Ponder the potential problems of eating too fast.
- Contemplate the benefits of eating slowly.
- Make a few simple rules for yourself.
Note: the goal is not to eat unnaturally slow because you probably cannot keep that up. We are all different personalities—some naturally eat very slowly, others a bit faster but still slowly enough for a good digestion. Therefore, a realistic goal is to slow down and consume food in a pace that does not ruin your gut.
1. The problems fast eaters face
Some people seem to take pride in the efficiency in which they eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks in between. They also have time to drink coffee, tea, and to take a drink or two in the evening. However, as many experience—not giving the gut a break will certainly cause problems down the road.
First, weight gain. It takes about 20 minuets after you start eating until the brain signals that you’ve had enough, you’re full, you stop eating. But eating fast and not chewing food well causes you to overeat before the brain signals you to stop. The result? Weight gain. But weight gain is only the beginning. Many fast eaters develop digestive issues like acid reflux, pain, bloating, constipation, inflammation, burping a lot, gas, feeling uncomfortably full, and many more.The impact of eating quickly – PubMed (nih.gov)Interaction Between the Brain, the Digestive System, Eating Behavior – NCBI Bookshelf (nih.gov)
Another serious downside for fast eating women: in one study, men were asked to rate women on how desirable they were as a friend or a romantic partner. women who ate small meals were rated higher than women who ate larger meals.Eating fast leads to obesity among middle-aged men and women – PubMed (nih.gov)
Most of these problems are all entirely preventable for fast eaters.
2. Benefits of eating slowly
There are too many to mention them all here. But what does it mean to eat slowly?
This depends on the kind of food you’re eating. Some food (like melon or papaya) might require only chewing 10 times, nuts more, and a steak 30-40 times for a good digestion. Remember: digestion starts in the mouth. Chewing releases enzymes, your taste buds signal the brain to prepare the stomach and organs to digest the food.
In addition, the more you chew the food, the more nutrients are absorbed. So if you’re eating healthy food but don’t chew well, your body might not be able to assimilate all the nutrients you’ve so carefully prepared (and payed for). What a waste! Brain regulation of appetite and satiety (nih.gov)
By the way, it has been noted that the more you pay attention to how you eat, the more attention you give select nutritious, healthy foods.
The Mediterranean way of eating has been much studied as their approach promote longevity. In southern Europe meals are times when people relax together. They eat slowly and enjoy the present. This is something you can do too. By taking more time at a meal, you’ll be able to talk to your friends and family more, improve relationships, and feel more connected. This reduces stress and supports digestion. Prolonged chewing at lunch decreases later snack intake – ScienceDirect
What happens in the body during a relaxed meal?
As you enjoy a relaxed meal, stretch receptors in the stomach are activated as it fills with food or liquid. The receptors signal the brain through the vagus nerve that connects the gut and brainstem. Hormones are released as partially digested food enters the small intestine. However, fast eaters may not give this intricate hormonal cross-talk system enough time to get to work. Eating slowly led to decreases in energy intake within meals in healthy women – PubMed (nih.gov)The joint impact on being overweight, eating quickly and eating until full – PubMed (nih.gov)
Summary: Developing a habit of eating slowly might be difficult at first and for some it might feel weird to chew the food that long. However, this lifestyle change is definitely worth the effort. Consistency is the key. Very soon you will get used to a lower pace and your body will thank you for it.
3. Simple rules to slow down during meals
To help you enjoy all the benefits of a good good digestion, you could set some basic rules for yourself. Pick the ones most applicable to you and your family. These rules are collected from many fast-eaters that have succeeded in slowing down.
- Focus on the meal; Ignore mobile devices and the TV.
- Drink two glasses of water 30 minutes before meals.
- Chew slowly 20 times or more before swallowing.
- Add just a little food on the plate to begin with.
- Avoid drinking too much liquid during meals.
- Put down the knife and fork after each bite:
- No eating in the car, bus, or train.
- Do not eat while standing up.
- Savor the food; be present.
Some people have said that a good rule of thumb is to still feel a bit hungry when dessert is served. This is great advise, however easier said than done when the main meal is delicious and you’re starving. It calls for a great deal of self-control.
But there are other suggestions you might want to consider.
Fasting is an excellent way to give the digestive tract a much needed rest from the frantic speed we normally consume food. The many benefits of fasting have been confirmed in many studies. Fasting helps to reset the gut, lower inflammation, and to support a detox. How do you fast?
Normally, fasting means not to consume anything but water (coffee and tea is fine without sugar) for perhaps 1-5 days. However, if you find this hard you can try
Could a supplement help?
There’s no supplement for patience, for chewing well, for enjoying the company of others during meals.