Diabetes Self-Management Blog

Two years ago, a European study found that people who eat faster have two-and-half times more chance of developing diabetes. Now there is more evidence that slow eating is a powerful diabetes treatment.

As Quinn Phillips reported here, how fast people ate was more strongly linked with diabetes than what they ate. Adjusting for exercise and smoking status did not affect the results. The study was small (702 people), and scientists warned readers not to conclude from this one study that fast eating causes diabetes or makes it worse.

I’m going to conclude it anyway. The reason is simple. Most diabetes damage comes after meals. This “postprandial” time is when blood sugar levels go the highest and injure blood vessels and nerves. It’s also when most of the fat gets put on.

Everyone’s blood sugar goes up after eating, but in people with diabetes it may go up more. Why? Because people with Type 2 either do not produce enough insulin or are not sensitive enough to the insulin they produce to manage the carbohydrates they eat.

The faster you eat, the faster sugars will get into your blood. You want to give your body’s insulin, or the insulin you have injected, time to catch up. So slow down!

We have a measure called glycemic index (GI) that indicates how fast a given food will break down into glucose in your blood. Low-GI foods are generally better, because they give your body time to react. Speed of Eating would be a similar index, if it existed. The slower you eat, the less your sugars will spike.

Amy Campbell wrote about this here back in 2007. She pointed out other reasons for eating slower. Faster eaters tend to eat more, because it takes time for the body to realize it has had enough. We don’t want to eat too much, both to avoid weight gain and to avoid overwhelming our insulin or other medicines.

Campbell gives some advice for eating slower. “Put your fork down or take a sip of water between bites. Chew your food thoroughly and savor its flavor. Sit down at a table and do nothing else while eating.”

I personally think good conversation and maybe a little wine will slow eating even more, but I like the part about savoring the flavor. Enjoying food more probably helps us digest it better. That’s a motto of the international Slow Food movement.

According to their website, Slow Food was founded to “counter the rise of fast food and fast life.” Founded in Italy, Slow Food is now a “global, grassroots organization with supporters in 150 countries around the world who are linking the pleasure of good food with a commitment to their community and the environment. Slow Food unites the pleasure of food with responsibility, sustainability, and harmony with nature.”

I like that. What’s healthy for us is usually healthy for nature, too. What’s not healthy is running around highly stressed by a materialist and super-competitive world where people don’t look out for each other. This “faster, faster, more, more” approach leads to unhealthy food produced in unjust and unsustainable ways and eaten in an unhealthy manner.

We can change this. Many of us eat too fast because we are stressed, or because are schedules are too busy. Marc David’s book The Slow Down Diet shows that “our relationship to food is as important as the food itself.” He writes that his book “focuses not merely on what to eat, but on how to eat. [Readers] learn about the hidden metabolic powers of relaxation, quality food, pleasure, awareness, [and] rhythm.”

This can be hard when your home is full of noise and stress, or you’re eating in a car on the way to work, or you get ten minutes for lunch. All I can say is that eating in peace is good for you, and that it takes some time to do that. Maybe your family can agree to make mealtimes peaceful times. (If you have mealtimes at all. Most Americans don’t anymore.)

I don’t know how much slower eating will lower your after-meal blood sugar levels. It would be interesting to check one hour and two hours after a meal. Then the next day, eat the same meal at a slower rate and check again. If you do something like that, please let us know what you find.

One note — if you are on rapid-acting insulin, you might want to check with your doctor or diabetes educator if you begin eating much more slowly. Your dose might need to be lowered or your timing or insulin type changed.

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If you’re interested in other ways to feel less stressed, see the new entry on not judging at my site Reasons to Live.

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