Slow Down, You Eat Too Fast!

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While thinking about possible topics for this week’s blog entry, for some reason I thought about how quickly people eat. Being a dietitian, I’m always attuned to things like what foods people put in their shopping carts, what people order at a restaurant, and how much and how fast people eat. For example, my husband tends to eat quickly, as does a colleague of mine. When I eat with them, I find myself eating quickly, too, as though I need to keep pace, and I need to consciously force myself to slow down.

Many people eat too quickly, I’ve learned. A lot of this probably has to do with our fast-paced society, and the need to move on to the next task of the day. Some people eat quickly out of habit. Some people don’t even bother to sit down anymore while they eat; instead they pace back and forth, talking on their cell phones between bites, or wolf down a meal while hunched over the kitchen sink.

Not surprisingly, eating too quickly isn’t all that great for your health. Those of you who experience the discomfort or pain of gastroesophageal (GE) reflux may be able to relate. GE reflux occurs when the contents of the stomach, including food and stomach juices, back up into the esophagus, leading to a burning sensation. Over time, the acids in the stomach contents can erode the esophagus, leading to more serious health problems. A study published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology back in 2004 showed that people who ate too quickly were more likely to have GE reflux than people who ate at a slower pace.

Eating too quickly may even lead to weight gain. A study done at the University of Rhode Island last year looked at 30 young women of normal weight who ate a lunch of pasta and tomato sauce on two separate occasions. The first time, they were told to eat until they were full, but to eat as quickly as possible. The second time, they were asked to eat slowly and put their forks down between bites. The findings? When they ate quickly, the women consumed 646 calories in nine minutes; slowly, 579 calories in 29 minutes. The women also reported that they were less satisfied and felt hungry when they ate quickly compared to when they ate slowly.

What might this mean to you? Well, if you’re a fast eater and you’re trying to lose or maintain your weight, think about slowing down. Not only might you shave calories from your meal, but you might feel full sooner and end up eating even less, because you’ll be satisfied perhaps even before you finish your meal. It takes about 20 minutes from the time you start eating for your brain to receive the signal that you’ve had enough to eat. If you wolf your food down before 20 minutes is up, you might not get that signal until you’ve had second helpings or served yourself a bowl of ice cream.

Insulin, leptin, ghrelin, and cortisol are hormones that are involved in invoking a sense of fullness by sending messages to the satiety center in the brain. But if you eat as fast as the Indy 500, these hormones don’t get much of a chance to do their job until you’ve eaten too much. You may even find that slowing down your eating rate can help your blood glucose levels stay at a more even keel, giving your diabetes pills or mealtime insulin a better chance to coincide with your food’s digestion.

So, to help you slow down, try these tricks of the trade:

  • Put your fork down or take a sip of water between bites.
  • Set a timer for 20 minutes to help pace your eating.
  • Sit down at a table and do nothing else while eating.
  • Chew your food thoroughly and savor its flavor.

Remember: Food was meant to be enjoyed and appreciated.

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