Are you a fast eater? Do you fly through your meals and at the end feel like you could eat the entire meal again? Do you often feel dissatisfied after eating? Do you keep eating even when you’re full? Or do you feel like you need more willpower to refrain from eating so much?
If any of these or all of them sound familiar to you, then keep reading. In the world of nutrition and weight, most focus solely on what they are eating. The focus is generally on calories in vs calories out and a heavy reliance on willpower and white-knuckling to not “give in” to temptation, fall off the wagon and eat all the chocolate. However, one area that most don’t address is the speed at which we eat.
What does eating speed have to do with weight? Actually quite a lot.
The faster the eating speed, the more likely you are to eat more than you need, to suffer from gut disturbances such as reflux, to feel dissatisfied after a meal, to name a few.
Research suggests that eating a meal at a fast pace reduces the release of hormones in the gut that help create the feeling of fullness. When these hormones are low, the result can be overeating.
When we speed eat our food, this doesn’t give our head brain time to talk to our gut-brain and register fullness. As a result, our brain screams HUNGRY and so we keep eating. In reality, the body needs time to regulate the chemical messengers that control our food intake. When we eat too fast, the body isn’t able to do this, the result - overeating.
What is interesting is we live in a fast world these days. We want everything immediately. We drive fast, we eat fast food, we want immediate gratification. We are constantly looking for quicker ways to do things and when it comes to weight we generally want the fastest way to lose it. Unfortunately, it doesn’t generally work like that.
For those struggling trying to lose weight despite feeling like you're doing "all the right things, I encourage you to consider the speed at which you eat. Are you a fast eater? Do you enjoy eating? If so, don’t you want this enjoyable eating experience to last longer? For this to happen you need to retrain how to eat. This means eating slowly.
So why is eating speed a big deal? Why should you eat slowly? Let’s look into this a little deeper.
First off, there is something called the Cephalic Phase of Digestion. Have you ever walked past a bakery window, seen the food, and realized your stomach started growling or that you spontaneously started salivating from the yummy baked bread smell? This nascent stage of digestion is called the Cephalic Phase of Digestion.
These are the processes by which your body begins to prepare for the digestion of food before you even take a bite. Too often we override this important phase of digestion by plowing quickly through our food and bypassing the cephalic phase.
Your sense of smell during this phase is important in digestion. It can alert your brain that something pleasant and nutritious is coming, and as a result, will start secreting digestive juices in preparation for food. However, when we eat fast or in a distracted way, this important first step doesn’t happen, and it makes it more likely for us to swallow large pieces of food, prevent proper assimilation of the nutrients and increase the chances of gut upset.
Now let’s address the concept of pleasure with food. Some hold the fear that if they truly enjoy their food they will be punished by gaining weight. What’s interesting is that our brains need awareness and pleasure with food in order to get the message, and then clearly communicate this to us as to when to stop eating.
Slow eating allows you to know instinctively when to stop eating. It allows you to notice your fullness cues and respect them. Too often we think we have a willpower problem. We can’t work out why we’re still hungry even after a big meal. Therefore we often conclude that it must be a willpower issue. Let me tell you – you don’t have a willpower problem. You have a speed eating problem.
However eating slowly does not mean counting your chews 100 times, and putting strict rules around the length of time it takes you to eat a meal. What it means is taking time with your food, tasting your food, loving your food, getting pleasure from your food. Pay attention to your food, and just as importantly - eat without distraction – that means screens! When you eat without distraction, away from a screen, phone, iPad, laptop, tv, you are much more inclined to notice your food, taste your food, and get pleasure from it. Eating in front of a screen allows you to zone out, numb out and ultimately overeat. You don’t notice that you are speed eating your meal and will often end in mindless overeating.
So here’s your challenge.
For the next month, make a concerted effort to slow down when you eat and eat without distraction. Regardless of what the food is, slow your speed down. Don’t eat in a car, on the run, in front of screens, walking around. Sit down to eat, take your time, breathe through your meal, put your utensils down in between bites, breathe, chew, pause, notice. This is a great first step to overcoming binge eating. Have you ever noticed it's hard to binge slowly?
By engaging in this simple act of slowing down, this ultimately means you won’t have a need for willpower, or for white-knuckling it. You will be allowing your body to self-regulate nutritional intake all on its own. Our bodies can do this, we just need to give them space and the opportunity to.
Take the slow eating challenge today, give it 2-3 months, notice the difference. It might be weight loss, it might be digestive relief, it might be improved satiety, it might be all three. This is the best place to start when it comes to weight and its loss.