We’re busy people. We live in a fast-paced world. We work long hours and don’t make time to eat. We have long commutes and get drive-thru on the way to work or returning home that we sometimes eat in the car. Instead of sitting at the table and taking the time to enjoy our meals, we wolf it down as fast as we can so we can go about the rest of our day to get things done. As a society, we eat quickly and it’s causing problems for our health and ability to manage our weight.
In Part 1 of the Basic as F*ck Nutrition Eating Habits Series, I talked about the importance of eating vegetables (#greenshit) and how to eat more veggies during your day. In Part 2, I’ll now cover one of the most fundamental, effective and simple habits for maintaining your weight or dropping a few pounds of body fat.
It’s simple. When you eat, take your time and eat slowly. Even though it sounds easy, it can be incredibly difficult to implement because it’s been ingrained in many of us to eat quickly. I'll be the first to admit even I struggle, and I have to make a conscious effort to eat slowly. However, I can promise if you practice eating slowly and master the techniques that allow you to slow down, you will gain incredible control of managing your food intake at anytime and anyplace. Whether it’s on vacation, at a wedding or at your mama’s Sunday dinner, you can eat slowly and enjoy the benefits.
Let’s briefly discuss a few reasons why it’s important to eat slowly before I get into the specific strategies and tips to help you change how fast you eat.
When we slow down, we can eat less
Have you ever been so hungry you made a huge plate of food and ate all of it really quickly? Immediately after finishing you feel fine, but then a few minutes after finishing, you feel bloated and stuffed. That’s what can happen when you eat really quickly. If you had slowed down, you likely could have stopped eating earlier with food still left on your plate because you sensed being full.
Reaching satiety or the feeling of fullness is a complex, lengthy process that involves signals sent between the stomach and the brain, several hormones, seeing, chewing, tasting and swallowing the food. This process can take up to 20 minutes to cause an effect, but most of us don’t take this long to eat a meal. As a result, we don’t give our brains enough time to register fullness, and we can easily overeat. When we slow down, we can get fuller faster (Source).
In fact, many studies have shown that this can happen in healthy individuals. In one study where individuals ate the same meal, people who ate slower consumed 67 less calories than people who ate quickly (Source). 70 calories may not seem like a lot but multiply that by 3-4 meals a day and that’s 210-280 calories you just cut from your daily intake. Keep in mind that cutting 250-500 calories a day is a typical protocol for getting someone to lose weight. You just did that without having to account for a single calorie or macro. You only had to slow down.
Your gut will thank you
Rewind to the scenario of you wolfing down a plate of food. How did you feel afterwards? Were you bloated? Did you have gas, an upset stomach, or a bout of indigestion? Part of digestion actually occurs in the mouth. Chewing breaks up the food and the tongue mixes the chewed food with our saliva which contains digestive enzymes like amylase which starts the process of digesting starches found in carbohydrates. When we eat too quickly, don’t chew, or give the food enough time in our mouths, we don’t give our body’s enough time to actually digest the food properly and it just makes the rest of our digestive system work harder to break down the food. Over time, this can make for a pretty unhappy belly.
Less stress and a better relationship with food
We’re not mindless robots, we’re people. Food should mean something to us and it's meant to be enjoyed. When we eat quickly, we don’t give ourselves enough time to actually taste and enjoy our food. The food becomes meaningless to us. It then becomes much easier to binge on food. Want to build a healthy mental relationship with food or get control of a binge session? Try slowing down first.
Eating quickly can also be mentally stressful. If you’re under pressure to finish your food quickly, eating becomes a rushed, stressful experience instead of the relaxing, enjoyable experience it’s meant to be. Think about this: if we can’t take a break to relax to even eat a meal, how can we take a break and manage our stress from the rest of our day? Slow down.
How to eat slower(er)
Eating slowly is easier said than done, but with dedication and practice you can become a slow eating master. Here are some strategies and hacks you can implement in your life to slow down your everyday eating.
1. Chew your damn food! (obviously)
Mashing a huge forkful of food a couple of times with your teeth and the roof of your mouth before swallow massive chunks of food IS NOT chewing. Instead, take small bites and take the time to chew your food. Research suggests that chewing your food can reduce stress too (Source). I would suggest starting by setting a minimum number of chews for each bite and even counting them in your head. It seems weird, but trust me, it works. Anywhere from 25-30 good chews would be a decent minimum hit although the amount of chewing will depend on the type of food you’re eating. Eating processed or mashed up foods will obviously need less chews, but that’s also why it’s important to eat whole, unprocessed foods in their natural state to force you to chew.
2. Put the fork down between bites.
If you resemble a human backhoe when you eat your meals, we've got to change that! If you're constantly shoveling food into your mouth when you haven’t even finished swallowing, put the fork down between bites. Grab some food on your fork or spoon, open, place the food in your mouth, chew and place the utensil back on the plate. Don’t pick up the utensil until you’ve finished chewing completely and swallowing.
3. Take sips of water or another zero calorie beverage between bites.
Chew your food, swallow and take a sip of water before taking your next bite. Drinking water can help slow you down, expand your stomach and increase the feeling of fullness, as well as hydrate you at the same time. For those of you concerned about diluting stomach acid while drinking water during a meal, the keyword here is to “sip”. Your stomach acid is buffered and it takes an absurd amount of water (several liters at the same time) to decrease the acidity of your gastric juices. So don’t worry and please don’t make me bust out the calculations to show the math.
4. Sit at the table and eat without distractions.
When you eat, you should only be doing one thing--eating. This is tough for me too. I sometimes catch myself eating in front of the computer while working or watching tv. The distraction always makes me lose focus on how fast I’m eating. When you eat, do you your best to get away from your desk, computer or tv and go sit at the table. Enjoy your meal in peace and mentally focus on your eating speed.
5. Eat with people and focus on the table conversation.
Eat with friends or co-workers instead of eating alone. Invite friends over for dinner or leave your desk and head to the break room with co-worker. Join in the conversation at the table instead of putting food in your mouth and that can automatically help slow you down.
6. Pace yourself with the slowest eater at the table.
Ever notice how some people eat really slowly? They tend to peck and nibble at their food and “eat like a bird”. I’m willing to bet these people are a bit on the thinner side or don’t have problems managing their weight. Sure genetics can play a role but their eating habits have a lot to do with it. Try to eat with friends or co-workers that eat slowly. Really small children are notoriously slow eaters so if you have little ones, try to eat at their pace. Match your eating pace with other slow eaters at the table. When they take a bite, you take one. When they pause, you pause. Make a game out of it.
7. Set a timer.
Set a timer on your phone for however long you’d like to eat and stop eating when the timer goes off. You can also use the timer to pace yourself. If you’re halfway through the timer and almost done with your meal, it's a sign you need to slow down some more.
8. Take a break, relax and give yourself enough time to eat.
You can set a timer but if you don’t give yourself enough time in the day to eat a meal and really slow down, a timer’s not going to help. I understand if you’re not always able to take 30-35 minutes for a food break. Just do your best. Even if you can add 5-10 minutes to your meal, that’s still progress. I know it sounds silly, but if you believe it will help, block it off in your calendar. Respect your time to eat just like you respect the time to do other things that are important to you. Make it a priority to eat slowly and enjoy your meals.
Your Action Step
Now it's time for you to take some action and change. First, how quickly do you eat currently? Time yourself the next time you eat if you don't know. Ideally and long-term, let’s shoot for 20-30 minutes. If you’re currently way off the mark, start by adding 5-10 minutes to your meals. Next, how specifically will you eat slower? Which of these tips and hacks are you most ready, willing and able to implement? Make a plan to eat slower and track your progress. When you eat a meal, note the start and stop times and see how you do. Last, be sure to let me know how it goes. I'd be happy to help you figure out how to get started. Just drop a comment below.
Hope you enjoyed this article. Here's Part 3.
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