Eating slowly is one of the most effective ways to practice mindfulness and become more conscious of what you are eating.
Don’t worry! I’m not going to make you start meditating or take ice-cold showers, but I do want to show you the benefits of slowing down, even just a tiny bit.
What’s wrong with eating too quickly?
It takes about 20 minutes from the start of your meal for your brain to send out satiety signals and hormones that indicate you are full and no longer need to eat.
If you eat too quickly then you will either completely miss these cues or finish your meal (and have eaten too much) before you realize you are full. You may even be tempted to go back for seconds or dessert.
Research shows that those who eat slower tend to:
- Digest their food better.
- Lose or maintain weight more easily.
- Feel more satisfied with each meal.
On the other hand, those who rush their meals due to time constraints, distractions, or simply by habit tend to:
- Eat more calories than they meant to.
- Finish their meals way before natural satiety signals kick in.
- End up uncomfortably full.
- Suffer from poor digestion and nutrient absorption.
- Experience a variety of associated negative health effects as a result.
The problem with eating too quickly (even with healthier food choices) is that if you overeat before your body realizes it is actually full. You can still maintain or gain unwanted weight from even the healthiest of foods if you eat too much of them.
The benefits of eating slowly:
To put it simply, research shows that those who eat slowly are generally much better off than those who gobble down their meals as if someone is going to steal their food.
Eating slowly can provide enormous benefit at very little effort cost.
- People who eat slowly tend to be less overweight in general and also gain less weight over time compared to quicker eaters.
- Eating slowly increases how satisfied you are with what you ate (which is more than just being “full”).
- People who feel satisfied from a meal are less likely to experience cravings soon afterward.
- Eating slowly increases how full you feel after a meal.
- People who feel full after a meal are less likely to eat as frequently.
- People who feel fuller after eating a meal are more likely to maintain or decrease their portion size next time, whereas those who never really feel full or satisfied from a meal are more likely to increase their portion size next time.
- Eating slowly reduces the amount of calories you eat in general (which can lead to weight loss or better weight management).
- Eating slowly improves digestion (digestion start in the mouth, so gulping down food sabotages that process), and when food isn’t digested properly we get indigestion and other GI problems.
While eating slowly is definitely not the holy grail of weight loss, it is a habit that will help you improve portion control and feel more satisfied with what you eat.
This is a habit that you can apply to absolutely any diet going forwards.
Even better if you apply this habit consistently along with some of the other basic habits like eating protein and veggies with every meal, stop drinking calories, earning your carbohydrates (eat based on your activity level), eating less sugar and more nutrient-dense unprocessed foods then chances are good you won’t ever need to “diet” again.
How to slow down:
As simple as “just eat slower” sounds, you will find that a lot easier said than done.
Most of us know more or less what to do in order to be healthy, fit, loving, rich, and well-rested. After all, every day there is a new list published somewhere on “The top 10 things rich people do everyday” or “The 5 best exercises to get you into the best shape of your life.”
The problem is that knowing and doing are two very different things.
This is why it’s important to break your goal or habit down into tiny actions that you can do to make it easier.
20 Minutes per meal might be ideal… but it’s a HUGE jump for most of us. Just start where you are and work from there. If you usually take 2 minutes to eat, try aim for 5 minutes instead. If you usually take 5 minutes to eat, try to stretch it to 8 or 10 minutes instead.
Or, don’t even time yourself at all – just focus on implementing these tips below – 1 step at a time:
- Avoid getting extremely hungry. While snacking constantly (especially mindlessly) can lead to overeating, it’s really hard to eat slowly when you are absolutely starving. If you do feel like you are ravenously hungry and worried that you won’t be able to eat slowly, start by eating a good amount of fibrous vegetables like carrots, broccoli, beans, and so on before you get onto more calorie-dense foods.
- Avoid getting too thirsty. It’s common for us to mistake mild dehydration for hunger, especially if we find ourselves craving something like fruit, a milkshake, or a sugary or alcoholic beverage as those are all sources of liquid. Getting into the habit of drinking more water more regularly can help reduce hunger and cravings, and help us feel fuller while eating.
- Avoid getting too little sleep. Sleep deprivation (even very mild) can dramatically increase how hungry you feel and the amount of sugary or fatty foods that you crave. When you are sleep-deprived the region of your brain that is associated with control and goal-oriented thinking (called the prefrontal cortex) tends to shut down a bit. At the same time, the region in your brain that is associated with reward processing and emotional responses (called the limbic system) tends to become more active. From, an evolutionary perspective, one of the reasons for these two changes in level of activity is to encourage you to take more risks in order to seek out calorie-dense and carbohydrate-dense foods that will give you energy and make you less tired (at least for a little bit). It is a survival mechanism, but also the perfect storm for overeating in a world where there is an abundant supply of food. Just the act of getting an extra hour of sleep each night can make eating healthier and losing weight significantly easier. Try aim for at least 7-8 hours a night, and if you do have a late night then do your absolute best to avoid having a second late night in a row as this is where the most damage is done.
- Avoid distractions. Eating in front of the TV, your computer, or while on your phone is distracting and you will pay attention to your food. Furthermore, it may stimulate emotions such as mild anxiety, sadness and loneliness depending on the form of entertainment (e.g. A sad movie, an email from your boss that makes you anxious, or distressing news from a family member on Facebook) that could promote you to eat more quickly without realizing it if you are an emotional eater. Ideally eat in an environment with minimal distractions and emotional stimulants.
- Avoid people who also eat quickly. Your eating speed can be heavily influenced by those you eat with. If you are surrounded by others who are mindlessly eating and rushing their food, you are more likely to do the same.
- Find a slower eater and try to match their pace. This is a good exercise in patience! As we said above, your eating speed can be heavily influenced by those you eat with. If you are surrounded by others who are more mindfully and slowly, then you are more likely to do the same.
- Be more social. While eating with others can be a form of “distraction”, it is no longer a one-sided distraction. Engaging in discussion and building better relationships with friends and family can make eating much more enjoyable and help you slow down how fast you eat. When you are in good company, you just never want it to end!
- Chew more thoroughly. Some researchers suggest chewing your food 30-50 times per mouthful, but we think that this is a bit much, will vary on the type of food you are eating, and can be an unrealistic goal for those who are used to wolfing down their food. Rather, just focus on chewing a bit more thoroughly and slowly than you normally do and try to gradually increase the length over time until you find a speed that you are comfortable with. Deliberately counting each chew in your head is a great exercise in mindfulness to do now and then, but we don’t expect you to do it every meal.
- Eat foods that need chewing. It’s all fine and well to tell you to chew more thoroughly, but this doesn’t help if the foods you are eating (or slurping) don’t actually require much chewing. Wholefoods like fibrous vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and protein generally contain a lot more fibre or substance to them that requires a bit more work before you can swallow.
- Put the knife and fork down regularly. This is a very simple habit that most people either do or they don’t do. Those who do it tend to be slower eaters and those who don’t tend to be faster eaters. Try putting your utensils down in between bites so that you can sit back, relax, breathe, sip something to drink, and show more open body language to create more discussion around the table if you eating with others.
- Don’t cut your next bite until you have swallowed your current one. If you are a quick eater but start paying more attention to how you eat, you will likely notice that you pick up some food with your fork, put it in your mouth, and the immediately start cutting or picking up the next piece of food before you have even finished your current one. Slow down. Sit back, relax, breathe, sip something to drink, and show more positive body language.
- Drink water. Although drinking too much water at a meal can interest with digestion, taking some sips here and there will help you slow down how fast you eat your food and even let you do a bit of a palate cleanse before moving onto the next food or taste on your plate.
- Use smaller plates. Studies have shown that people who use smaller plates tend to serve themselves less food. When you have less on your plate you also tend to be more mindful of how little there is rather than happily rushing because you know there is plenty to get through.
- Use different utensils. Ever tried to gobble down your food using chopsticks? Sure, if you’ve had a lot of practice you can put away an impressive amount of rice with incredibly thin sticks, but for most of us it’s quite a challenge and requires a lot of concentration (mindfulness). Try having an Asian dinner night where you experiment with traditional Japanese, Korean, Chinese, or Thai food, flavours, and utensils. This can be huge fun!
- Set time aside to eat. One of the reasons we mindlessly eat in front of the TV, as our desk, and so on is because we don’t really see it as a standalone habit. Many have come to associate “lunch break” to be catch up on emails or browse social media and “dinner time” to actually be TV time. Focus more on creating real eating time where all you do is eat and/or spend quality time with friends and family.
Things to think about:
- Do you think you are a slow or quick eater?
- Does what you eat, what you do while you eat, and who you eat with tend to affect how quickly you eat?
- When you eat, do you truly savour and appreciate what you are eating?
- What is normally your most satiating and satisfying meal?
Eating slowly was one of the most popular daily tasks in our 30-Day Healthy Habits Challenge. If you haven’t given it a go then check it out (it’s free)!