Is eating fast bad for you?

As far back as I can remember, I have always been an extremely fast eater. Family and friends have often commented on how quickly I gulp my food down and have often asked whether I actually chew it.

Recently, I have been making it a point to try and slow down, take smaller bites and chew more. If you have always been used to eating fast, eating slowly does not come naturally and is a practice that takes some discipline to master. My thoughts tend to drift, especially when eating alone and I soon realise that I have finished my meal in half the time I intended to.

But is eating fast really that bad for your health and are there any benefits to slowing down?

The problems with eating too fast

Here are two of the main health issues brought about by eating fast:

Weight gain

When you eat or drink, your stomach expands and stretch receptors begin to send signals to your brain via various hormones. However it takes around 15 to 20 minutes for your stomach to signal to your brain that it is full.

So the faster you eat, the faster your stomach fills up, but your brain may not know this and so you continue to eat more than you should. Excess calories are not burned by the body and are instead stored as fat, leading to weight gain.

A lot of studies have been carried out that investigate what effect the speed of eating has on hunger and weight gain.

This study involved 17 healthy adult males who ate 300 ml of ice cream either within 5 minutes or over the course of 30 minutes. The latter group reported feeling more full than the former. A similar study, this time with participants who had type 2 diabetes showed the same results.

In this study, the eating patterns of 35 normal weight and 35 overweight & obese subjects were studied. They consumed the same meal but at different speeds. The results showed that energy intake was noticeably lower in the normal weight group that ate slower and they also reported feeling more full after 60 minutes.

This study involved a total of 45 normal weight, overweight and obese participants. They were asked to eat pizza until full and chew at different speeds. It was found that chewing more lead to reduced food intake of up to 14.8%.

What these and many other studies clearly show is that eating slowly could help you to eat less, thereby reducing your chances of gaining weight.

Worsened digestion

Digestion does not start in your stomach but in your mouth. Your saliva contains enzymes that begin to break down the food you eat. So the longer the food is in your mouth, the more exposure it has to these enzymes.

Additionally, chewing your food breaks it down into smaller pieces, thereby increasing surface area and making it easier for your stomach to handle. Your small intestine is where nutrients from the food that you eat are absorbed. Chewing food thoroughly until it is in a semi liquid state will mean more nutrients are absorbed.

Food that isn’t broken down properly into chyme (the mixture of hydrochloric acid, paritally digested food and digestive enzymes) can cause indigestion, which leads to symptoms such as bloating, belching, gas, nausea and sometimes vomiting. I am sure you have felt this discomfort if you have eaten extremely fast before, I know I have.

A study at the Medical University of South California found that eating a 690 calorie meal in 5 minutes lead to 50% more acid reflux cases than eating the same meal over 30 minutes. This is because excessive amounts of acid is released in the stomach.

Eating fast also causes you to swallow more air and this in turn can lead to flatulence.

How to eat slowly

Even if you are extremely busy, it is a good idea to take the time to eat slowly and enjoy your food. Here are some tips on how you can achieve this.

Take smaller bites – doing so means that there is less food in your mouth and so it is easier to chew and break down. This also means that your stomach has more time to process the food you eat, allowing it to better signal your brain.

Place your fork down – fast eaters tend to have food both in their mouth and on their fork at the same time. Once you have taken a bite, put your fork down and don’t pick it up until you have completely chewed and swallowed the food from your last bite.

Eat regularly – feeling extremely hungry is one of the reasons why people eat so fast. Your brain tries to tell your mouth to get as much food down as fast as possible. One way of combating this is to divide your meals into smaller more regular ones rather than having longer gaps between larger meals.

Set a timer – for 20 minutes and aim to not finish your meal before the buzzer rings. Chew your food slowly and take breaks in between if you have to. This can work if you have to eat at your desk at work, but it’s a better option to set aside 20 minutes and eat in a stress free environment.

Eat real foods – foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts and lean meat are not only much healthier than processed foods, but they also need to be chewed thoroughly.

Pay attention to your food – it is easy to get distracted whilst you eat by watching TV, playing a game on your phone or reading a newspaper. Doing these activities might mean that you end up gulping down your food without realising it. Make sure you are paying attention to your eating habits if you are doing something else at the same time.

Eat with someone who eats slowly – sometimes the best way to learn something is to follow by example. If you know someone who eats slowly, sit down to eat with them and aim to follow their pace, without finishing before they do.

Enjoy each bite – take the time to appreciate that you have food to eat and be in the moment as you take each bite. This is known as mindful eating and it has been shown to reduce your chances of bingeing.

Conclusion

Eating extremely fast is not a good idea. If you are a fast eater, try slow your pace down gradually. It may be difficult initially but over time you can get there. The health benefits of eating slowly make up for the little extra time you use when doing so.

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