When it comes to losing weight and having the body we so dearly desire, most people focus on the age-old principal of eating less and exercising more. Few of us, however, pay any attention to how fast we eat. What’s speed got to do with it? As it turns out, a lot – for it just so happens that eating fast or eating slow can be a powerful determiner of body weight.
In a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism in 2009, eating a meal quickly rather than at a slow pace, diminishes the release of hormones in the gut that help create the feeling of being full. When these hormones – specifically PYY and GLP-1 are low, the unwanted result is simply this: overeating. The implication here is that the body needs time to regulate the chemical messengers that control our food intake.
According to another study, published in the British Medical Journal in October 2008 that looked at over 3,000 eaters, the combination of eating fast and eating until full had “a supra-additive effect,” and tripled the risk of being overweight. That’s a rather profound statement about the ill-effects of speed eating, and a great reason to pause and consider our eating options.
Eating fast is easy.
At the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, one of my favorite questions to ask a roomful of practitioners in training is this :“are you a fast eater, a moderate eater, or a slow eater?” Generally, I find that approximately 70% of people identify themselves as fast eaters. In many ways, the invention of fast food has naturally led to eating that food in the very manner in which the name implies – fast. We live in a world that has a love affair with speed. We want fast cars, fast Internet connections, fast restaurant service, and fast results when it comes to losing weight.
Yes, speed is good, but don’t you think it’s time for a little more balance? If you’re the kind of person who’s been trying everything to lose weight but without lasting success, then maybe it’s time to get a little creative. It’s time for some slow. It may be helpful to think of slow as the new sexy. Consider this: if you really love something and thoroughly enjoy it, like eating or sex for example, would you really want to get it over within just a few mere minutes? If something is pleasurable, wouldn’t you want to make it last?
Nutrition experts and dietitians love to remind us, and rightfully so, that it takes the body approximately 20 minutes to realize that it’s full. If we eat fast or while in an anxious rush – which usually means without paying any attention, the brain literally does not have enough time to assess the nutritional profile of our meal. The central nervous system and our digestive tract are short-circuited in their ability to determine if our nutritional needs have been met. In the absence of this important information, the brain ultimately says something like “I know I just ate, I know there’s food in my belly, but I can’t quite figure out if I’ve gotten the nutrients the body needs, and if I’m indeed full. So I might as well play it safe and tell the body this: “I’m still hungry.”
What’s fascinating is how many people believe they have a willpower problem when it comes to food and appetite. We recognize when we’ve eaten a robust meal, but we can’t quite understand why we’re still hungry afterwards. It’s easy to conclude then, that we’re just a bunch of willpower weaklings. The good news though, is that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with our willpower.
The problem is, we eat too fast.
Let’s state this in the positive: slow eating is a natural appetite regulator and powerful nutritional practice when it comes to losing weight. But please, don’t be afraid that slow eating means chewing each bite 50 times, or that you’re being punished because you have to sit at the table and ruminate your food like a cow. Eating slow means eating sensuously, it means tasting your food, loving it, celebrating it, and feeling warm and fuzzy no matter what you eat.
A client I worked with years ago came to see me to lose weight. She was training for a fitness and beauty pageant and was quite keen on winning it. She’d won several titles already, and this was going to be her crowning moment. She arrived for her first session with her husband, who happened to be her personal trainer. They were both in shock because she had gained about 12 pounds since her last competition and couldn’t get the weight off no matter how little she ate and how much she exercised. They were both looking a bit distraught.
I was their last resort.
After an extensive intake, I could understand why they were so perplexed. She had every reason to be losing weight, but clearly her metabolism had another idea.
There wasn’t any dietary advice I could offer that she hadn’t already tried. Secondary to her inability to lose weight, she was in constant digestive upset after meals and chronically constipated. On an intuitive whim, I said to her “I bet you’re a really fast eater.” She shook her head “yes.” I explained that she’d likely lose the weight if she dramatically slowed down at every meal for two months.
She was mortified, and explained to me that her grandmother had said the same thing. I think it was a shock to her nervous system that her sweet, Sicilian, uneducated grandma, who’d raised her had arrived at the same conclusion as some expensive nutrition guy from New York City. I further explained that her digestive issues and constipation might also see some relief from slow eating as well. I couldn’t tell which was more important – losing the weight and the nagging symptoms, or proving grandma wrong. I think she settled on a combo of these.
After a few months, she lost 7 pounds, her weight reached a plateau, and her bowel movement and digestion returned to normal. I’d never seen someone be so happy (finally pooping) and so upset (couldn’t lose that last 5 pounds) at the same time.
I consider this a success story.
So the next time you sit down to a meal, give yourself the gift of time. Relax, turn on some music, light a candle, share with a loved one, fully consume some good conversation, and enjoy the metabolic power of slow. You’ll not only savor the eating experience, but you’ll naturally regulate appetite, maybe lose a few pounds, and most importantly, you’ll remember that your grandmother was right.
We love to hear your stories: what have you noticed from experimenting with your eating speed?
Institute for the Psychology of Eating
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