Eating slowly has many benefits. It helps your digestion, makes it easier to manage your weight, and leaves you feeling more content after a meal. On the other hand, if you rush through your meals, it can harm your digestion, cause mealtime stress, and leave you unsatisfied. You might even end up overeating or feeling uncomfortably full. To put it simply, slowing down your eating can lead to better health and overall well-being.
The Importance of Eating Slowly
Our society is always in a hurry, and people in North America tend to eat very quickly. We often don’t take the time to enjoy our food or even chew it properly truly.
This fast-eating habit is common among all of us, regardless of our background or expertise. Even someone like me, a nutrition coach with a Master’s degree in nutrition and various certifications, used to eat hastily. I had a goal of gaining weight, and eating quickly allowed me to consume extra calories before my body could register what was happening.
What are the benefits of eating slowly?
Eating slowly offers significant benefits, primarily because it allows your body to realize when you’re full.
It typically takes around 20 minutes for your brain to send signals of satiety after you begin eating. Unfortunately, most meals are shorter than that!
Consider the extra calories you might consume just because your body didn’t have time to acknowledge that it no longer needed food. Now, think about how those extra calories could affect your weight.
Eating slowly also enhances our sense of satisfaction, which goes beyond merely feeling “full.”
When you take your time, relish a meal, focus on flavors and textures, and savor every mindful bite, you leave the table with a sense of contentment, even if all you had was a basic sandwich.
Eating slowly also aids in our digestion. Think of digestion as a chain reaction. As soon as we see, smell, or think about food (step 1), our bodies start producing saliva to prepare for eating (step 2). Saliva contains enzymes that begin breaking down the food and moisten our mouth for easier swallowing.
Simultaneously, the later digestive stages (steps 3, 4, 5, etc.) get ready to do their jobs. Our stomachs start producing more acid, and our small intestine prepares for peristalsis and other processes.
When we rush through this process, we force our digestive system to handle food before it’s fully prepared. Surprises are wonderful on birthdays but not during digestion.
Digestion begins in the mouth, so when you take large bites that aren’t properly chewed, it becomes more challenging for your stomach to transform them into chyme. Chyme is the liquid mixture of partially digested food, hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes, and water that passes through the pyloric valve on its way for further processing.
Food that isn’t adequately broken down into chyme can lead to indigestion and other potential gastrointestinal problems. And who wants that?
Smaller portions – without trying
Eating slowly can help you eat less, which is great for weight management. In a University of Rhode Island study, women were given a big plate of pasta for lunch. When they ate quickly, they consumed 67 more calories in 20 fewer minutes than when they ate slowly (579 calories in 29 minutes vs. 646 calories in 9 minutes). Extrapolated to three meals a day, these extra calories can add up.
Moreover, quick eating made the women feel hungrier an hour later, unlike slow eating, which meant less food but longer-lasting satisfaction.
Eating slowly has multiple benefits, including increased water consumption during meals. In a study by the University of Rhode Island, women drank 409 mL (about 14 oz) of water when they ate slowly, whereas quick eaters consumed only 289 mL (9.7 oz). Researchers also investigated if drinking more water is the key to feeling satisfied. In a follow-up study where water intake was controlled, both slow and fast eaters consumed similar amounts of food. However, those who ate slowly reported less hunger and greater satiety an hour after the meal, suggesting that eating slowly decreases hunger and boosts satisfaction between meals.
Is eating quickly really so bad?
Eating slowly might not be a miracle cure for weight loss, but it can definitely assist with portion control and leave you feeling more satisfied. On the other hand, the consensus among studies is clear: Eating quickly is linked to weight gain and a loss of control over eating habits.
Both extensive population studies and research on smaller groups, like firefighters who tend to eat quickly, agree that fast eaters tend to gain more weight over time compared to their slower counterparts. If your aim is to lose weight or maintain your current weight, it’s a good idea to slow down your eating pace.
Disordered eating and eating speed
If you’ve ever had a binge eating episode, you know the overwhelming urge to eat quickly. Research highlights that binge eating often involves rapid eating.
Compulsive eaters experience a loss of control over their eating habits and feel guilty afterward. Slowing down can help derail a binge episode and regain control.
In our coaching program, we suggest slowing down when a binge episode begins. You may not stop immediately, but slowing down can help shift your focus and regain control. It’s like someone snapping you out of a daydream. This “binge slowly” strategy can be quite effective.