Why is the speed of eating so important?
As many of us are lucky enough to have access to a vast array of food choices every day, eating often becomes habitual and we can be guilty of not even giving it much thought! However, some recent research has suggested that the speed at which we eat could have a significant impact - firstly on our body weight (a health concern for many of us), but also on other areas.
Our mouth is the very initial stage of our digestion. Digestive enzymes are released here and the act of chewing, along with the taste and the chemical presence of food there, may have some whole-body, metabolic effects...
What could go wrong if we don’t take our time over meals?
1. You could be tempted to overeat
Eating quickly unfortunately means you’re much more likely to overeat. As you chew, along with the distension of your stomach soon after, signals are sent to your digestive tract causing satiety hormones including peptide YY and glucagon to be released. These help you to feel full and research has shown that slow eaters have higher levels of these satiety hormones, meaning they are more easily satisfied.1
Therefore, problems can easily arise if you eat too quickly, as it means your body doesn’t have sufficient time to release and process these hormones. Before you know it, you could find you’ve eaten too much and have ended up feeling overly full by the time you’ve finally put your fork down.
2. Unwanted weight gain
If you’re consistently over-eating then unfortunately you’re more likely to put on weight as a result of this. Lower levels of the satiety hormones1 combined with a greater calorie intake are a recipe for an ever-expanding wasitline.2
3. Digestive troubles
Whilst weight troubles may be the main concern for many of us, actually, our eating habits could also have significant effects on our digestive powers.
Although we talk about it lots, chewing really is such a vital part of the digestive process. It helps mechanically break down our latest meal into small chunks but it also creates the perfect surface area for digestive enzymes to effectively attack from all angles. If your chewing technique isn’t sufficient you can risk creating problems further down the line as this could even be having a part to play in the dramatic increase in the number of food intolerances in recent years.
If you suspect your chewing technique is under par and requires some work, introducing some herbal bitters could help to get things back on track.
Bitter tastes in the mouth help prep your stomach and get your digestive juices flowing. Take 10-20 drops, 5-10 minutes before meals, in a small splash of water to get a good hit of bitterness.
4. Nutrient deficiencies
As we wolf down our latest meal we might temporarily forget that the food we eat is also supplying us with all the vital nutrients we need to support our health. Without chewing properly and breaking down the food we eat sufficiently, we risk not breaking our latest meal into its very simplest units, from which we can extract all the lovely nutrients.
These unhelpful, modern day habits could also be adding to the increasing prevalence of nutrient deficiencies.
5. Other health concerns
Worryingly, it doesn’t stop there as eating too quickly could also put us at risk of some other health concerns. Many of these may or may not be related to the fact that we’re also more likely to be overweight as a result of eating too quickly, but still, the risks are there. Some of the health conditions which have been connected to super-speed eating include type II diabetes3 and metabolic syndrome.4
Top tips for rectifying this
If you suspect you could be guilty of eating too quickly and/or not giving chewing enough thought, not to worry, this is easily resolved and there are a number of helpful habits you can implement that are cost effective!
1. Eat mindfully
Actively sitting down to eat will encourage you to take more time over your meals. Sit down, sit up straight and focus on the food on your plate. Sitting up straight with good posture will also help ensure your digestive processes occur more efficiently.
Another tip is not to eat in front of a screen – be it a TV, computer, tablet or phone - as these will only distract you and mean you’re more likely to eat aimlessly.
Instead, aim to eat in human company wherever possible. This will encourage chatting in between mouthfuls which will naturally slow down your rate of eating. Eating in company will hopefully also encourage you to employ some better table manners (eating slower and more neatly) and, whilst you’re at it, you can also focus a little more on enjoying the tastes and textures of the food you’re eating – bonus!
2. Count your chews
You may find it’s easier said than done to concentrate on chewing, so a simple tip from me is to get into the habit of counting your chews.
Ideally, we’d want you to be chewing each mouthful around 20 times. Then, once you get more used to doing this, it should become second nature to you and you’ll soon feel the benefits.
3. Don’t skip meals
If you’ve recently been tempted by any questionable fad diets in the lead up to summer, you may be more likely to skip a meal or two or be actively cutting down on your portion sizes.
Whilst portion sizes are an important consideration (read my recent blog on this for more), any drastic cuts and you’re only going to be scuppering your weight loss efforts overall. This is because when you do eat again, you’ll be more likely to opt for the wrong types of foods in a desperate bid to rescue your sorry blood sugar levels; but you’re also much more likely to eat quickly if you’re ravenous.
4. Eat fresh foods
Interestingly, the types of food we eat could also be having an influence on how we eat. Eating fresh often means we have more substance to contend with. Fresh, unprocessed foods are often a complex combination of fibrous carbohydrates and tough protein textures, to name a few, which generally require some proper effort to chew down properly.
Unfortunately, when it comes to more processed items, these tend to be stripped of their fibre and tougher outer layers, leaving only more refined remains. This is the very stuff that more harshly impacts our blood sugar, can create problems with our appetite, cravings or can even have more serious metabolic implications in the long-term when consumed regularly.
Additionally, the tastes and textures of foods may influence how we eat. Many processed foods are designed to contain an almost addictive combination of fats, carbohydrates and salt which may encourage us to eat more quickly. That alongside the soft, fibre-free textures which many of these foods have also adopted, are easily guzzled down. Variety really is key and, if you fancy a treat, balance it with some healthier options which require some proper chewing.