Learn How to Slow Down Your Eating for Your Health

Why You Probably Eat Too Much, Too Fast

Couple eating dinner in a restaurant

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When it comes to maintaining good health, most of us think about things like eating healthy foods and exercising, but have you ever considered slowing down your eating? While many of us have been educated about the benefits of things like eating fresh fruits and vegetables and cutting down on our sugar intake, rarely does anyone talk about how we eat. Perhaps that is because we are obsessed with defining what we should and shouldn't eat. Perhaps it is because we crave clear-cut, black-and-white rules for maintaining a healthy diet (of which there are actually very few). But it is not because it is not important.

The Science of Satiety: How You Know When You're Full

The science behind satiety, or the absence or lack of hunger, is complex, to say the least. In fact, there are a lot of conflicting views and unknowns when it comes to food-related states and concepts like hunger, satiety, and appetite. But one of the things that we do know is how satiety is communicated in our bodies.

The satiety center, or the place that recognizes when we are full and no longer hungry, is located in the hypothalamus. The brain, being the highly complex organ that it is, uses several factors in regulating hunger and food intake. The brain relies on a combination of neural and hormonal signals from the gastrointestinal tract and levels of nutrients in the blood to determine when we are full or no longer need to eat. It is also believed that there are psychological factors that impact the communication loop as well.

Slow Down, You're Eating Too Fast!

When it comes to those neural and hormonal signals from the gastrointestinal tract (including the stomach), it takes approximately 20 minutes for our stomach to tell our brains that we are full. This can cause stomach discomfort, and the unintentional overeating it leads to can cause us to gain weight, develop chronic health problems, and reduce our quality and quantity of life.

When we eat too fast, we can quickly eat way past the point of fullness before our brain even registers we're full.

Though overeating is the primary concern when we eat too quickly, there are other considerations as well. When you eat too quickly, you risk not chewing your food properly and thoroughly. What most people do not realize is that the first steps of breaking down and digesting food start in the mouth with teeth to grind the food into smaller pieces and saliva to start breaking down certain molecules. When we eat too fast, the question is how much work the rest of the digestive system much work to make up for improperly chewed food.

Tips for Eating Slower for Your Health

While eating slower is not the only factor we must consider when looking at our diet and health, it is an important one. Try to slow down how quickly you eat using this "Fork down!" technique. You may even notice yourself tasting your food, enjoying it more, and losing weight.

  1. Take a smaller bite of food than you normally would and put the bite in your mouth.
  2. Put your utensil (fork, spoon, chopsticks, etc.) on the table or plate and release it from your hand. Your hands should be free from eating utensils while you chew. The act of putting down your utensil actually stops you from readying your next bite as you chew the most recent one. 
  3. With your utensils on the table or plate, chew your food. Chew it well. Pay attention to taste and texture. Though the research and recommendations vary, try chewing softer foods at least five to 10 times and harder, denser foods up to 30 times before swallowing.
  4. When done chewing, swallow completely.
  5. Once you've swallowed, pick up your fork and reload it with food for the next bite. Be sure not to start this step until you have completely swallowed your previous bite.
  6. Then, continue this "fork down" technique through the whole meal. Notice if your eating time increases. Notice too if you naturally eat less or fee full sooner.

By Mark Stibich, PhD
Mark Stibich, Ph.D., FIDSA, is a behavior change expert with experience helping individuals make lasting lifestyle improvements.