This article was previously published on December 2, 2017 and has been updated with new information.
There are a lot of things about food that are said to be good or bad for you, but you may not have thought about it: Eating too fast can really affect you, and in more ways than the obvious. When you’re really hungry and you’re eating really good food – this is the perfect recipe for eating too fast, which can be a choking hazard, but you should be aware of much more than that.
At least one study suggests that the habit of “shoveling in” bite after bite may not only require you to loosen your belt; it may even increase your odds of developing one or more of the “big three” cardiometabolic diseases: heart disease, diabetes and Stroke, and so-called “clusters” of five risk factors.Medical News Today1 List them:
- high triglycerides (fat in the blood)
- high fasting blood sugar
- Low High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) Cholesterol
- big waist
Obesity directly affects metabolic syndrome, and more people than ever are developing these risk factors. In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) revealed that 1 in 3 American adults has metabolic syndrome.2 Metabolic syndrome may even surpass smoking as the biggest risk factor for heart disease.3
In addition, studies have shown that obesity is associated with “significantly higher” all-cause mortality relative to normal weight.4 It’s hard to believe that eating too fast might have something to do with these statistics, but research suggests it does.
Japanese study suggests ‘gobbling’ food may be a killer
Cardiologist Takayuki Yamaji of Hiroshima University in Japan was the lead author of the study, which involved nearly 1,100 generally healthy male and female participants over a five-year period, with an average participant age of about 51 years. The study subjects were divided into three groups, with each group classifying themselves as slow, normal or fast eaters.
Over five years, 84 participants developed metabolic syndrome. The result: If you eat too fast, your cardiometabolic health can be seriously compromised. In fact, they were twice as likely to experience metabolic symptoms compared to slow eaters, 2.3 percent for slow eaters and 11.6 percent for fastest eaters.
The study concluded: “Eating speed is associated with obesity and future prevalence of metabolic syndrome. Therefore, eating slowly may…become an important lifestyle factor for the prevention of metabolic syndrome in Japanese.”5 The Economic Times quoted Yamaji on November 16, 2017:6
“Eating slower may be an important lifestyle change that helps prevent metabolic syndrome… When people eat fast, they tend not to feel full and are more likely to overeat. Eating fast will lead to greater glucose fluctuations, which can lead to insulin resistance. We also believe that our study will be applicable to the US population.”
count your chews; count your bites
Not many people would disagree that eating too quickly can lead to indigestion, sometimes very painful. But chewing slowly helps the process from chewing to digestion, starting in your mouth.
Chewing more slowly helps break down food faster, while saliva contains an enzyme called lingual lipase that helps break down fat, which helps (quite a lot) when swallowing. The longer you chew, the more time these enzymes have to start breaking down your food.
This process makes it easier for your stomach and small intestine to digest, because digestion actually requires a lot of energy. Slowing down makes it easier for your gut to absorb nutrients from the food you eat.
One study demonstrated this well: When study participants ate almonds quickly and chewed less often (10 instead of 25 or 40 per mouthful), scientists found that their bodies couldn’t absorb all the almonds had to offer Macronutrients; these bits are just passed through and eliminated. For those who chew the most, the particles (and therefore nutrients) are absorbed faster.7
If you want to see if more thorough chewing can help you eat less, you must first determine how many times you typically chew when you bite into food, especially something substantial like meat or almonds.
Also, try to count how many bites you take with your meal, like the participants in the Brigham Young University study. Participants were asked to count how many mouthfuls they ate while eating, and then reduced the number of mouthfuls by 20 to 30 percent. Overall, the study subjects lost an average of 4 pounds.8
In addition to its many potential health benefits, chewing slowly and methodically — even thoughtfully — can help you relax better so you can enjoy your meal. Rushing just to get it down so you can get on with what you’re doing is not conducive to proper digestion. You can’t even really taste or enjoy the food you eat.
Chewing slowly can help you eat less
Remember when someone told you that you should chew each mouthful 32 times (or so) before swallowing? They say it can help you digest food better. This is also true.
It turns out that consciously chewing food better than you might already be doing can have more than a few lasting benefits. Featured research shows that obese people chew and swallow faster, but they also chew food less thoroughly than lean people. Conversely, people who eat slowly eat less.
It turns out that it takes 20 to 30 minutes for your brain to realize that your stomach is full, which is also true. As Harvard Health explains, scientists will tell you that feeling full is only part of the reason you feel full after a meal. Your brain is also involved in this process because it needs to receive messages from digestive hormones secreted by the gastrointestinal tract:9
“Stretch receptors in the stomach are activated when it is filled with food or water; these signals are sent directly to the brain via the vagus nerve, which connects the gut and the brain stem. Hormonal signals are released when partially digested food enters the small intestine.
An example is cholecystokinin (CCK), which is released by the gut in response to food consumed during meals. Leptin, another hormone produced by fat cells, is an obesity signal that communicates long-term needs and satiety to the brain based on the body’s energy stores. Studies have shown that leptin can amplify CCK signaling and enhance satiety.
Other studies have shown that leptin also interacts with the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain to create a feeling of pleasure after eating. The theory is that if you eat too quickly, people may not give this complex system of hormonal crosstalk enough time to work. “
There’s even research that confirms that increasing the number of chews per bite may reduce the amount you end up eating by nearly 15%. Over time, this could be a significant weight loss—or a significant gain on the other end of the spectrum.
Chewing as a mindfulness practice
You may have heard that eating to live instead of living to eat can help you adopt a considerate mindset about what you put in your mouth. This is to nourish your body. But beyond that, there is an element of gratitude.
When you eat more mindfully, it slows down your mealtimes, not just for yourself but for others – yes, even during holiday parties, travel and doing too much in the kitchen or elsewhere . Here are some tips inspired by precision nutrition:10
- Sit at a table and minimize distractions. This means you can put a basket on the sideboard so guests can turn down the volume and keep their phones inside during the meal. Turn off the TV, even if it’s on in the next room.
- Put your cutlery down between bites. breathe. Relax. Look at the faces around you and allow yourself to appreciate each one. If you’re eating alone, focus on what you’re grateful for with each bite.
- Indulge in the art of talking to others. listen. Focus on enjoying every aspect of the meal—the people you share with, the taste of individual foods, the flickering of candles, the soft music in the background—everything that helps you appreciate every moment will enhance the experience.
- Set aside longer than usual mealtimes; 20 or 30 minutes may be enough, and adopt a calm attitude that suggests others, even if they don’t realize it. Make it a conscious act to slowly enjoy each bite, no matter what else happens.
Most importantly, if you think about it, if you’re one of the millions of people who come to the holidays with vague (or real) anxiety because you know there’s temptation and stress on all sides, but a fact Might help you focus on your goals: Gaining 2 pounds a year doesn’t sound like much — until 20 years have passed.
Especially at holiday meals, when thousands of people wonder after the fact why they’re eating so much, take a deep breath before picking up the fork, and adjust your rhythm. You’ll feel better, so you’ll be happier and undoubtedly healthier.