Many evenings I’m about five bites into my dinner when I look across the table and see that my son’s plate is almost completely cleared. John is 18, with a healthy appetite to put it mildly, but the pace at which he eats his food both amazes and disturbs me. I’ve joked with him–“Nobody is going to steal your dinner from you, John.” I’ve tried to compare his eating style to one of our Labs, hoping that might hit a nerve–“Do you realize you’re eating your dinner as fast as Henry?” My latest trick is a little a little game my husband and I play. We tell John he’s not allowed to be the first person finished his dinner and boy, does that kill him! I know I’m making this all sound amusing and while some of it is, John’s eating habits can be a serious problem and one that many people have.
As someone who suffers from a digestive tract disease, I understand the importance of taking your time to chew your food properly. Any gastroenterologist will tell you that digestion begins in the mouth. The process of chewing your food makes it easier for your body to then further break it down as it passes into your stomach. Eating your food too quickly and not chewing it properly can lead to upset stomach and indigestion or further digestive problems over a longer period. This simple step can do wonders for helping you feel better after a meal.
Another reason to slow down when eating is because it will help you eat less. That’s right–the faster you eat, the more you eat. I don’t know if that old “it takes 20 minutes to register that you’re full” rule is true, but if you inhale your food, you will find all of a sudden you are going to feel incredibly uncomfortable because you’ve overeaten. On the other hand, take your time and you will notice that you’re feeling sated and stop and the right time before you get past that point. This is really important for people who are either try to reach a healthy weight or trying to maintain one.
Okay, so we’ve determined that rushing through a meal is not the way to go, but if that’s what you’re used to doing, how do you break the habit? A few tricks and maybe a change to your environment will help. Let’s start with family meals. I’m a big advocate because it’s a great way to get everyone together to talk about their day. If you’re communicating you’re more likely to take your time. Try having your meals with family or friends whenever possible if you’re not already doing so and make an effort to get involved in the conversation. This will force you to slow down and extend the time it takes for you to finish your meal.
You can also try slowing down by sipping water between bites. Again, this will force you to stop eating so fast and the water will help to fill you up quickly. One other trick I’ve heard of trying is to use chopsticks. This one is especially effective for someone (like myself!) who isn’t very adept at using them. You’ll be forced to take your time eating your meal if you have to use chopsticks to eat everything on your plate.
I think once you pay attention to taking your time it will become habit and you won’t have to rely on tricks to force yourself to slow down. The end result will be better digestion, easier weight management, and you’ll actually be enjoying the flavor of your food for a change!