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Are You Ruining Your Health by Eating Too Fast?

Written by: Nick Jack
Category: 2014
on 19 December 2019
Hits: 8042

One of the most overlooked parts of improving health and fitness is how we eat our food. We place a huge focus on the type of foods and when to eat but pay little attention to how important the process of chewing our food is to providing the numerous benefits to our health. When you eat slowly, you digestion improves and your body can easily extract the essential vitamins and minerals from the food to allow it to function at its optimal capacity. You feel more satisfied with each meal allowing for better energy throughout the day and this also prevents over-eating helping you to maintain a healthy weight. However, if you eat too quickly your digestion suffers in a big way and this can cause havoc to not just your waistline, but can cause headaches, joint pain, skin problems, and even disease! Meals end up becoming stressful to your body as opposed to being a time for it to refuel and recharge. Add on top of this is how you feel sluggish and bloated and unable to stop over-eating and sabotaging your exercise efforts. Your food choices might be perfect but the fact you are eating too fast is your problem. For many people this becomes a bad habit and they do not even know they are doing it. In this article we are going to explain exactly what happens when you eat too quickly and some simple strategies you can use to prevent this bad habit from ruining your health goals.

Eating Slowly Could Be The Missing Ingredient To Your Health

We have all been in the situation where we are in a rush to be somewhere and not enough time to eat our meal and slam it down fast. The meal never feels very satisfying and there is probably a good chance you get indigestion or start burping. Sure your hunger pains have gone but you don't feel great. For some people this type of eating becomes a habit where they have learned how to eat fast. Really fast.

"Most people I talk to about nutrition who have a problem with portion sizes eat too fast."

Most of us rarely take the time to savour our food and chew it properly. We found we can save time on eating properly to fit in more things. The modern world is very fast and we are constantly trying to fit more things in and find ways to do things faster. Unfortunately when it comes to eating this is a disaster. If you struggle to find time then check out this article - How to find time to exercise and eat better

I myself have fallen into this trap many times and it caused me a lot of digestion issues that contributed to skin problems, joint pain, and not to mention feeling like crap all the time. For quite some time I found it hard to sleep properly as my guts sounded like a washing machine. I kept looking at my food choices and blaming the foods I was eating, when I really had to take a serious look at how fast I was eating. Once I slowed down, not only did my portions become smaller and I felt satisfied with my meals, but my guts no longer kept me awake at night. My skin improved dramatically too (see article how I got rid of psoriasis for more on this)

One of the most important benefits of eating slowly is that it gives your body time to recognise that you’re full. It takes about twenty minutes from the start of a meal for the brain to send out signals of satiety. And it is fair to say that most people’s meals don’t even last that long!

Imagine the extra food you could unnecessarily eat simply because you didn’t allow your body time to register that it no longer required food. Now imagine the effect of those extra calories to your belly or your hips. Eating slowly helps you to feel more satisfied with the meal instead of being “full”. In addition to this when you slow down you savour the meal more by paying closer attention to the tastes and textures of the food. The meal becomes an enjoyable time to recharge, refuel and to some extent relax which for many people it is far from this. Many people see food as an enemy at times in fear of gaining weight.

It is amazing how such a simple tip as eating slower could be the missing ingredient for the person wanting to “feel leaner.”

What Happens To Your Digestive System When You Eat Too Fast

When you wolf down your food as seen in the picture above you take larger bites and chew less. This is bad news for your digestive system as your stomach has a hard time trying to break down big chunks of food into chyme—the sludgy mix of partially digested food, hydrochloric acid, digestive enzymes, and water that passes from your stomach into your small intestine.

When food isn’t properly broken down into chyme, it can cause indigestion and other GI problems. Large food particles make it difficult for the small intestine to absorb food molecules and nutrients we need. This type of eating depletes our body of valuable vitamins and minerals.

Many do not realise the first part of digestion begins the mouth. Our saliva contains digestive enzymes that breakdown foods, especially carbohydrates. If you are dehydrated and cannot produce enough saliva your foods won't be properly prepared for digestion in the stomach and intestines.

Dehydration is a big problem with digestion and people who are not drinking enough water combined with eating too fast are destined for big problems. When your body is dehydrated it wills scavenge water from vital organs and water from the mucus membrane in the stomach and intestines.

Heartburn is a common problem with the fast eater and dehydration plays a big part in this. Relying on antacids to treat this is ignoring the real problem. Apart from water our bodies are made up of proteins and fats. If proteins for repairing cells are not properly broken down they are less likely to be absorbed. The body will begin to break down its own proteins from muscle.

The combination of eating too fast and dehydration can lead to a host of problems like intestinal permeability and constipation. Sometimes dehydration can be caused from your exercise training. I know I had this problem, and still do, when I was competing in cycle races during the summer. I am a heavy sweater at the best of times and it is not unusual for me to be covered in salt during a hard cycle or running session. I find it hard to drink enough water and I hate Gatorade and various other electrolyte drinks as they make me feel sick. But if I do not find a way to replace the fluids I have lost I will suffer with digestive problems for days, sometimes weeks afterwards!

One of the best tips I ever had about preventing this problem was from Paul Chek. He suggested to me to try a few things at a training course I attended in 2010.

  • Drink 2 glasses of water as soon as I wake up in the morning
  • Drink 1-2 glasses of water 15 minutes before each meal
  • Avoid drinking alcohol or coffee on their own and never before a meal

I found the best way to understand the digestion process is to look at it as a series of steps and not just what goes on in your intestine.

As soon as we see, smell, or think about food this is step 1 for we start salivating to prepare for putting that food in our mouth which is step 2. As we have just discussed the production of saliva is very important for it contains the enzymes we need to break the food down, and moistens the mouth for easier swallowing.

The following digestive steps 3, 4, 5 etc. are getting ready to go to work when these first two steps begin to occur. Our stomachs start to secrete more acid in preparation for breaking down food and extracting nutrients. Our small intestine starts to get ready for some peristalsis. And so forth. All the cogs in the wheel are being turned and working smoothly like they are supposed to.

However, if we stuff our food into our mouth and swallow before the body has completed these processes we force our GI tract to deal with stuff before it’s fully prepared. And this is when huge problems to our health begin to surface.

Click here to watch a great video I from Precision Nutrition that explains this process in great detail with easy to understand illustrations.

Results of An Interesting Study

The guys at Precision Nutrition have a great article about eating slowly and have a stack of results from various studies about this topic. One of the more interesting ones was performed at the University of Rhode Island where researchers examined how eating speed affected the early stages of digestive processing by observing 60 young adults eat a meal.

  • Slow eaters consumed 2 ounces of food per minute.
  • Medium-speed eaters consumed 2.5 ounces of food per minute.
  • Fast eaters consumed 3.1 ounces per minute. They also took larger bites and chewed less before swallowing.

This means that not only are fast eaters putting more food down in a given amount of time, that food isn’t as well-processed. 

If your meal makes you burp a lot or leaves you feeling bloated and sluggish, take a good look at how quickly you are eating. Just like me you might be blaming the quality of the food you ate, when really you just needed to slow down and give your body time digest your food properly. 

How Many Times Should You Chew Your Food?

The number of times you chew really depends on the type of food you consume. Soft fruits and vegetables will break down more easily than chicken or steak, so you will need to make sure you chew your food as thoroughly as possible. 

According to the experts at Ohio State University, you should chew softer foods 5-10 times, and more dense foods like meats and vegetables up to 30 times before swallowing. One thing you will notice is how you begin to eat smaller portions without even trying!

So far most of what we have discussed is the value of eating slowly for digestion, but what about helping you to get in better shape? There is no denying that eating slowly helps you to eat less. Most people would love to be able to reduce their food intake without having to go on extreme starvation plans so this is incredibly powerful information if you are that person trying to reduce some unwanted weight.

In another University of Rhode Island study, researchers served lunch on two different occasions to 30 normal-weight women. The meal in both cases consisted of an enormous plate of pasta with a tomato-vegetable sauce and some Parmesan cheese, along with a glass of water.

At each visit, researchers instructed the women to eat to the point of comfortable fullness. But during one visit, they also told them to eat as quickly as possible, while on the other visit, participants were asked to eat slowly and to put down their utensils between bites.

When the researchers compared the difference in food consumption between the quickly eaten lunch and the slowly eaten lunch, here is what they found:

  • When eating quickly the women consumed 646 calories in 9 minutes.
  • When eating slowly the women consumed 579 calories in 29 minutes.

That is 67 less calories in 20 more minutes!

If you extrapolate that to three meals per day, you can see how quickly the extra calories could add up.

And here’s another interesting twist: When the women ate their lunch quickly, they reported more hunger an hour later than they did after their slowly eaten lunch.

So not only did eating quickly lead to greater food consumption, it actually satisfied the women less! Conversely, of course, slow eating meant less food but more long-lasting satisfaction.

Why Eating the Right Amount Is So Important

If we don’t eat the right amount for our needs, our bodies will try to self-regulate itself to maintain homeostasis. If we’ve under-eaten, we might compensate with a binge. If we’re over-eating on comfort foods our bodies might say “This is awesome! Have more, just in case of famine!”

All this may have been great for us when we were cavemen and food was scarce but it is of no use to us now and really sets us up to eat too much.

Sometimes we eat in response to sensations other than physical hunger, and this type of eating becomes destructive to our health when it is associated as the principal way of dealing with feelings. If we eat each time we get lonely, sad, bored or happy, addictions are easily formed that can be very difficult to break.

If we do not eat when we are hungry, our body gets us back eventually by cranking up our appetite signals and smothering our fullness signals. Do you know what the biggest trigger of binge eating is? - Dieting!

And after a big binge we often seen people punish their body in the gym with intense training to burn off the calories. This strategy is never works so keep that in mind if you are thinking of doing that before Christmas parties.

Read our article - Why You Cannot Out-Exercise a bad diet for more on this

Food plans that are very restrictive and based solely upon reducing calories can increase food cravings, food preoccupation, guilt associated with eating, binge eating, weight fluctuations, and a preoccupation with weight.

We might get into a cycle of “deprivation mentality”: we restrict, then lose control, then vow to “get back on track” (ie. restrict further), only to lose control again, then apply an even more rigid control, then lose control… over and over and over.

Simple Tips to Help You Eat Slower & Improve Your Health

These are some of the very simple and easy to adopt strategies you can use to help you change the bad habit of eating too fast.

  1. Drink 1-2 glasses of water BEFORE you eat
  2. Sit down to eat in a calm environment with minimal distractions. Don’t eat while driving, while watching TV, while texting, etc. Pay attention to your food. I never have the TV on when I am eating but I love to play some music that helps me to relax. I find this is a good way to help me slow down.
  3. Choose high-fibre foods that take more time to chew, such as fresh fruits and vegetables. It is amazing how lettuce makes me chew so much more. I enjoy most vegetables so this is an easy one for me.
  4. Put down your knife and fork between bites. Take a moment. Breathe. If you’re eating with other people, enjoy making witty conversation for a few minutes. I have to remind myself to do this a lot and if you have always been a fast eater like myself this will take practice to break the habit. I myself use this tip all the time.
  5. Use smaller plates. This is a simple way to reduce your portion sizes and it is amazing how well this works.
  6. Find another slow eater and pace yourselves to them. My mum eats super slow and I sometimes try to pace my meal with hers. I find my food starts to go cold she eats so slowly, but I do appreciate how I digest the meal much better and feel satisfied from eating less. Thanks mum!
  7. Set aside time to eat – Allow at least 20-30 minutes for each meal, and preferably even longer at dinner. Don’t just eat “whenever you get around to it” or treat it as an inconvenience. You’re fuelling your body and maybe even spending quality time with friends and family. I find spending time to eat really makes me enjoy all the flavours of what I am eating and at dinner times to reflect on what happened during the day.

Additional Resources To Help You With Nutrition 

Obviously there is lot more to eating healthy and nutrition than the tips featured in this article. To help you out with all the other parts you may want to know we put together a great PDF report you can download instantly with all the information you need for finding what works for you. Click here to see more about this program and download instantly to your phone or computer.

There is also a stack of great articles you can read below with additional information across various topics.

Summary

Most of us lead hectic, fast-paced lives, so it’s understandable that we might try to rush our meals. But it should not be an excuse and we must never sacrifice our health for convenience. We have to become smarter with how we approach eating and recognise that we are refuelling our body with important nutrients and we must respect this process so the body has the chance to extract what I needs. For many people this may be the missing ingredient to getting in great shape as they may be doing all the other things right but messing it up right at the end when they eat too fast.

There are so many nasty things that happen to our health when we eat too quickly and end up eating more than we need. Apart from gaining weight and feeling bloated and sluggish the damage caused to our digestion is significant and over a period of time can lead to a host of serious health problems.

Eating food is one of the great joys in life so we should be taking time to enjoy it and eat slowly. Not only do we get to enjoy the meal more but gives our body the chance to utilise the nutrients from the food more effectively to give us energy and feel great.

If you would like to know more about our Personal Training programs click the image below and I will be in touch within 24 hours to schedule a time for a free health diagnostic consultation.

About The Author

Nick Jack is owner of No Regrets Personal Training and has over 14 years’ experience as a qualified Personal Trainer, Level 2 Rehabilitation trainer, CHEK practitioner, and Level 2 Sports conditioning Coach. Based in Melbourne Australia he specialises in providing solutions to injury and health problems for people of all ages using the latest methods of assessing movement and corrective exercise.

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