Let’s extend the slow food movement to the dinner table.
Nightly dinners were a requirement in my family growing up. This meant a lot of laughs, the passing of plates and maybe a few spats here and there. It also meant watching my dad scarf down his food as my mom sat there shaking her head in disgust. “Can you even taste what you’re eating?” she’d say in disbelief.
While it’s a running joke in my family that a lot of us eat so fast that we can’t even tell what it is that we’re shoveling into our mouths, there’s actually a lot of proof that shows that eating slowly actually truly does mean better health, enjoyment and weight control. My dad is apparently missing out on quite a lot.
When you rush through meals, your digestion process suffers and slows. This type of eating causes you to finish your meal before your natural satiety signals kicks in and leads you to feeling overly full and sick. Think back to last Thanksgiving when you ate so much stuffing that you hardly had time to swallow. You know the feeling.
Slow eating not only means better digestion, but it also leads to increased hydration, more satisfaction and a better ability to lose or maintain weight.
The first of these, digestion, is a clear benefit to eating slowly. Digestion is a process. The moment we have food in front of us or we think about a big juicy burger, our mouths start to salivate to prepare for the intake of food. This saliva contains enzymes that break down the food and make it easier for swallowing. At the same time we start to salivate, our stomachs begin secreting acid and our small intestines get ready to move the food through our bodies.
“Eating slow has a huge impact on everything you ingest. You’re supposed to chew your food until it becomes saliva in your mouth, which allows your food to be more easily digested,” says wellness coach and owner of Wellness Styled, Dana Kofsky.
If these processes are rushed, our gastrointestinal has no other choice but to deal with food that it’s not even ready for. So, the food that fast eaters consume goes down in big amounts and can’t break down properly. This can lead to indigestion and other stomach issues.
“When your food is chewed properly there is less bloat and gas that can occur and more importantly it allows your body to metabolize the food better,” Dana explains.
Being Overly Full
The second issue with fast eating is becoming too full. It takes twenty minutes after starting a meal for our brains to recognize that it’s satisfied.
“Often times people eat fast because they have gone too long without food, creating a flight or fight reaction where their bodies are trying to make up for the lost amount of time that they didn’t eat… leading them to feel more hungry a lot quicker,” says Dana.
When you eat too fast, correct signals to the brain to let you know that you’re no longer hungry aren’t possible. Fast eaters don’t even realize that they’re missing out on the incredible variety of flavors, textures and temperatures that each meal offers us and aren’t enjoying food at its fullest because of it.
“Eating slowly also allows your body to feel more satisfied which encourages you to eat less,” says Dana, “When you eat more slowly you are more present. When you’re present you are aware of what you’re ingesting. If you eat fast, your body doesn’t digest the food properly and then you can experience hunger more rapidly. Being present with anything in life allows you to have the full experience.”
For many people, the idea of losing weight is enough to get them to breathe in between their bites. There are a couple reasons that explain why eating slowly can lower the number on the scale.
“When you’re distracted or eating too quickly, you tend to eat more calories. If you slow down, there’s more awareness of how many bites you’re taking, and you’ll have the chance to check in with yourself about how hungry you still feel. Slowing down allows your stomach to catch up with your brain, so you’ll register as full before you’ve eaten too much,” said Holistic Health Coach, Jaime Saginor.
There’s science that backs this up too.
“The other reasons have to do with metabolism. When you eat slowly, you tend to chew your food more thoroughly; since digestion begins in the mouth, you’ll digest your food better. Eating slowly also means you’re probably breathing more deeply, and getting plenty of oxygen to our digestive system aids in better digestion. The more smooth and efficient your digestion runs, the more you boost your metabolism, which means that you’ll burn more calories,” said Jaime.
As you can see, slow eating means less food, but more long term satisfaction. It also helps you develop the habit of portion control, which studies have shown is key in weight loss. So seriously, put the fork down and enjoy the meal more!
Hydration is also improved in the body when one eats more slowly. Eating slowly actually increases how much water we take in during a meal. Obviously we all know how important water is to the body — it gives us more energy, cleanses our bodies, leads to clearer skin and helps our inner systems work more effectively and efficiently. On top of that, more water consumption means less room for food, so yet another way to lose weight.
Last, but definitely not least, your overall enjoyment for the delicious foods you are eating is also increased when you pause between your bites.
Kara Gambrel, a Santa Monica based chef who focuses on healthy and happy eating, knows that eating can be about more than just filling your stomach.
“As a chef, I appreciate taking the time to slow down when I eat. This is a chance for me to enjoy the fruits of my colleagues and my labors. People can often be disconnected with their food but when I eat mindfully I think about the specific, hand chosen ingredients that make up a dish, I feel connected to myself or to the other people involved. How the deliberate pairing of ingredients brings out a brightness in the palate or the perfect marriage of sweet and salty is created,” Kara said.
For Kara, eating slowly means discovering all of the hard work that went into the preparation of her meal.
“I also take a moment to think beyond the dish itself, like to the farmers, the sun, the soil, the air, etc… all of the things that make up the meal in front of me. It’s like everything is and was working together to make this all a possibility. When I eat slowly, I allow myself to give thanks to the food that is supplying me so much joy in life. It’s really a beautiful thing,” she said.
That’s all great, but what do those of us who are always on the go do? Kara has some advice for those of us who never take a moment to smell the roses (or in this case the spices).
“We’re all in rushes at some point. Even though you can be rushed, doesn’t mean your meals have to be compromised. My advice, always make extra food! When making a soup, double the batch and put some in the freezer for a busy week. Chop extra veggies that you can throw in a scramble or toss on a salad. Good food can be quick if you just plan ahead a little. I love making extra veggie and bean patties that I take when I’m running out of the door to keep me going if I have to run out of the door quickly. I love keeping things in glass jars and containers so that the food stays fresher longer and are easy to grab,” she said.
Outside of all the flavors your foods have to offer, eating slowly also provides other benefits.
“Food brings people together. It’s a place where we’re connecting over something that is so important; it’s literally our life force. And when you share the same foods, you’re sharing the same energy,” Kara said.