A friend and I were swapping stories about last week’s Thanksgiving feast, and she mentioned to me that her uncle was the fastest eater she’d ever seen. When she was a little girl, she used to think her uncle was a magician – it seemed to her as if one minute he had food on his plate, and the next minute… zap!… his food had simply vanished. One Thanksgiving, her aunt set a mirror infront of his dinner plate, thinking that he might just slow down if he watched himself shoveling it in. Instead, he simply sat down – and complimented his wife on the creative table decor.
Eating quickly isn’t just a ‘table manners’ issue. When you eat too fast, you don’t give your brain a chance to let you know when to stop, so it’s easier to overeat. Fast eaters may not chew their food thoroughly – and they swallow a lot of air while they’re gulping it down – so it’s no wonder that speed eating can lead to indigestion.
Some recommended techniques to help you slow down seem downright silly – one old diet book I have on my shelf says that you should get really, really up close and personal with your food before you swallow it, suggesting that you “bring the slice of steak up to your nose, but don’t eat it just yet. Instead, inhale deeply, taking in its aroma. Now bring it to your lips but don’t nibble it just yet, just take a lick…” Well, you get the idea. I can’t imagine anyone taking this technique seriously….not to mention that it’s probably best practiced alone, in the privacy of one’s own home.
I don’t know anyone who benefited from eating in front of a mirror, either, nor do I know anyone who has – in their quest to slow themselves down – managed to sustain the habit of eating with children’s utensils or counting how many times they chew each bite. But that’s not to say that “once a speed eater, always a speed eater”. There are some practical things you can do to slow down your eating and rid yourself of that fast eater habit – without embarrassing yourself.
Eat in courses
Instead of serving all your food at one time, try eating in courses. Start your meal with a salad or a light soup first, or you might just try having your vegetables first. When you start with the lowest calorie food, you’ll start to fill up on fewer calories.
Set the mood
Soft lighting and slow music can help to slow the pace of your eating. The only downside is that you might linger at the table longer – so keep serving dishes off the table so you’re not tempted to ‘have just another bite’.
Eat foods at the proper temperature
We’ve all had those times when we’re so eager to eat, we zap some leftovers in the microwave until they’re just warm enough to be appealing – but not so hot that they can’t be eaten quickly. On the other hand, when foods are piping hot (or – when it’s appropriate – nice and cold), you eat them more slowly. It’ll take you longer to sip on any icy-cold protein shake that’s been made with frozen fruit than one that’s simply mixed together in a glass. And if you have to blow on each spoonful of hot soup, it’ll slow your pace, too.
Don’t load your fork until you’ve swallowed the previous bite.
Next time you’re at the table with a fast eater, take note – at the same time they’re chewing one bite, their fork is usually locked and loaded for the next one. If this sounds like you, here’s your mantra: chew, swallow, load fork, repeat.
Take a half-time break.
About halfway through your meal, take a breather. Sip some water, keep the conversation flowing, but just stop eating for a few minutes. Then take a hunger reading. You might be pleasantly surprised to find that you’re comfortable and satisfied – and that you’ve crossed the finish line.
Written by Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD. Susan is a paid consultant for Herbalife.