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Are you a fast eater? Slow down naturally.

A lot of emotional eaters eat fast – not just a little bit fast, but extremely fast, minimally chewing their food, and raising the next bite to their mouth before the bite they’re chewing is swallowed. Everybody knows the reasons not to do this:

  • You barely taste your food or experience having eaten it, and thus need more to feel satisfied.
  • Your body doesn’t have time to give you physical cues of satiation, so you eat painfully past full.
  • Insufficient chewing causes problems with digestion that are uncomfortable and potentially dangerous.

Slowing down is desirable, but the tricks people use to do this – eat with the opposite hand, count your chews, or (most bizarre) use an iPhone app that rings a bell when you’re allowed to take the next bite – are as “tail wagging the dog” and doomed to failure as dieting to control emotional eating.

If you want to stop emotional eating, you need to understand why you’re doing it and address the underlying issues. If you want to stop fast eating, you need to understand why you’re doing it and address those issues. So why do you do eat so fast?

Why Do You Eat So Fast?

There’s been a lot of discussion about fast eating in the Normal Eating Support Forum. Here are some of reasons members give for fast eating:

“I eat fast, sometimes it’s because my kids are screaming for attention so I shovel it in and carry on but mostly even when I have no distractions I eat fast. I find it hard enough to eat without reading something let alone savour every bite…”

“I was raised in a house where you ate now and tasted it later. Food was not savored (the oldest of us played football and wrestled and could eat an entire box of cereal for breakfast and have room leftover). For me, fast eating is about tucking away the treat that won’t be there because… because. Hmm. Why won’t it be there? I don’t live with my brother any more.”

“I always ate faster than my mom and would get so mad at her because she ate soooo slow and then had to finish her tea and smoke her cigarette before we could leave a restaurant. I rush my kids to hurry up too which is not a good habit to instill in them. I am type A and always in a hurry. I really want to be a calm, moderate sensible person but I am uncomfortable when everything is calm (as much as I want that!).”

“DH called while I was eating. He is on his way home. I suddenly had the urge to finish. Almost like I was in a panic that he would know how late I ate lunch. As if it matters to him.” (Notice the guilt in this quote – more on this in a bit.)

All these descriptions share the themes of anxiety and guilt. Something about eating slowly and mindfully makes these fast eaters feel anxious, guilty, or both. Feelings of anxiety and guilt interfere with the ability to mindfully enjoy the food.

Anxiety and Guilt About Eating

If you want to know what your particular guilt and anxiety in eating is about, the best way to discover this is to eat very slowly for as long as you can bear to do it, and monitor your feelings. What are you thinking about? For example:

  • If you’re worried about getting stuff done, then you have a self-care issue. You don’t take time for yourself.
  • If you’re worried about someone “catching you” eating – even if this is irrational – then you have guilt about eating.

It’s very common for people to feel guilt about savoring their food – especially if they’re overweight. Often people who are overweight don’t feel they have the right to eat at all, let alone enjoy what they eat.

The guilt is compounded by our culture’s puritanical attitudes towards any sensual enjoyment – the idea that truly high-minded people eat only to fuel their bodies and don’t really enjoy it. The sensual enjoyment of food is considered vaguely obscene. This attitude is not dissimilar to our culture’s attitude towards sex.

So one thing that may help in slowing down is to remind yourself of these two points:

  • You have the right to take time for self-care and enjoyment – you don’t have to be productive every waking minute, nor should you be.
  • You have the right to savor and enjoy delicious food in all its sensual glory, no matter what your current weight.

But counteracting these negatives just clears the blocks to eating slowly – it doesn’t get you to actually do it. What gets you to actually do it is to focus on the positives, the payoffs.

Slow Eating is a Means, Not an End

I’m a slow eater, and have been for as long as I can remember. But I don’t do it because I read somewhere that I should. I do it because that’s how I enjoy eating. If I eat fast, I get a stomach ache because I can’t chew the food well enough and it sits in my stomach like a lump. Plus I can’t tell when I’m satiated so I overshoot and eat past full, and I hate that feeling. Worst of all, I miss the enjoyment – I don’t get to savor the food as it goes down. Basically, fast eating makes for a much less pleasant eating experience. I want to enjoy my food, not inhale it and end up with a stomach ache.

Though I make no effort to eat slowly, I’m always the last one to finish when I eat with others. In fact, I try to speed up when I’m with others who have finished eating and the entire table is staring impatiently at me. There’s no effort in slow eating for me because it’s the direction of pleasure. I don’t experience any anxiety or guilt when I eat slowly and mindfully, and I’m very attuned to the benefits of slow eating.

In other words, the reason to eat slowly isn’t to eat slowly. It’s not an end in itself that you can achieve through artificial, mechanical tricks. The reason to eat slowly is as a means for savoring your food, making sure your gut feels good as the food goes down, and being in tune with your body’s satiation signals so you don’t inflict pain on your body by overeating. These benefits require mindfulness – paying attention to the taste of your food, the feeling of the food in your gut, and your body’s satiation signals.

If you are busy counting your bites, struggling with a fork in your opposite hand, or listening for an iPhone ding to tell you when to take the next bite, you can’t enjoy your food. How can you pay attention to your eating experience at all with these mechanical distractions to slow yourself down? It’s like trying to eat normally through the artifice of a weight loss diet. It might work temporarily, but eventually it’s just too annoying to sustain.

If you want to sustain a new behavior over the long term, it has to be intrinsically pleasurable. That’s why diets don’t work. And that’s why you need to find the joy in slow eating.

Slow Eating, the Natural Way: Try This!

These mechanical tricks to eat slowly don’t work over the long term any better than a diet, but here’s a suggestion that two forum members found that does work. Pretend you are a restaurant critic and will be called upon to review the food you are eating. Ask yourself, “How does this taste?” Just that will help, but then you may want to go even further. From a forum member:

As noted, asking yourself “how does this taste?” helps. It has helped me slow down somewhat to eat with the intention of reporting on the flavors, textures, and experiences as specifically as possible afterward. Sometimes I try to approach it a little like a food critic (e.g., “Cherries were crisp, but not as tart as expected; maybe going out of season. Flavor was a good counterpoint to crackers, which were flour-y and nicely bland.”).

First clear the way for enjoyment by working on any anxiety and guilt that comes up when you slow down. Once you’ve done this, focusing on the “How does it taste?” question is a good way to put you in touch with the pleasure side of the equation.

Please post your thoughts and experiences. I’d love to hear from you!