In the fast-paced modern world, when every second seems to count, and lunch breaks are often only 30 minutes, start-to-finish, it is little wonder why we all are occasionally guilty of ‘wolfing’ down our food. When we feel the pressure of impossible deadlines, To-Do lists that rival the Labours of Hercules, and everything has to be completed by yesterday, nourishment doesn’t rank very high on our priorities, and the tendency is to spend as little time on it as possible, in order to move on to more important tasks.
Does it really make a difference how fast we eat? Calories are calories, right? Well….yes, and no. There are valid reasons why food should be enjoyed, not inhaled. Defenders of the ‘choke it down and move on’, school of thought argue that there is no evidence that eating fast causes more weight gain, or causes one to eat more. Numerous studies on this facet of the issue have been resoundingly inconclusive. It is true that X amount of calories is X amount of calories, no matter how fast they are consumed. But there are other factors to consider than just the calorie count.
One of the considerations may be cultural. In Europe, and some other countries, meals, especially the evening meal, often last for hours, and involve many separate ‘courses’. There is a reason for this. Your tastes operate a little strangely. You can eat one thing for a bit, and your body will tell you that you have had enough of that particular food.. But another flavor, or texture can trigger the desire to continue eating, which is why the custom of ‘courses’ persists. By contrast, the average time it takes an American to finish a meal is a mere 11 minutes. (American Time Use Survey (ATUS) Well-Being Module Microdata Files: U.S. Department of Labor 2010). According to the World Health Organization, 33% of Americans are overweight, compared to 12% for Europe (World Health Organization Database: http://www.who.int/topics/obesity/en/ ). But a lot of this can be attributed to our cultural diet, rather than our time spent eating. Here in the US, we have a meat-and-potatoes bias. The most popular and most consumed food in the US is a hamburger and fries, by a large margin. Next on the list is Fried Chicken, followed by pizza and hot dogs. All are high in calories, and can be consumed quickly. It is little wonder that ‘Fast Food’ is an All-American creation.
Another factor is stress. When we get stressed, our bodies manufacture the Fight-Or-Flight hormone cortisol. Cortisol does several things; it causes the fat cells and other energy storage mechanisms to release their stores, so the body has ample energy to counter the perceived ‘threat’ . This leaves the cells empty, and causes a craving for sugar, and fat-rich foods that can supply immediate energy, if needed. These are also the preferred foods to store for future use…in fat cells. When the body’s existing fat cells become saturated, you make more fat cells. So a stressed body now has ample stored energy, in addition to whatever is leftover from the original stress that did not get used. Studies have shown that eating fast does not do anything to help stress, and can often add to the stress-level.
And lastly, when the walls of the stomach begin to stretch, the body will secret the hormone leptin, which tells the brain you have eaten enough. But there is a 10-15 minute lag-time from the time your stomach stretches, until the time the brain gets the message. Eating faster means you are exceeding this level to a greater degree, than if you ate slower, and gave your body time to properly monitor your food intake. The problem is further compounded by processed foods containing additives such as High-Fructose Corn Syrup, and MSG, both of which interfere with the body’s ability to use leptin. This causes you to keep eating long past the time when you would’ve felt ‘full’, otherwise.
There is no question that eating slower, and really experiencing the food with all of your senses, reduces stress. In addition, the social nature of longer meals is also a stress reducer, as well as a mental tonic. Humans are social, and gregarious by nature, and habitual ‘loners’ almost always have something wrong with them. While eating slower may not reduce your total caloric intake by much, it will reduce your stress-levels, and possibly cause you to make better food choices. A lot of the time, people make food choices based on how fast they can be prepared, and/or eaten, rather than for nutritional value. We need to change our way of thinking about meals, from considering them merely as sustenance, to an attitude of essential health maintenance, like exercise, hygene, etc….And give it the same importance. Consider meals as ‘me’ time, whenever possible, and savor both the food, and the moment, as well as the company you keep. The difference between an gourmand and a garbagehound is just attitude. A gourmand savors every bite, smell, appearance, and nuance of their food, as well as the surroundings and atmosphere. A garbagehound simply chomps, swallows and moves on without, ever really thinking about what they are doing. If you ask a garbagehound what he, or she had for breakfast, many times, they won’t remember. If you ask a gourmand, they will describe the entire meal from start-to-finish, and even include comments on the décor, and service.
You pay for your food, so it would make sense for you to try to get the most out of your expenditures. Slow down, and enjoy your food. Meals are your time. Make the most of it. Relax and enjoy life more. You’ll be surprised at the health benefits this simple action can have, including lowered blood pressure, looking and feeling better, and more mental clarity. By eating slower, you can add years to your life. These are only a few of the reasons why food should be enjoyed, not inhaled.