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!
I really agree with your insights Cheryl. Techniques are techniques and change needs to come from a deeper place within. I also think there is no one normal weight, each person brings a complex “mother board” of wiring that dictates their relationship with food,genetic load, how they metabolize, interact, and relate to food and eating. Each person needs to establish a menu of how they will live their lives,feel about their bodies, and eat that is congruent with who they are, not who others expect them be. I know that mindful eating is sometimes helpful if used as a jumper cable for some people to start a process and see that there is an option to slow down and be in the moment, but it isn’t a “fix” for being out in the world and having a Normal relationship with food. Thanks for presenting your point of view so eloquently. Warmly, Dr. Deah Schwartz
Thanks for sharing your blog in the Intuitive Eating Blog Group! I teach yoga for mindful eating and fast eating is one aspect of mindless eating that always comes up. It’s incredibly challenging to redefine our relationship with food and you offer great insight here. I would love to post this blog on my site from you, a Guest Blogger, so that my mindful eating students can read it! Let me know if that works for you.
Deah – I agree that every individual is different. That’s what makes the world go ’round! And thank you for your kind words about the article.
Diana – I’m happy to be a guest blogger on your site. 🙂
I am so struggling with this right now! I have an 8 month old baby and I always feel like I need to eat so quickly so that I’ll be done when he needs me, or so that I can get stuff done. But somehow its turned into more than that, like my fast eating is a way to live my anxiety. I am so cheerful and happy with him (even when I don’t feel that way at all!), that maybe eating fast is my way of expressing my pent up frustration? I dunno, but I feel like its destroying me in a way. Like I’m getting lost in there as I speed by eating like wildfire.
Your post is a good reminder, thank you!
I am a fast eating. I always feel like I should get done the get up and at it again. I sometimes feel like a robot – shoveling it in like a waste disposal unit. I love cooking and take care with the food I produce – it seems such a waste to just stuff it down in minutes. I love the restaurant critic ‘game’. Definitely one for me.
My husband is a slow eater – he is build like a whippet!
I eat at breakneck speed because I work in a nursing home and have no time to ‘savor’ anything. Usually, once my first med-pass is done I’m starving and I shovel in my salad while I’m charting at the nurses station. While I’m there, several residents demand ‘as needed’ meds and I really have no time to eat even though I’d like to eat my hands off. I’ve decided to just fast through my eight hours at work because I cannot enjoy anything.
You need to literally feel the taste of the food explode on the tips of your taste buds. The beauty, horror and terror of the food ought to inspire you to new (nude?) heights of in-spiration and g-astronomy. Food is a fabulous fantasy come true. Never feel guilty or fearful about what you eat for it is the birthright of every individual on the planet (who owns a plate). The eater should treat his food-laden plate like a the-ater (a place to experiment s-l-o-w-l-y). And frankly speaking there are no limits to the degree of slowness you can achieve. It’s all about losing yourself timelessly in the pre-sent moment. Enjoy each bite like it were your last.
I eat fast for absolutely no reason at all. Sometimes I feel like i am going to choke because I’m taking bites before I swallow what’s already in my mouth, which by the way is half chewed. It’s an awful feeling. This doesn’t happen every meal but, enough that its a problem. I don’t even know what is really going on when its happening,I just know its happening. I’m going to try to eat with my left hand, count chews, and taste my food. Hope this is a start!! Thanks!!
Tammy – there’s a reason for anything you do that hurts yourself. You may not know what the reason is, but it’s not “for no reason at all”. If you’re eating so fast that you’re “practically choking” and it “feels awful”, there’s a reason.
A big part of what I teach in Normal Eating is self-compassion. It sounds like you need to give yourself a big dose of that.
I’m returning to the NE forum and this blog post was just what I needed to read today. I think my fast eating stems from at least two things: 1) Food was my first and primary comfort, and I often ate in secret, literally hiding in corners and hiding the food. 2) I’ve been working on my control issues which stem from the fear that anything, happiness, pleasure, fun, food, could be, and were, snatched away from me, and as a child, there was nothing I could do to stop it.
I was logging yesterday and noticed how protective I feel about eating, and the food I’m eating. I noticed how uncomfortable it makes me to eat slowly when I’m at home or alone, but if I’m in a restaurant or with friends, it’s a different experience.
Lots to think about – thank you!
Your post brought tears to my eyes. i eat fast as I have done since I was 9 years old and first became overweight. I think it started because being chubby I couldn’t let people see that I received any pleasure from food – a lot of guilt there. Then I ate faster to hide from myself the fact that I was fat, that I ate too much and that most importantly that I could never have pleasure from food. A rebellion and a crime.
I cannot tell you how much relief I experienced reading your compassionate post. Now i can begin to work on a more normal, happy, pleasurable relationship with food.
I have always eaten fast, my whole life. I think I ate alone a lot when I was young. We never ate together as a family and eating was always on the run between doing other things.
I have issues that may in part be caused by my fast eating, including GERD and digestion issues, but I can’t help it.
My wife tells me to slow down, but if I’m eating naturally I’m eating fast. I have to literally concentrate to slow down, and she’s even said that I look ridiculous when I’m trying to slow down because I stare at my food and try to move like a film in slow motion, but I don’t know how to eat slow. Trying to eat slow makes the meal very uncomfortable.
I don’t think the “how does it taste” method will help because, contrary to what slow-eaters think, I do taste my food. I know what it tastes like. Eating fast doesn’t prevent you from tasting. Surprise, slow eaters: fast eaters taste buds work just as well as yours. I can polish off a plate in a minute and say, “That tasted delicious.”
Eating slow is harder for me than writing with my left hand (I’m right handed). And it’s awkward.
I just wish I knew what could make slower eating feel normal to me.
I eat fast BC I do every thing else fast too. I walk fast, write fast/scribble, talk fast, respond fast, every thing. Imagine holding up a line at the grocers with impatient ppl behind you… Yep I’m throwing those pkgs on the belt fast too.
I grew up with people rushing me in a family of 9. We were a crew and one person lagging behind could cause the family to suffer/miss out. For me it comes down to not wanting to slow other ppl down in general, but it extends to my eating habits which make no sense because nobody at the table is rushing. I have tried to count chews and take smaller bites but my bite is strong and it turns to mush quickly so I feel like I am chewing air, it s not satisfying at all to be chewing liquefied rice for an extra 10 seconds. When I’m done I don’t even feel like I’ve eaten anything because I’m not packed full like when I eat fast.
I would love to eat slower but I fear it will never be a thing with me. I just eat fast.
I suspect it’s not as simple as that. Also, counting chews is not a long-term solution because it’s so unpleasant. It makes eating unpleasant, and that’s not “normal eating” at all.