How you do life is often how you do food. So, if you lead a busy, fast-paced life, with tons of responsibilities and places you need to be, chances are that you’re not going to change course with respect to just eating.
We eat fast for lots of reasons and it’s become the norm instead of an occasional necessity of our hectic lives. But, if we can agree that taking the slow path to eating is beneficial for your body, and it is (learn more why here) than you are probably curious about why we do this in the first place when in other cultures, like Europe, meals are a slow affair full of conversation, delicious foods and savoring and enjoying the moment.
Below are 5 reasons why you are eating too fast and an opportunity at the end to learn to slow down, relish and digest and assimilate your nutrients more effectively.
Someone you’re dining with is eating fast.
As a social species, we routinely and subconsciously mirror the behaviors of others we spend time with. You may have noticed that if you spend enough time with someone, you sometimes end up adopting their tone of voice, phrasing and even accent. We do this with food behavior too. In fact, we have a mirror neuron, which mimics what people we spend time with doing, including eating. So, if you’re out with someone and they are scarfing down their food at a fast clip, it’s, in fact, very hard for you to change the cadence of that energy and slow down in spite of it. One time, at a local Qdoba with my family, I was enjoying a veggie burrito slowly when I realized that there was fast-paced energy in the room, mainly coming from my family. We were off to see a movie and my husband wanted to stop somewhere first so was hurrying us along to finish. I noticed myself speeding up and starting to choke down my food. Because I stopped to notice this, I was able to advocate for myself and said, “you guys go ahead, I’ll meet you in the theater, I want to eat this at my own pace.” I realized that this was the best decision for me and that I didn’t have to follow along with how everyone else was eating. It was an extremely empowering moment for me and showed me just how vulnerable we are to matching the pace of our dining partners.
Many clients and friends I have been known to skip meals out of busyness, or because they feel that by doing so they are saving up their calories for later in the day. The problem is that when we get to the left side of this hunger chart, it often can happen fast and furiously. We’re merely hungry one minute and realize we’re ravenous the next. It’s extremely hard to slow down and make nutrient dense food decisions when we’re starving and just need to fill up fast and it’s also very hard to eat slowly in a circumstance like this. Why? Because our bodies start to believe that it’s in stress response and needs to act quickly to protect you!
You’re in a stress response
Speaking of being in a stress response, by not eating all day, we can also eat fast when our bodies are in a low level or high-stress response in general. Remember, our bodies exhibit symptoms of the sympathetic stress response for any real OR perceived threat. So, if there is something troubling you at work or in a relationship or if you’ve just been in traffic for 3 hours or had an argument with someone, you are likely to eat much more quickly than if you’re in a relaxation response. Recognizing the symptoms of the stress response is the first step to calming yourself, turning the dial down on your amygdala (your brain’s smoke detector for a crisis) and learning how to eat more slowly to fully digest your food and bring pleasure to the experience.
You have conflicted feelings about the food you’re eating
Another reason we might eat fast is when we have a moral conflict about what we’re eating. If we’ve been told our whole lives that certain foods are good and some foods are junk or will make you sick than what does it say about us when we consciously choose to eat those maligned foods? It creates cognitive dissonance in us and one way to remedy this is to eat it super fast, standing up, and alone so no one can witness it. Then maybe, just maybe it didn’t even really happen at all.
We also do this when we’ve created arbitrary food rules for ourselves that we break. After all, if we’ve sworn off sugar and carbs and yet find ourselves drawn to it and even eating it, that’s pretty hard for our psyches to handle, so we rid ourselves of the evidence quickly to move on and start to try to feel better, dust ourselves off or take action again in that same pursuit. You’re just not going to slowly eat that twinkie that 15 experts and your mom said were garbage and that just yesterday you swore not to eat ever again. I write a lot about food morality and how it helps to create the food polarity of binging and restricting. You can read one of those articles HERE.
It’s become a habit
Learning to eat slowly and mindfully takes as much unlearning as it does learning. That is because fast-eating and fast-food culture have become the cultural norm. We’ve learned that output is everything and in order to accomplish more, do more, produce more, and succeed more is to deny ourselves of those pesky things that make us healthy like quality and quantity of sleep, eating nutrient dense and pleasurable foods slowly, etc. At my old job, I remember even trying to hold in my bathroom breaks so I could do more at work. When our basic human needs and processes get delayed or kicked to the curb, you know there is an issue of balance and boundaries and that without intervention can create, you got it, more of a stress response in our bodies. It also becomes habitual to do these things which make it even harder to change. I had one client take on an assignment of eating dinner one night without any distractions including, TV, reading, driving or even talking. She was shocked at just how difficult it was for her to do this. It’s because we’ve learned that multitasking is good and that eating is just something to get through before going back to whatever we were doing that was more important. I believe this needs to change.
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