Why speed eating is bad for your health and tips to slow your pace down.

Speed eaters are not necessarily overweight but they might experience other health problems such as reflux, indigestion (‘heartburn’), and possibly even food poisoning.


Some people are simply in a hurry to eat their ordinary sized meal and they get on with their day.

It’s when speed eaters regularly move on to eat more that weight gain becomes a problem.

Fast eating may lead to overeating but not in every person.

Compare the eating pace of diners at a high-end restaurant and the food court.


At the food court, fast food skims over the taste buds with diners barely taking a chew between mouthfuls. Any remnant of food or flavour swished down by a sugared drink or passable coffee.


Speed eating in the food court is pretty well taste avoidance and it comes with a few problems. Diners buy all that they want and possibly more than the really need before they sit down, which encourages overconsumption. “Do you want ...... with that?” They get it fast and eat it fast.


At a highly acclaimed restaurant, diners linger over their meals sharing conversation, admiring the plated meals, tasting each mouthful, and possibly even delivering a considered critique thanks to TV reality cooking shows. But speed eating is more likely in venues that push the early sitting through in time for the late sittings. Wait-staff who urge you to select dessert/cheese when they’ve just cleared the mains away are another hazard.


Why do some speed eaters overeat?

The stomach, small intestine and a complex array of hormones and brain chemicals regulate appetite and satiety but it appears that they are just slow to kick in.

The popular thought is that it takes 15 to 20 minutes before the brain realises that the stomach has received enough food and doesn’t need anymore.


The signals work if you give them a chance and you recognise them but, and this is a big but, if you are speed eating then there is a strong chance that you are already onto seconds or desserts well before the satiety signal is sent out. Eventually you feel over-full but by then it’s too late.


How does speed eating increase risk of reflux and indigestion?

Speed eating often equals lazy chewing so over-sized boluses of food are sent hurtling down the food pipe and the food is squeezed through the gastro-oesophageal junction. If you flush each bite down with a drink then you’ve got the ingredients for indigestion and reflux.


The other speed eating trap for reflux and indigestion is when too much food is crammed in too quickly; the stomach is simply over filled and over-flowing.


Early treatment for reflux is exactly the opposite to speed eating behaviours - slow down, separate fluids from food, and make the bite-size small and well chewed before swallowing.


What has food poisoning got to do with speed eating?

Although not all poisoned or contaminated food is detected by an off smell or taste or appearance, some is. If you gulp it down bad food too fast then you may not notice an off or bad taste or smell until it is too late.

Why do you speed eat?

The pace of eating is influenced by external triggers (dining atmosphere, sounds, colours, lighting), whether you’re in the company of other slow or fast eaters, and have a sense of urgency to move on and do other ‘things’.

Speed eating probably wouldn’t be so much of an issue if we didn’t have such easy access to far too much food. Early mankind probably wolfed down his quarry in extreme hunger but that was after he hunted it, prepared the fire to cook it and shared it with his village knowing that there was no more food until the next hunt or gathering.

Today, the hungry hunter gatherer in us is still strong but our quarry takes no effort to gather and there’s plenty more on the shelves, so eating too much too quickly is too easy.

We could try to blame being time-poor but if you set the alarm to get up 5 minutes earlier and you get 30 minutes for lunch then there’s no need to rush the food down.

How long should you take to consume a meal?

How long you take really depends on what you’re eating - the texture and amount served - so it’s not possible to put a hard a fast ‘time target’ for any meal.

If you’re always the first to finish regardless of what the meal is then start extending the time taken to finish by at least 5 minutes, especially if you suffer with reflux, indigestion or have a gastric band or reduced stomach capacity.

For some people, it’s not the duration of the single meal but rather how long between courses that probably matters more. So plan to wait about 20 minutes before you choose whether to have more.

Tips to slow down the speed eater

1. Even though slowing down is a hard thing to do for speed eaters who get no feedback like ‘heartburn’, reflux or indigestion, it can be done with a small amount of practice.

2. Sometimes people whose onboard speed-limiter, their gastric band, gives immediate feedback when they eat too fast or chew too little, take a long time to learn how to eat slowly. But once again, with practice and a armed with a few tips they can slow down.

3. Start with changing the environment in which you dine and be selective about who you dine with. Avoid fast eaters, noisy eateries, and sounds/music that would be great for running a race.

4. Avoid stressful and excitable conversations at dining time.

5. Find the slowest eater at the table and mirror that person’s pace. Watch and mirror their every move including how much food they load on their utensils, when they put the utensils down, and the pace they lift the fork or spoon to the mouth.

6. Add conversation to the table and apply the etiquette of not talking with your mouthful.

7. Avoid eating with people you’d rather not be with.

8. Put some relaxing music on rather than high paced music you find at gyms.

9. Find a relaxing place to dine at rather than in a food court or at your desk.

10. Dim the lighting and maybe use candles at night to create a relaxed feel.

11. Program your smart phone to timer mode or metronome beat and set your eating pace to match a preset slow interval.

12. If you watch TV whilst eating, avoid stressful news broadcasts or high-paced game shows. Tune into something more relaxing or choose a calm, slow paced DVD.

13. Avoid allowing yourself to get over-hungry. It’s harder to slow down the pace when you’re very hungry.

14. Don’t automatically buy a sweet finish when you buy lunch. Eat the savoury part of lunch slowly. Then walk away and wait until the very end of your lunch break to decide whether you are still truly hungry for something more.

15. Don’t set your heart on dessert or cheese platter the minute you look at a restaurant’s menu and don’t order it as soon as the wait-staff clean away the main course plates. Wait at least 10 minutes - with a bit of luck, they will be equally slow at delivering the final course. By then, your brain may have had enough time to ‘see’ how full the stomach feels.

16. Put utensils down between each mouthful. This popular recommendation is hard to keep doing because hold habits die hard. Keeping a loaded fork is an entrenched and automatic habit so practice, practice, practice or shift to a toddler sized utensils or even chopsticks used in the wrong hand.