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6 Reasons You May Be Eating Too Fast & How to Slow Down

Updated: Mar 10, 2023

Find yourself scarfing down most meals and don't know how to stop? Here are six reasons you may be eating too fast and six strategies to slow down.

In a reel I posted last week on Instagram (watch it here) I went through five ways to decrease bloating that have nothing to do with what you eat. The first one I mentioned was eating too fast and I got a LOT of feedback that this is something many of you are struggling with! Rather than blanket advice to "just slow down" (not helpful!) I want to take you through several reasons you may be eating too fast and strategies to help you slow down.

When you step back and look at your eating habits, both what you eat and how you eat, and find that something is out of balance, that should be a sign that you need to pay attention.

Bringing awareness to the direct experience of your body (what your body is feeling) and your eating behaviors, both conscious and unconscious, will help you get to the root cause of that imbalance.

So what's the problem with eating too fast?

There may be a few points during or after a meal when you realize you are eating or ate too fast. Maybe during the meal you find yourself not even stopping to breathe or pause between bites to fully chew before taking another bite, or you realize you only started eating a minute ago but you're already feeling very full. Maybe after you stop eating, you realize you're overly full and didn't really savor or experience the food fully.

Eating too fast can cause a few things to happen whether or not you realize during the eating experience or after the meal is over that you ate too fast:

  • You miss out on the pleasure and satisfaction of the food by not taking the time to savor it. It's unlikely that you were able to notice the different flavors, textures, and aromas of the meal if it is over in a few minutes before you could utilize your senses.

  • You end up eating more than your body needed in that moment, leaving you feeling bloating, stuffed, or even nauseous after the meal is over.

  • You may form an ingrained habit of eating too fast, making it harder to consciously slow down in the future.

  • You may start to not trust yourself around certain foods or in certain situations if you find that you always eat them too fast and/or feel out of control.

  • Eating can feel stressful and chaotic rather than a chance to slow down and nourish your body.

So you find yourself nodding yes to the above experiences but you still don't know why you are eating too fast in the first place. I first want to tell you, it isn't necessarily a conscious choice that you're making to eat too fast, but you can make the choice to reflect and find the root cause so you can start to fully enjoy your eating experiences again.

That's the goal - to fully experience and enjoy your food while listening to internal cues telling you when you are full and satisfied, and this just isn't possible if you are eating very fast.

Six reasons why you may be eating too fast

An all or nothing mentality

When you label foods as "good" or "bad" it leads to an all-or-nothing mentality. This may lead to thoughts like, "I shouldn't be eating this food, so I should just eat it all now, even if it's more than I actually want or feels good in my body, since I won't be able to eat it tomorrow" (I also call this "the diet starts tomorrow" mentality). When you're eating a food that you normally restrict or tell yourself you shouldn't be eating, even if you're not actively restricting it, it can lead to a now-or-never feeling fueled by deprivation.

You feel like you're doing something wrong by breaking a food rule so it feels desperate and forbidden - this can cause you to feel like you need to eat quickly. You may eat quickly not only because you feel like you're doing something wrong but also because it's so exciting! When we are excited to do (or eat) something, it naturally causes us to speed up and rush through it - it's the same, or even more so, with food. Plus, the excitement is heightened when it's a food you feel like you "shouldn't" be eating in the first place.

Eating while distracted

The mind can only focus on one thing at a time - yes, we can switch back and forth between two thoughts or actions moment to moment, but generally the mind is focused on one thing at a time. When you are multi-tasking while eating, because the act of eating is such a routine action and can be done without much conscious thought, if there is something more exciting involved (like a TV show, conversation, or scrolling on social media) the focus on eating gets pushed to the back. If you are distracted by something that's causing heightened emotions, like an exciting, fast-paced movie or a constant flow of curated images causing a spike in dopamine (aka social media) it's natural to eat quickly to match that heightened emotion.

When you're distracted, you're also not paying attention to the sensations in your body telling you that you're getting full. When eating while distracted it's very common to "snap out of it" and realize that you ate way past fullness and didn't even get to really experience the meal.

You've reached primal hunger

If you're unfamiliar with the term primal hunger, go back and read my article from last week.

Even if you don't know the term primal hunger, you've definitely experienced it. You reach this point of hunger when you are on empty - nothing left in the tank. Either you haven't eaten in several hours or the last thing you ate was not filling enough and you need food now. It's a desperate, ravenous, sometimes painful type of hunger that causes an intense biological drive to overeat. Think about going to dinner at a restaurant after not eating all day - how fast do you take down that bread basket? In the moment it feel physically impossible to slow down your pace of eating.

Matching the speed of the person you're eating with

Just as we mirror behaviors and speech patterns of people we interact with on a regular basis, it can happen with eating as well. If your partner, friends, or family - whoever you eat with frequently - normally eats very quickly, this can impact your speed of eating as well. This may also be heightened when you are engaged in lively conversation with them.

You're in a rush

If you simply don't have enough time to sit down and enjoy the meal, it's understandable that you are going to eat much faster than a comfortable pace. If you are running out the door and have two minutes for breakfast, you're not giving yourself the time and space to eat mindfully in that moment.

Out of habit

By definition, habits are an ingrained behavior that don't require conscious thought, and they can be difficult to break. This habit may have formed recently in adulthood, especially when combined with other triggers like eating while distracted or mirroring the speed of the person or people you typically eat with. I also hear very frequently from people that they formed a habit of eating very quickly in childhood. If you were part of a large family, maybe you had to eat quickly so you could get in a second portion before it was gone. This is a very common habit to continue into adulthood when not addressed.

The above reasons for eating too fast don't typically exist alone - it is usually a combination of multiple reasons that are causing you to eat quickly. The good news is, by bringing awareness to the fact that you are eating too quickly and that it's causing stress about your eating habits or not allowing you the full satisfaction potential of eating, it is absolutely possible to change it.

Six ways to slow down while you eat

These are not in any particular order and you may need to try multiple strategies depending on what applies to your situation and to see what works for you.

Make sure you have enough time to eat

A step that can't be overlooked when trying to slow down is to make sure you actually have the time and space to do so. Look at your typical schedule and assess whether you are giving yourself adequate time to really sit and mindfully enjoy your food. This may involve blocking off at least 30 min to an hour for lunch, waking up earlier so you have time for breakfast, or pushing back evening activities to have enough time for a more leisurely dinner. You deserve to enjoy your mealtimes and fully experience your food. Prioritize your wellbeing and make sure to give yourself the time to slow down.

Sit down at a table to eat

When you are eating while standing at the kitchen counter, while driving, on a walk, etc. you are not signaling to your body and mind that it is time to slow down and enjoy the meal. It's highly unlikely that eating over the kitchen sink (we've all done it) is going to be a slow, mindful eating experience. Sit down at the table, tune into the present moment, and enjoy the experience.

Put away distractions

If you watch my stories on Instagram, you may have seen that I was choosing between writing this week's blog post about slowing down while eating or eating while distracted. Eating while distracted is SO common and a hard habit to break (don't worry, due to the feedback I am writing a whole article on distracted eating for next week), and it's one of the most common causes of eating too fast. Next week you'll see all the reasons why you may be having a hard time putting the distractions away, but for now, I'll tell you that I recommend starting with one meal per day or even just a few meals per week to eat without distractions.

When you are used to dissociating from the experience of eating and instead focusing on something else that may be more exiting in the moment, it can feel like there's a big void when you put it away. It takes time and patience to be comfortable just focusing on the food (especially when eating alone) if you never do it. If this is something you really struggle with, try choosing ONE meal tomorrow or sometime this week to put your phone away, turn off the TV, and focus on the meal.

Set the scene to make it enjoyable

Especially if you are uncomfortable eating without distractions, make sure you set the scene to make it more enjoyable. Use your nice plates, your pretty flatware, put on some slower paced music, get flowers for your kitchen/dining table and really set yourself up to fully experience and enjoy the meal. When you make it feel like a special occasion, the potential satisfaction from the food is heightened. This can increase the chances you will eat mindfully and slowly.

Assess the frequency and composition of your meals

If you find yourself consistently reaching the point of primal hunger, it's time to step back and see what's going on. Remember, when you are in this state of desperate, ravenous hunger, it's going to feel physically impossible to slow down and listen to your body's signals. It is almost guaranteed that you are going to eat past fullness when you start the meal in this stage of hunger. This is where it can be helpful to use a food reflection journal, noting the time you ate a certain meal or snack, the level of hunger you started with, and how long after you were hungry again. Maybe you need to add more protein to lunch or an extra snack between lunch and dinner to make sure you are starting most meals and snacks from a comfortable level of hunger. This is a process I frequently go through with my clients, please reach out if you would like help with this!

Recognize and work on letting go of food rules

This is the most time consuming and requires the most energy of all the strategies, but it leads to feeling peace and balance with your eating habits. If you find that you think of foods in a black and white, "good" or "bad" way - this is something you need to work on. Remember, there are no good or bad foods are you are not a good or bad person based on what you eat - food does not hold moral value. Recognizing the conscious or unconscious rules you use to dictate what you eat is the first step to letting go of those rules. With my clients, I have a systematic way to let go of these food rules so they no longer hold power over you.

When you find yourself unable to slow down when you eat, or have another behavior or thought process you are trying to let go of, it is essential to have self-compassion. You are learning as you go and it's not until you recognize and bring awareness to habits and behaviors that aren't serving you that you are able to change them. You are doing the best you can with the information you have, and remember - you are your body are on the same team.

Did you find this article helpful? Let me know in the comments below!



Want more help learning how to become an intuitive eater? Join my self-paced course How to Make Eating Easy: Intuitive Eating Foundations

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