Life is getting faster and we demand it so. We want fast internet, fast restaurant service, fast answers, fast weight loss. We think that if we go faster, we’ll get more done and better results. This may well be true if you are an athlete! but when it comes to eating, fast in fact slows things down.
The reality is that eating quickly is a stressor on the body. By eating fast and not chewing properly, we elicit the same powerful physiological stress response that triggers fight or flight behaviours. This can lead to digestive upsets with symptoms like bloating, gas, pain and heartburn. It can contribute to undue fat gain and the habit of over eating.
The stress response is moderated - it’s not an all-or-nothing, on-or-off kind of system. We do not necessarily go from relaxed to zinging just because you bolt down your meal too quickly. However, eating when not relaxed and present will cause at least mild to moderate shut down of the digestive system.
You could be eating an amazingly healthy and balanced meal, but if you eat it too fast or when distracted, you are not getting the full nutritional value of that meal, and you might just be causing undue fat gain.
The digestive enzymatic output will dramatically reduce, blood flow is negatively impacted, the mechanical churning of the stomach is stalled, all of which means you are not properly digesting, nor are not absorbing all the valuable nutrients from your food.
The system is on alert. Clearly something has gone array or why else are we chucking our food down in such a crazy way? In order to get ready to face whatever life threatening event is going on out there, we release stress hormones including cortisol and insulin. Together, these reduce our calorie burning capacity and promote the laying down of fat, especially belly fat.
Eating quickly also deregulates our appetite. We know that it takes about 20 minutes to signal the brain that we’ve had sufficient food. When eating while stressed, in this case due to fast eating, the brain has significantly less capacity to register taste, aroma, satisfaction and the nutrient profile of the food. In other words, all the signals the brain uses to determine when we’ve had elegant sufficiency are compromised. At this point, you may think you just have a willpower problem and may even label yourself an “overeater”, but it could just be that you are eating to fast.
Let me tell you about running man. I call him the running man because that’s how he approached life. He was an ex-football player and now a CEO of a finance company. He ran at life the same way he learnt to run at football - flat out fast and competitively.
Running man came to see me at the age of 42years when his digestion started “giving him trouble”. He’d experienced bloating and embarrassing burping after meals for a few years but more recently, and more concerning for him, pain, occasional reflux and constipation.
We looked at his diet which wasn’t too bad. We added a healthy balanced breakfast which fixed the 3pm slump and did away with the afternoon energy-fix a la latte and pastry. We rearranged his macro-nutrients so as to add more vegetables and to make sure he wasn't overdoing the protein. He regularly ate large 350gm pieces of steak late at night and snacked on up to 5 pots of yoghurt a day.
We also added a digestive-aid to his regime plus a good quality magnesium and multi combo to support life’s inevitable stress.
He saw improvements within 4-5 days. His energy levels were much better. He was sleeping better, something he hadn’t mentioned, and his morning snuffy nose disappeared - which he had figured was ‘normal and just me’.
The gas abated somewhat but in general, his digestive issues remained. He was happy with the improvements but of course wanted to fix the reason he came to me - his digestive distress. I began thinking along the lines of dysbiosis, food allergies and the like.
It was when reading an article on stress that I realised I had possibly overlooked a very basic and important piece of his puzzle. So back we went into the fray to explore how stress might be effecting his digestion. And there it was. He admitted to never ever sat down to quietly eat. He’d never noticed whether he chewed his food, let alone if he chewed it well.
He grew up in a family of four kids, all sporty, big and competitive boys. They even brought competition to the dinner table. Racing to finish first so they could then ‘steal’ from the slowest brother’s plate. The meals were hearty, nutritious and healthy, and food was like filing up the car - the quicker the better so you could get back out in the garden with a ball. As an adult, he still ate incredibly fast and saw meals as an opportunity to multi-task either hosting business meetings or to finish off emails and other bits of ‘easy’ work.
While telling his story, he instinctively understood that bolting his food could be part of the problem. We talked a bit about self-care, slowing down, checking in and being present. Not concepts that necessarily came easily, but he listened and said he’d give the simple practice of being present and chewing his food a go.
I saw running man the following week and his digestion had improved. He was regularly practicing mindful eating and had introduced it into his own family meals - who ever finished last was the new winner! OK…. so the competitive nature remained safely in tact! Over the next 6 months, running man’s digestive distress had corrected itself.
Eating at a leisurely pace, is the number one favour you can do for your metabolism. You will digest more efficiently, assimilate and even eliminate better. Your food will taste better, you will feel lighter and better nourished. You will naturally stop when you’ve had enough and you will feel satisfied.
If you would like to learn how stress could possibly be the cause behind your digestive distress, weight gain or overeating, please get in touch!