Is it healthier to eat slower?

Eating slower has become a popular health trend, with many claiming it can aid digestion, help you eat less, and improve overall health. But is there any scientific evidence to support eating at a slow pace? This article will examine the research behind slowed eating and whether it offers real benefits compared to eating quickly.

What is slowed eating?

Slowed eating essentially means taking more time to chew and swallow your food. It involves being more mindful and attentive during meals by thoroughly chewing each bite, putting down utensils between bites, drinking water frequently, and avoiding distractions like TV or phones while eating.

The goals of slowed eating include:

  • Improving digestion by breaking down food more thoroughly
  • Allowing time for your brain to recognize feelings of fullness
  • Reducing overeating by giving your stomach time to signal satiety to your brain
  • Increasing enjoyment of meals by focusing attention on taste and textures

Proponents of mindful eating recommend chewing each bite around 30 times before swallowing. This is significantly more than the average of 10-15 chews per bite that most people do.

The research on slowed eating

A number of studies have looked at how eating speed affects weight, hormones, digestion, and perceptions of hunger/fullness. Here is what the research has found so far:

Weight loss

Several studies show an association between faster eating speeds and higher body mass index (BMI) or risk of obesity.

  • A large Japanese study of over 59,000 adults found that fast eaters were more likely to be obese. Those who rated their eating speed as “fast” or “very fast” had a higher average BMI compared to self-described “medium” or “slow” eaters.
  • A study in New Zealand tracked 57 teenage girls and found those who ate faster had higher BMIs after three years. The fast eaters gained an average of 2.2 kg more than slower eaters over the three-year period.
  • An analysis of 30 studies concluded that faster eaters are up to 115% more likely to be overweight or obese compared to slower eaters.

While these studies show a link between speed of eating and weight, they cannot prove cause and effect. Some researchers speculate that overweight people may naturally eat faster, rather than fast eating leading to weight gain. However, studies where people intentionally reduced eating speed have noted modest weight loss:

  • In one study, people with obesity were instructed to take pauses during meals and chew each bite 40 times. After 6 weeks, they lost an average of 6.2 pounds while the control group gained 1.3 pounds.
  • Another study divided participants into fast and slow eating groups based on eating speed. After adjusting for calories, the slow eating group lost 2.3 pounds more over a 6 week period compared to fast eaters.

Based on the current evidence, eating slower seems beneficial for weight management. But it remains unclear whether simply slowing down intake would directly cause significant weight loss on its own. More large scale clinical trials are needed.

Hormones and digestion

Eating speed also affects hormones involved in appetite regulation:

  • Ghrelin – Released by the stomach before meals, ghrelin stimulates appetite. Studies show that fast eaters have higher ghrelin levels than slow eaters.
  • PYY – Secreted by the gut after meals, PYY suppresses appetite. Slow eaters tend to have higher PYY compared to fast eaters.
  • CCK – This intestinal hormone also reduces appetite and feelings of hunger. It spikes more when meals are eaten slowly.

Eating slowly gives time for these satiety hormones to kick in and signal the brain that you are full. This may explain why slower eaters feel full with less food.

Chewing food thoroughly also improves digestion by maximizing contact with saliva and breaking down nutrients. Additionally, eating too quickly can increase swallowing air, which may cause bloating or gas.

Perceptions of hunger and fullness

A number of studies indicate that slower eating makes people feel more satiated after eating:

  • In a small study, participants reported feeling fuller and less hungry after slowing down their eating rate during a meal.
  • When fast eaters were instructed to reduce speed of intake, they reported increased fullness and satiety hormone levels after meals.
  • One study found that people who chewed almonds 40 times before swallowing felt fuller and ate less at subsequent meals compared to those chewing 10-15 times.

Chewing food into smaller particles provides more surface area for digestive enzymes to work. This increased breakdown of food may lead slower eaters to absorb fewer calories and feel fuller from the same portion size.

Tips for eating slower

Here are some tips to help train yourself to eat slower:

  • Set aside at least 20 minutes for meals and minimize distractions.
  • Take small bites and chew thoroughly until food is liquefied.
  • Put down utensils between bites.
  • Drink water frequently to help fill your stomach.
  • Avoid “autopilot” by keeping your focus on the flavors and textures.
  • Stop eating once you start to feel full rather than overstuffed.

Using smaller plates can also help moderate portion sizes and reduce temptation to overeat.

Potential downsides of slowed eating

While the research is still emerging, there are a few potential disadvantages to keep in mind with slowed eating:

  • Time commitment – Slow, mindful eating takes more time which can be impractical or frustrating for some people.
  • Social challenges – Eating much slower than companions could be awkward in social situations.
  • Increased focus on food – For people prone to obsessive thoughts about food, paying close attention during meals may fuel unhealthful thought patterns.
  • Reduced enjoyment – Constantly monitoring intake could detract from the pleasurable aspects of eating for some individuals.

As with any lifestyle change, taking it too far or becoming obsessive is unhealthy. Listening to your body’s natural hunger/fullness cues remains key.

Does speed of eating truly impact health?

Research seems to confirm that rushed, chaotic eating likely contributes to overeating and potential weight gain over time.

However, it remains unclear if simply instructing fast eaters to slow down would produce substantial weight loss or health changes on its own. Multiple factors beyond eating rate play a role in obesity.

For example, a fast eater who is mindful of portion sizes and calories may not face adverse effects or weight gain. Natural, unconscious eating speeds can vary significantly between individuals too.

Current evidence suggests slowing down intake and chewing thoroughly can benefit digestion, hormone response, and feelings of fullness. But more research is still needed to determine if it leads to major differences in objective health outcomes over the long-term.

As of now, there is no ideal eating speed that applies universally. Finding an unhurried comfortable pace may help enhance satiety for some people. But eating slowly should not become an obsessive chore.

The bottom line

Here is a summary of the potential benefits and downsides of slower eating based on current research:

Possible benefits

  • May increase feelings of fullness during meals
  • Linked to smaller meal sizes and consuming fewer calories
  • May improve digestion and nutrient absorption
  • Associated with lower BMI and reduced obesity risk
  • Can help regulate appetite hormones like ghrelin, PYY and CCK

Potential downsides

  • Time commitment involved could be a barrier
  • Social challenges with eating significantly slower than others
  • Could become obsessive for those prone to food fixation
  • May reduce pleasure or enjoyment of eating for some

Overall, available data suggests mindful, slower eating patterns could benefit weight management and digestion for many people. But there is no one size fits all rule. Finding your optimal personal pace and paying attention during meals is likely more important for health than the specific speed itself.


Research on slowed eating is still an emerging area, with several small scale studies but few large randomized controlled trials. Current evidence links faster eating to increased obesity risk and indicates slowing down intake may curb overeating and boost satiety hormones. However, direct evidence proving cause and effect is limited at this point.

Slowing down intake requires conscious effort and may not work well for every individual’s lifestyle or preferences. While reasonable paced eating can aid health for many, it should not become stressful or disruptive. Overall, what you eat and your total calorie balance likely matter more than speed alone.

Paying attention and listening to your body’s natural hunger/fullness signals—which can help guide appropriate portion sizes—remains key. More large scale clinical studies are needed to determine if instructing chronic fast eaters to eat slower would produce meaningful weight or health changes over time.

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