Slow and Steady

How the Speed of Eating Can Determine Your Body Type

When it comes to eating, we tend to think the amount we eat determines if we will be overweight, underweight, or just right. And to a large extent this is true—it is very hard to become overweight if you do not eat very much.

What is not so well known is the role time plays in how we eat and how we look.

The impact of the speed of eating is being investigated by Dr. Per Södersten and Dr. Cecilia Bergh, both of the prestigious Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, where the Nobel Prize in Medicine is awarded every year. Their careers blend two interests: Dr. Bergh’s in how women develop eating disorders, and Dr. Södersten’s in the nature of human drives.

In studying thousands of people, the Karolinska researchers discovered something remarkable. People who suffer from anorexia nervosa tend to ingest calories at a very slow rate and people who are obese tend to ingest calories at a very fast rate. Proof that these observations went beyond mere curiosity followed as the doctors founded the division of Applied Neuroendocrinology at the Karolinska Institute and treated thousands of people with either anorexia or severe obesity over the last several years.

In their treatment, they offer their clients a computer program that will enable them to see the speed at which they consume calories and to help them eat at a more normal rate. Their attention to the time element in eating has yielded impressive results—about 72% of their clients with anorexia go into remission and 90% of them remain in remission after five years. These are truly remarkable results.

What impact do these insights have on our struggles in America, the land of abundant food, and exploding waistlines? We tend to think, with good reason, about the volume and quality of food we eat. But now we are learning that our drive to eat is managed at a very unconscious, but quite powerful, level—the speed with which calories are ingested. For those of us who want to manage our weight, actually slowing down the speed at which we eat could make a big difference. The researchers have also found that who we eat with can influence our speed of eating.

So at your next meal, take a moment to consider how fast you’re clearing your plate. Pacing yourself slowly enough to savor the food you eat and quickly enough to meet your needs allows you to find balance.