Do you eat too fast? Find out why meal duration matters

Doctors say eating too fast could impact digestion and lead to gaining weight. Gradually, life will shift lanes from the fast to unhealthy.

ByChetana Belagere

Published Apr 22, 2024 | 7:02 AMUpdatedApr 22, 2024 | 10:17 AM

can I eat fast

“We take a
Bite bite bite
Just little bites…”

The nursery rhyme, Mealtime Song, may be familiar to some. It might bring a tinge of nostalgia which is forgotten the moment life hits the fast lane.

Meals are a rushed affair for many. One may come across people — starving at work — dashing out for a “quick bite” and returning in no time. There are tasks to be accomplished and targets to be met before the next appraisal.

Though they work for their bread and butter, the meal is pushed down the priority list.

Doctors, however, are not impressed with the “quick bite” routine. Eating too fast could impact digestion and lead to gaining weight.

Gradually, life will shift lanes from the fast to unhealthy as people also stick to the fast-eating habit outside work.

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Increased risk of gastritis

Dr Sudhir Kumar is a renowned neurologist from Apollo Hospital in Hyderabad, a fitness freak and popular on X for his fitness-related posts.

“Fast eating speed increases the risk of gastritis,” he posted on X. The tweet engaged with several people, who responded with the time they take to finish a meal which ranged from five minutes to half an hour.

Dr Swetha Adarsh, a nutritionist in Bengaluru, defined fast eating: “Fast eating refers to the practice of consuming food at a rapid pace, often swallowing large bites without adequately chewing them.”

Dr Kumar cited a study. “Research done on about 11,000 Korean adults studied the association between eating speed and erosive gastritis (based on endoscopy),” he said.

The result showed that the group with the highest eating speed (<5 min/meal) had a 1.7 times higher risk for erosive gastritis than the group with the lowest eating speed (≥15 min/meal).

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The gastritis link

“The first is the possibility that the gastric mucosa is damaged due to the increased time during which food remains in the stomach,” Dr Kumar explained the link between fast eating and gastritis.

“Those who eat fast are likely to chew the food less in terms of the number of chews before swallowing and the total time spent chewing,” he added.

Subsequently, large chunks of food would remain in the stomach for extended periods, exposed to stomach acids. This prolonged exposure can damage the gastric mucosa, increasing the risk of gastritis.

However, Dr Rajeev Jayadevan, a renowned gastroenterologist from Kochi, disagreed. “No, fast eating doesn’t increase the risk of gastritis,” he stated.

Gastritis is the inflammation of the stomach lining, commonly caused by Helicobacter pylori bacteria, smoking, alcohol consumption, and painkillers, he explained.

However, Dr Jayadevan agreed that fast eating would lead to bloating and gas formation from excessive swallowing of air and indigestion.

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Chewing is crucial

“We chew, our
Food food food…”

The tiny-tots’ learning song has long been drowned in forgetfulness. Time has become expensive.

“Chewing is crucial,” nutritionist Dr Adarsh told South First.

“When someone is eating fast it means the food is not chewed properly. This means it is not digested properly,” she added.

Well-chewed food goes down the alimentary canal mixes with digestive juices, and gets assimilated in the blood, and nutrients are extracted.

When gulped, the food molecules remain intact. “If the food is thoroughly chewed, there shouldn’t be any issues. Eating quickly often leads to gulping down food that hasn’t been properly masticated,” she explained.

“This results in larger chunks of food and the gastric juices cannot effectively act upon them. Consequently, these juices remain longer in the digestive tract without proper function,” the nutritionist added.

Agreeing, Dr Jayadevan said improper chewing and inadequate mixing of salivary enzymes also contribute to indigestion.

The obesity factor

Fast eating might lead to over-eating, Dr Kumar opined. Eating quickly is often associated with a stressful lifestyle, which could elevate cortisol levels.

Increased cortisol affects body homeostasis and metabolism, potentially leading to overeating.

Meanwhile, when eating quickly, there is less exposure to the gustatory (taste), olfactory (smell), and visual stimuli that contribute to the feeling of fullness. As a result, fast eaters may continue to consume more food before feeling satisfied.

Dr Kumar added that eating speed can also influence the secretion of hormones like peptide YY and glucagon-like peptide 1, both of which help suppress appetite.

Fast eating may impair the release of these hormones, reducing the sensation of satiety and potentially leading to increased food intake.

“For weight management, emphasis is often placed on ‘what to eat’ and ‘how much to eat’. However, studies have also shown the importance of ‘how fast to eat’,” Dr Kumar said.

Higher BMI

Citing another study he said the finding of a meta-analysis showed that Body Mass Index (BMI) was 1.78 higher among people who ate quickly as compared to slow eaters.

Eating quickly was associated with a greater than two-fold higher risk of obesity.

Explaining further, Dr Kumar said people who eat fast tend to eat more.

“This may be due to fast eaters ingesting more energy before the brain recognises the satiety signal, which is triggered by nutrient ingestion, gastric distension, and the release of gut factors, including cholecystokinin.”

Eating fast may lead to the inactivation of neuronal histamine. “This plays a role in suppressing food intake and burning of fat,” he added.

Dr Jayadevan agreed that fast eating would lead to obesity as people tend to eat more than what is needed.

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Only carbs

Dr Adarsh said food is not assimilated and nutrients are also not absorbed properly by fast eaters.

“It is almost like having non-nutrient part of the food only, which is mainly carbs,” she said.

Carbs digest easily as other vitamins and minerals are not broken down. “There is an increase in kilo calories or carbs, which increases the weight of the person,” Dr Adarsh added.

She further said that the food type consumed and the body state of the person, too, played a part in obesity.

“If they are having fatty foods without chewing properly and sending it into the intestine, then there is fat or starch accumulation, which leads to an increase in weight,” she said

The 15-minute rule

Doctors said that extending the meal duration to over 15 minutes would help reduce the risk of bloating or obesity.

It not only improves digestion by allowing more time for chewing and salivation but also enhances the overall eating experience, making it more enjoyable and satisfying.

“Eating slowly over 15-20 minutes is preferable to overeating in less than five minutes,” Dr Kumar advocated.

Dr Jayadevan said food must be eaten with focus and mindfulness, “taking one’s own time, avoiding distractions such as television or mobile screen”.

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Expert tips on how to eat

“Let’s learn to eat
Safely,” concludes the nursery rhyme.

  • Set aside sufficient time for meals. At least 15-20 minutes for each meal
  • Do not multitask while eating. Eat mindfully
  • Chew thoroughly
  • Focus on the eating experience
  • Pay attention to taste, texture and aroma
  • Avoid distractions like TV, smartphones, or any electronic gadgets.

(Edited by Majnu Babu).