If your lunch disappears within five minutes (whether you’re trying to hustle back to your work or you simply can’t resist bite after bite of that burrito bowl), you may want to stick a fork in your speed-eating habits.
A 2011 study on the relationship between eating speed and weight found that those in a fast-eating group put on more pounds, on average, than medium and slow eaters over an eight-year period.
The reason for this correlation is fairly simple: It takes the brain about 20 minutes to get the signal from the gut that you’re full. If you eat the entire plate of pasta within five minutes, you’ve likely eaten more than necessary because your brain didn’t register satiety—yet.
Slowing down your bites could make have a wide-ranging impact on your health. Here are all the ways eating more slowly (taking smaller bites, chewing more, chatting with friends between forkfuls) could improve your physical and mental health.
Eating slowly can help manage weight. In addition to preventing unwanted weight gain, taking your time at meals can help curb overeating in people who already want to lose weight, according to a 2014 study.
Eating slowly may help steady your blood sugar. A burst of food all at once can put stress on the body’s production of insulin. If five-minute dinners are your norm, you could develop a buildup of glucose in the bloodstream due to insulin resistance, a prerequisite for type 2 diabetes. (Learn more information about insulin resistance here.)
Eating slowly may reduce blood pressure. Extra weight puts strain on the heart and blood vessels. Even losing as few as five to 10 pounds can help lower BP for those with a body mass index of 25 or higher, according the American Heart Association. Find more information about how weight affects heart health here.
Eating slowly may affect your risk of chronic diseases. A 2008 study tracked 1,083 adults over five years and found that 11.6 percent of fast eaters, as opposed to only 2.3 percent of slow eaters, developed symptoms of metabolic syndrome (a risk factor for both type 2 diabetes and heart disease).
Eating slowly can help you find more pleasure from food. Mindful eating, or taking the time to savor the tastes, textures, and aromas from your favorite noms, may reduce overeating by helping you feel satisfied from each bite. In fact, some psychologists use mindfulness-based therapy to treat binge eating disorder and related issues.
A slower meal may improve your mental health. A mindful meal can give you a break from the rest of your busy workday and help you reset. Even better? Share your lunch break with coworkers or sit down with the family for dinner. Setting down your fork between bites and chatting can help you feel connected to others, an important component to emotional well-being.
For more healthy lifestyle tips, check out these habits of people who’ve kept the weight off.