Don't Want a Career as a Competitive Eater
June 11, 2007 7:07 AM   Subscribe

How can I learn to slow down and enjoy what I'm eating?

I eat too fast. I know I eat too fast. When I'm given food, especially food that I like and tastes good, I'll wolf it down real quick, but I can't be sure as to why. I'd love to be able to slow down, to not be the first person to finish at the table, to enjoy to the fullest what has been presented to me. Furthermore, I'm trying to lose weight, and I know that eating slower helps you fill up faster.

So, what can I do? Anyone else who has this problem?
posted by SansPoint to Health & Fitness (40 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Chew your food more. Count how often you chew a typical bite of food, and instead of swallowing then, double it.
posted by danb at 7:09 AM on June 11, 2007

You're not alone. I'm the same.
posted by slimepuppy at 7:10 AM on June 11, 2007

I think putting your fork down in between bites can help you slow down but I've never really tried it. Not drinking during meals though helps me enjoy food more depending on the type.
posted by thelongcon at 7:11 AM on June 11, 2007

A little more conversation, a little less action?

Chatting to people at dinner, putting less on my fork and take more time to enjoy the wine (if I have any) are all things that work for me. Chewing more just makes the meal feel more like a chore, which it shouldn't be.
posted by edd at 7:15 AM on June 11, 2007

Best answer: use chopsticks. im serious.
posted by tastycracker at 7:22 AM on June 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Buy tiny silverware. I have a few miniature sets that I use when I want to savor something or be satisfied with a smaller portion.
posted by hermitosis at 7:23 AM on June 11, 2007

Best answer: seconding chopsticks. also, make yourself take a little sip of water between each bite. it will help fill you up and slow you down.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:24 AM on June 11, 2007

Best answer: Definitely, lay-down your tableware between bites.
Do not pick-up the tableware until after you have swallowed the previous bite.

In addition, eat different foods. Items with more delicate flavors. And teach yourself to pay attention to the flavors in your mouth. This will slow you down, as well.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:25 AM on June 11, 2007

Turn off the TV or Internet. Don't eat alone if you can help it. Eat smaller portions. Consciously focus on what you are chewing, eating, feeling. Ritualize your eating in order to set it off as a separate space in your day.
posted by MasonDixon at 7:26 AM on June 11, 2007

Best answer: Take sips of water in between bites.
posted by look busy at 7:28 AM on June 11, 2007


Preferably through your nose; it'll enhance flavor, which may help you savor the food more. But mainly, a few slow, deep breaths are what you need to help slow yourself down. It's easy, and it really works.
posted by mediareport at 7:28 AM on June 11, 2007

Yeah I find that I wolf down food if I'm watching tv or on the computer while eating. When you eliminate those types of distractions, you can better realize how fast you're going.
Trying to have a conversation during dinner is the best solution! Make sure you're asking most of the questions, and it'll keep you on your toes so that you don't have a huge mouthful when it's time for a follow-up question.
Maybe it's also helpful to divide the food on your plate into fourths or something, and tell yourself that you can only eat one quadrant every 10 minutes. Or some other crazy timing scheme like that.
posted by SoylentErin at 7:28 AM on June 11, 2007

And if you really want to s-l-o-w down using chopsticks - then don't use Japanese or Chinese style wooden or plastic - use the metal Korean ones.
posted by gomichild at 7:35 AM on June 11, 2007

Eat better food with fresher ingredients. Try to taste the different flavors. Don’t think “I’m eating pizza, it tastes like pizza.” Instead, what does the sauce taste like? What’s the texture of the crust? Can you tell what type of cheeses they’ve used? Much like a music lover might try to pick out a bass line or a single flute in an orchestra, learn to appreciate what’s in your food more than the sum of the parts.

Sushi is good for this, since it’s really all about the different flavors and textures, but you can do it with just about anything.
posted by bondcliff at 7:36 AM on June 11, 2007

Take a trip to Rome. They won't let you eat fast there.
posted by mds35 at 7:38 AM on June 11, 2007

Fourthing chopsticks. The advantage, for me, over methods that require conscious discipline like "chew every bite for so-and-so seconds" is that the experience doesn't become chore-like due to an enforced process, and I can eat as tenaciously as usual and still be slowed down by the mechanics. Problem is, once you're good at it, it's not all that slow, depending on the food. For foods that are already in bite-sized bits it's about equal in speed to a fork.

Regarding conversation, I've heard of at least one study that showed that socialization while dining increases the amount of food consumed by people, so the idea of doing more eating with company (while no doubt a good idea for other reasons) is probably not a good remedy for this problem.
posted by abcde at 7:51 AM on June 11, 2007

Seconding bondcliff's suggestion. It's easiest to eat mindfully like this by turning off all distractions (TV especially) and focusing solely on your food. This does take some willpower, but after a while you will likely enjoy experiencing the various flavors and textures as they are. A side effect of eating this way is that you'll slow down a lot.
posted by Ustrasana at 7:54 AM on June 11, 2007

Chew more. It doesn't have to be a chore-like X number of chews that some above have spoken negatively about. The goal is just to make sure you chew everything thoroughly. Sometimes that's a few chews for mashed potato, sometimes it's a lot for calamari. If you are simply mindful of it you'll find it's the exact opposite of a chore - the taste of a thing changes as you masticate it and mix saliva into it.

Chew, feel and taste it over your tongue. If it's not mostly smooth, chew some more. Chew, swish, repeat, as it were.
posted by phearlez at 8:10 AM on June 11, 2007

My girlfriend calls a fork a "food shovel" any time it's in my hand.
posted by The Straightener at 8:20 AM on June 11, 2007

I like everyone else's non-technical solutions better, but this thread would be lacking without a mention of the PowerSeed (also covered in the NYTimes here) - it's a cute little gadget that flashes a light to remind you to slow down and re-evaluate whether you're actually still hungry. See the linked stuff for better explanations.

Also, while I was looking for that thing, I ran across this crazy thing that is apparently like a retainer you wear while eating. The theory says that if you have less room in your mouth, you'll take smaller bites and eat more slowly.

I'm not endorsing either of these products, but they seemed relevant.
posted by vytae at 8:22 AM on June 11, 2007

When I went through this process myself, I did two things.

I deliberately took smaller bits. One strand of pasta rather than as many as I could fork up. A tiny bit of mashed potatoes on the end of my fork. Really thin slices of steak. By breaking up the food into very small portions, I ate more slowly.

I also actively thought about every bit of food I put in my mouth. I couldn't do the 'chew your food X times' thing--because it distracted me from anything else I might be doing to be counting all the time, and because you can't chew yogurt. But as I would put a bit of food in my mouth, I would think something like 'I'm having a bite of mashed potatoes. The potatoes are good.' or 'I'm having a bite of steak. The steak is getting cold.' They were just very quick thoughts, so unlike the counting every chew thing, they didn't monopolize my thoughts over the entire meal, but if I found that what I was putting in my mouth was the only thing I was thinking of, I knew I was eating to fast to get other thoughts in in the interim.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:23 AM on June 11, 2007

Take the time to cook a well-prepared meal, including things with multiple ingredients to juggle and combine. You'll start trying to improve your recipes or at least judge your cooking skills, which requires a lot of chewing to check texture, tasting to see if you added enough seasoning, and drinks of water to clear the taste in your mouth between bites of different dishes.

Plus, you'll feel like a jerk if it takes 1/10th of the time to eat the food that it did to prepare it. Eating can be just another task to put a checkmark next to, or it can be something worth doing well.
posted by mikeh at 8:33 AM on June 11, 2007

By the way, for many foods, the chopsticks suggestion is going to be worthless after a couple weeks of use when you gain some level of proficiency. Have you seen anyone actually use chopsticks traditionally? They often hold the bowl close to the mouth and use them as a food shovel.
posted by mikeh at 8:35 AM on June 11, 2007

Pour yourself a glass of wine with dinner. Intersperse eating with sips of wine. Wait until you taste the finish, then pick your fork back up.
posted by ssg at 10:10 AM on June 11, 2007

You may also want to look into eating meditation. I can't say I'm suggesting you do it often, but you can use some of the practices to slow yourself down.

Here's an example.
posted by tcv at 10:17 AM on June 11, 2007

If you're alone, chew with your mouth open and... I don't know how to explain it. Smack your mouth? Vietnamese people do this and I could never understand why until I tried it - it makes food taste so much better. You'll want to slow down.

Also, chopsticks.
posted by borkingchikapa at 10:19 AM on June 11, 2007

I don't know about everyone else, but I always eat a lot slower if I'm reading at the same time (not a good option if you're eating in company) because, for one thing, I have to eat very carefully while holding a book with one hand or otherwise I will spill everything all over myself; and also I usually stop eating when I come to interesting bits to give my complete attention to them. It takes me about three times as long to eat a meal while reading.
posted by frobozz at 10:25 AM on June 11, 2007

Seconding that reading helps me. I'm somewhat proficient with chopsticks, and I definitely use them as a food shovel, so that doesn't make sense to me. But I notice myself taking home 1/3 of a restaurant entree that I inhaled while in good company, but could barely finish while browsing RSS feeds.
posted by scission at 10:48 AM on June 11, 2007

Second vote for what mikeh said about chopsticks: If you have any skill at all with them, you can eat just as fast or faster.

One of the few exceptions is snacks. Eating chips with chopsticks is a good way to keep from eating the whole bag in 30 seconds. And it keeps your fingers clean.

If you eat family style a lot, put only small amounts onto your plate at one time so you have to take frequent breaks to refill.

Nthing the advice to put your flatware down between bites. Do something like putting a rubber band on your wrist before the meal to remind you. ("What's this doing on my wrist? Oh right, drop the fork.") Moving a ring or a watch to the other hand can do the same thing.
posted by Ookseer at 10:53 AM on June 11, 2007

Best answer: In Amsterdam this weekend I watched a woman eating dinner at the table next to us and realized she'd found the trick, helped by the culture and the chef. The next night I gave it a go here.

Take a dish like the "Guinea fowl with a minced veal*, parmesan cheese and sage filling with baked polenta and paksoy". The chef helped - it was his show after all - by providing such variety of ingredients and cooking them in unique ways. It's up to us to explore that variety. There are at least a dozen ways to create combinations of those ingredients in different ways, and then another dozen if you move to arrangements of the food within those combinations and how you put it into your mouth. Now bring in some wine or beer, and you've even more combinations.

The purpose isn't to create a project out of eating, but to let us explore the food. Don't bother trying to keep track of what combinations you've tried. Just try them and don't be afraid to see what happens.

For the dish above the polenta was on the bottom of the chicken and had absorbed a lot of a reduction of some kind. I could cut little slices of the veal and/or chicken and try them with the polenta and poksoy. I found if I had the polenta between the veal and chicken the flavor of the reduction was greatly reduced, while adding the poksoy (bok choy, I think) added a wonderful earthy but not grassy flavor I never would have found if left to my own shopping habits.

To top it off the whole plate had very little food on it because it was the second course. The first had been another stunning variety of foods cooked in a way I've never even heard of: "Farmers pork fricandeau marinated in honey, rosemary and lemon with shallots confit". I'm glad you made me think of this actually because I wanted to google fricandeau!

That's a hell of a lot of stuff to explore. At home we certainly can't do as much due to time restrictions but realize this: you are your own chef. Do what you can and try to have some fun. Just focus on giving your tongue something to do rather than filling your belly, and let that drive your cooking and grocery shopping.

One other thing - they had this great concept about eating. They'd get pissy if a person was even a few minutes late, but once there it was expecting we'd make the night out of the meal, 2 - 3 hours minimum. No TV or event, just people eating, talking, and enjoying themselves. I know what I'm describing sounds like a huge time sink, but they seem to have skirted that by making it the main event, and I think they're on to something.

* First time I've had veal, yes I know what it is, no I wasn't happy about it, but the other options were really freaking me out and cow, even if young, sounded pretty good in comparison.
posted by jwells at 11:29 AM on June 11, 2007

I just started Weight Watchers, and I find that knowing I have a limited amount to eat makes me eat slower and enjoy it a lot more.
posted by radioamy at 11:30 AM on June 11, 2007

Reformed gulper, I used to eat like my dogs do...

When eating with others, I make an effort to keep pace with my dining companions by taking the occasional glance at their plates and using that as a gauge of how far along I should be. If I'm a lot further ahead (example: my side dish is gone and my entree nearly so while everyone else is only half way through), I set the fork down until at least half of those at my table have caught up. If I'm trying to lose weight, I pace the slowest eater at the table. The upside of this is you'll be a better dining companion as you can fill your (non-becrumbed) mouth with conversation rather than food.

If I'm eating out alone or with someone who isn't chatty, I try to reverse-engineer the recipe. This means studying the (untouched) plate visually for presentation and cooking technique before teasing out various bits to examine for ingredients, tasting components and the whole to try to work out spices and flavorings. This works better with some kinds of cuisine than others.

If my meal is self-prepared and I'm dining alone, I keep a pitcher of water nearby (because I'm too lazy to get up for refills) and try to take a sip between each bite.
posted by jamaro at 11:30 AM on June 11, 2007

Fondue. You cook as you eat, so it takes some time, and each bite is hot and fresh.
posted by The Deej at 11:40 AM on June 11, 2007

I find that I shovel food when I've gone too long without eating. I've changed my eating schedule so that I'm eating a lot of small meals instead of three big meals, and I've noticed that I eat more slowly as a consequence. If I skip a meal or two, I'm back to eating as quickly as I can again. I'm pretty sure it has to do with my blood-sugar levels. If I eat ix small meals I never really get hungry, but if I only eat three big meals I get really hungry between feedings.
posted by lekvar at 12:17 PM on June 11, 2007

If you want to eat more slowly and consciously, I wouldn't watch TV, use the computer, or read.

When you're at home, try using a small plate. You may need to refill it during the meal, but that will slow you down, make you more conscious of how much you've eaten, and give you a chance to consider whether you really need/want more.
posted by Artifice_Eternity at 12:21 PM on June 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

This sounds silly, but pretend you're eating in slow motion.
posted by theiconoclast31 at 12:33 PM on June 11, 2007

I had a friend that wanted to slow down his eating to lose weight.

The problem? He loves food. He loves thinking about it. He loves eating it. He loves cooking it.

The solution? He carried around a little pocket-sized notebook and a pen. Whenever he got some food, he'd try to identify as many of the ingredients and spices as he could, along with the techniques used in preparing it. Is this roasted or pan-fried? Did they use sugar? How well-seasoned is it? This resulted in him pausing between bites, writing in the notebook, trying to think more about the food, and enjoy it without shoveling it down.

It helps that he's sort of an anal guy, but he says it worked for him, and had a few added benefits. Firstly, after he had identified the flavors as best he could, he could talk himself out of eating more. He wasn't hungry, and he had thoroughly tasted the food, so why continue to eat it? Secondly, he thought more about what he was eating. Is there butter in this? How much? He said that one of the immediate benefits of thinking this much about his food was that it almost eliminated his intake of fast food - about which, he said, he did not want to think too much.

Your mileage may vary...
posted by rush at 2:38 PM on June 12, 2007

come on people, it's 2007... it's really not that hard to have a wedding / marriage without following all the old fashioned sexist traditions.

Please! No one is berating anon for defying tradition. It's for being such a dick regarding HIS OWN FIANCEE'S wishes.
posted by The Deej at 5:03 PM on June 12, 2007

Ummm yaaaaaaaaaaa just ignore that one k?
posted by The Deej at 6:06 PM on June 12, 2007

It is a running joke in my family just how much this is not my problem! Mum doing an impersonation of me eating - for like two minutes, yeah funny! While my brother laughed his arse off. In front of both his and my other brothers new girlfriends! Real funny...

Anyway if anyone can teach you it is me.

Undoubtably you lean forward and make minimal plate to mouth movements? Okay you have to start thinking QWERTY about this.

Sit back from your plate. Far enough so that if you drop anything it will land on you! This also means you will now take care positioning food on your fork. You will also have no momentum to get it from your plate to your mouth, so now there is also less on your fork.

Did you notice I have not yet mentioned a knife? Because now a knife is only for folding salad or anything the side of your fork cannot handle. Yes, no more chop and munch and chop and munch and chopmunchchopmunchchopmunchchopmunch.

Instead we have a relaxed perhaps even slightly reclined position, then straighten for bite, one handed selecting of bite (oh yes and now with what is going on your fork being important, you may find it's like tetris, but on your plate, and in reverse), then the balancing and maneuvering to your mouth.

Where chewing is no faster then 4/4 time and each bite chewed, possibly 8-10 but, lets say at least 5 times. As I know someone that inhales food chewing maybe twice in the entire meal, yes I thought that was important to mention.

This is just how I eat but even a few of these things will slow you down. It may sound like a bizarre obsessive compulsive ritual but it's really just a leisurely and relaxed event. I've never analyzed the workings of it before and I know I'm forgetting things. Pausing from time to time to tongue food particles loose and immediately tidy any crumbs ect. If I think of anything important I'll come back.

As a warning though I do not speak when I eat I just eat, as there is only a 20 minute window before a tummy sends the 'full' signal and then that's it. Of course you can still eat but it's not the same. It's just not fun.

Oh and one more thing - guard your plate. I'll leave you with something you may also find amusing. It was the meet the family lunch - and his hand strayed too close by my plate. Unbeknownst to me my ever vigilant sentry of a hand armed with a standard issue fork had not received word we were on 'Best Behavior'. Though this became clea,r much to my horror, as I recognized the beginnings of what was to be a routine procedure. Executed with the speed and precision of a viper. Oh sweet somethinorather NO! It was just a slight twitch... But his hand well aware of what what had just been averted still returned an almost imperceptible flinch... Sigh
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 11:07 AM on June 13, 2007

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