Life (and Food) in the Fast Lane

If you’re like many Americans, you eat like you live…fast. Whether it’s in the car, at your desk, on your way to soccer practice,or standing in front of the refrigerator, you eat on the run and as quickly as you can. After all, you have things to do and places to go. Sound familiar? If so, these symptoms — indigestion, bloating and heartburn — may too.

It’s no big surprise to hear that U.S. adults don’t have time for a sit down meal. In many homes, the family table is more a place for mail than it is for a meal. In fact, a study of young adults published in the January 2009 issue of the Journal ofthe American Dietetic Association found that thirty-five percent of men and forty-two percent of women said they didn’t have time to sit and eat. You might be thinking, “So what’s the big deal? Well, this same study showed that eating “on the run” resulted in higher intakes of soft drinks, fast food, total fat, and saturated fat, and lower intake of healthful foods. Day in and day out, eating on the run may just land you another run — to the doctor’s office.

Eating in the fast lane may also increase our incidence of “mindless eating.” In his book,Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, Brian Wansink describes how busy lifestyles cause people to overeat without even noticing. He observes that we do so many things throughout the day, that when it comes to food, we nibble and nibble and nibble, and eat and eat and eat, often consuming more calories than we need. Or even realize.

TAKE THE SLOW LANE

Life is fast. Why not make eating an occasion to slow down?

Imagine the pleasure that comes from sitting down at a table with friends or family and taking time to actually taste, and perhaps even savor, the flavor of food. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Eating slowly allows you to experience more of the flavors, textures, and smells of the food you eat, which in turn allows you greater enjoyment of it.

It also allows you to experience a feeling of satisfaction without feeling “stuffed.” The brain takes about 15–20 minutes to signal feelings of fullness. So when you eat slower, satiety signals develop before your plate is empty, and you likely eat less. Evenmore, a study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association demonstrated that sitting and eating a meal with other people resulted in better dietary intake and increased consumption of fruits and vegetables. Turns out taking the slow lane could improve your social life, your health, your weight, and your well-being!

STRATEGIES FOR GOING SLOW

If you’re in the habit of going fast, how can you slow down? Aside from the common recommendations to put your fork or food down between bites and drink a glass of water with your meals, here are some more strategies for doing less of your eating while on the run:

1. When you eat, just eat.

Eating with distractions like driving or talking on the telephone, doesn’t give your body or its signals full attention. As a result, you may feelfull, or even “stuffed,” but not actually satisfied.

2. Sit down while you eat, preferably at a table.

Creating a pleasant ambience will naturally encourage you to slow down, and lend itself to greater enjoyment and satisfaction. Plus, you deserve it!

3. Eat with a companion when you can.  

Enjoying food with a friend allows you to take pleasure in the social aspects of eating. And research shows you’ll eat less.

4. Take a few breaths before eating.

Taking a moment before you begin will help you give your full attention to eating, resulting in less mindless eating. You might also ask yourself, “Do I really want to eat this?”

5. Pause in the middle of eating for at least two minutes.

Determining if you really want to eat the rest before it’s already gone could be the difference between feeling well-nourished or overstuffed.

WHEN YOU HAVE TO GO FAST

With today’s hectic lifestyles, sitting down for a meal isn’t always realistic, especially in the mornings. Meanwhile, eating a healthy breakfast is paramount, especially for the young ones. Kids who eat breakfast are more likely to participate in physical activities, concentrate and perform better in school, and avoid weight problems.

Here are some ideas to get yourself and your family on the run on a full stomach:

  • Vanilla yogurt and a whole grain waffle (i.e., Kashi brand)
  • Cold cereal with a side of fruit
  • Whole-grain English muffin toasted with cheese
  • Whole-wheat toast with peanut butter and a piece of fruit
  • Granola bar and string cheese
  • Oatmeal topped with fresh fruit
  • Hard-boiled egg and a mini whole wheat bagel

In a world that moves fast, it’s not easy to slow down. There are so many priorities, and so little time. Yet, when we do slow down, our children slow down too. And just as we benefit from taking a breath or two between bites, our kids do too. Then we ALL eat better, enjoy more, and feel better.

Anne Marie Kuchera, our Kids Plus Nutrition Consultant, is a Licensed Professional Counselor and Registered Dietitian.