Maybe you’re grabbing a quick bite to eat while rushing from one errand to the next, or having a meal that’s so familiar you start wolfing it down without even realizing it. Whatever your need for speed, new research in Clinical Obesity suggests you might be putting yourself at much higher risk for weight gain.
Researchers looked at two different studies on adults and children to determine whether there are associations between higher body mass index (BMI), the number of siblings you have, and where you are in the birth order (if you’re not an only child). They found first-born children were twice as likely to eat faster than other kids, and that a higher number of siblings is associated with a speedy eating rate.
Faster eating is associated with an increased risk of obesity, they concluded. Foods that are eaten quickly tend to be consumed in larger amounts, and even when you can’t go back for seconds, eating faster reduces satiation. That means you’re more likely to snack soon after, increasing your calories for the day. (Related: 15 Underrated Weight Loss Tips That Actually Work).
Although the study focused mainly on children and teens, the results apply to anyone, the researchers note. That’s especially true if you’ve learned these fast-eating behaviors at a younger age and kept up that rate of speed even when you weren’t competing with your siblings at the table.
The good news is that even if this is a well-entrenched habit, incorporating more mindful eating practices can help, suggests registered dietitian Vanessa Rissetto, RD, dietetic internship director at New York University Steinhardt.
“The first step is to use your other senses with food first, rather than taking a bite immediately,” she says. For example, take a moment to look at the colors and textures, and to appreciate the aroma of the food. When you do start eating, she suggests swallowing one bite before taking another.
On its own, that can be a big shift for people who eat quickly, she adds, since they tend to put more in their mouths before the last bite is finished. Some other mindful eating techniques include putting your fork or spoon down between bites and sitting at a table to eat—without watching TV or scrolling on your phone during the meal.
Also, Rissetto adds, schedule time for your meal. Setting aside 20 minutes or so just to eat may be a big transition, but if you’re looking to practice more mindfulness and control your weight, it’s worth making that “appointment.”
“Slower eating can often lead to other healthy eating habits, like better choices of food,” adds Rissetto. “Overall, you’re working not just on weight loss, but on developing a better relationship with food.”
For more, be sure to check out Genius Ways to Retrain Your Taste Buds to Love Healthy Food.