I eat too fast. I’ve eaten too fast for as long as I can remember. Many times over the years (and here on this blog) I have made pronouncements about trying to eat more slowly, to be more present at meals, blah blah blah.

I even made a little sign that says “slow down” and it’s taped to the chair opposite where I sit at the dining room table. And that’s all well and good for dinner (if I pay attention to it) but it doesn’t address all the other times I eat during the day.

I give myself a lot credit for being aware of my too-fast-eating and as a result, I am sometimes able to catch myself. I am also becoming aware of the reasons I eat too fast, and the conditions under which it happens: sometimes it’s because I am excited and just want to get done with the eating; sometimes it’s because I’ve let myself get too hungry; and other times (and these are the times it’s hard for me to notice) it’s because I am stressed or upset.

But you know what? Until recently, eating slowly has been just one more “should” for me…something I knew was good for me, but didn’t really understand. And I tend to resist stuff I don’t understand (go figure).

What comes next is not news, I didn’t make it up, and some of it I already knew, but it has changed my rather flip attitude about how I eat and makes me really want to slow down.

We live in a stressful world (duh) and our bodies have become used to existing in a constant state of low-level stress (anxiety, fear).

When we’re in this state, our bodies’ physiological response includes an increase in blood pressure and heart rate as the blood rushes away from our cores (digestive area) and to our brains and limbs so we can think and move quickly. Our digestion shuts down, slowing calorie-burning capability.

That’s exactly what we need if we have to escape from lions and tigers and bears oh my.

Add to this that when we feel bad about our bodies, when we think we’re not good enough, or “I’m too fat and I can’t control myself and I am so stupid and bad,” we’re INCREASING our stress response. Our bodies interpret these thoughts as stress. So, if the method you choose to lose weight makes you feel any of these things, you’re more likely to gain weight rather than lose it, while using your chosen method of weight loss.

Add to that, eating too fast, which is also registered by our bodies as stress, and we’ve got a lot going against us in terms of being able to lose weight…and none of it has anything to do with the actual food we’re eating (or not eating)!

So basically, you could be eating the healthiest food on the planet but if your body is in stress response mode (due to actual stress or stress you choose) you won’t be getting its full nutritional value because your body is excreting (versus absorbing and assimilating) vitamins and nutrients. And when your body doesn’t get what it needs from food, you remain hungry.

This reminds me of what my naturopath explained to me back when I had Lyme disease and hormone imbalance. She said that Lyme neurotoxins block cell receptor sites, so metabolic processes do not work optimally. Hormones (including thyroid), which also help control metabolic processes, can also be affected by Lyme disease. Because my body wasn’t able to get the nutrients it needed and because I wasn’t feeling well, I was always hungry and turning to food for comfort. I felt out of control and pathetic. I was stressed and desperate. And the cycle continued.

By contrast, the relaxation response prompts full, healthy digestion, vitamin and nutrient absorption, and calorie burning power. So, slow and relaxed eating is the key to healthy weight loss and a more positive body image.

Another important factor is pleasure, which is a catalyst for digestion and relaxation. I’m not making this up…pleasure is a physiological requirement. Without it, our bodies respond by wanting to eat more. Really. That’s why I can eat a small bit of really good dark chocolate and be satisfied, but give me M&Ms or similar and I want (and often eat) the whole bag. Fast.

One more thing: “pleasure” and “slow” are chemically and emotionally connected. If you’re moving too fast, you can’t experience pleasure…whatever it is you’re doing, you need time to register it with all senses in order for it to be truly pleasurable.

So all of those woo woo things that I believe – that self-acceptance and loving your body right now are more powerful than diet alone – actually have a basis in science and fact.

Now, it’s time for me to really slow down, relax, and enjoy my food.

What about you? Do you believe the science? How fast do you eat? What, if anything, are you doing to slow down?

*Marc David