Research studies about "eating on the run" consistently identify a first key problem with this habit: distraction from the eating process. When we eat on the run, we stop paying attention to food, and we start engaging in what has sometimes been referred to as "mindless eating."
Distraction from eating simply means that we become unaware about what we are eating. Included in this lack of awareness is our sense of hunger. Research studies show that eating on the run can distract us not only from food, but also from how hungry we are (or aren't). When we eat on the run, we stop paying sufficient attention not only to the food but to the impact of eating on our sense of hunger and satiety. Studies show that when are hungry and decide to eat on the run, our sense of hunger and the amount we eat typically get disconnected from each other. We lose touch with the satiety signals that could otherwise help us realize that we were eating enough or too little. And instead of having our hunger satisfied by the eating process, everything gets thrown up for grabs in a way that leads to unwanted consequences later on in the day. Eating while distracted has been linked to increased snacking later in the day, excessive caloric intake before the day is over, and less control over our appetite.
When we eat on the run and get distracted from the eating process, we also get deprived of the pleasures of eating. In studies on distracted eating—including eating on the run—participants have less vivid memories of the foods eaten while on the run. These less vivid memories are not difficult to understand since our mind is partly elsewhere whenever we eat on the run. We are mostly likely thinking about many other things other besides food. But these less vivid memories of eating can also rob us of the satisfaction we get from eating and lead us to eat more food later due to the absence of food pleasures earlier in the day.
In one fascinating study on distracted versus mindful eating, researchers found that the pre-ordering of lunch—together with some training in mindful eating—could significantly lower calorie intake at lunch. Participants who pre-ordered lunch not only tended to select lower-calorie meals, but they also ended up consuming 115 fewer calories at lunch than participants who did not pre-order. From our perspective, it makes sense to think about the participants who pre-ordered as successfully avoiding some of the problems associated with eating on the run. By bringing more awareness into their eating and thinking ahead about food and their appetite, these participants were better able to regulate their intake. In addition, we suspect that they ended up with more enjoyable foods for lunch!
Especially if you have not previously thought about the issue of distraction, we believe that this issue can hold the key to regaining many pleasures in your meal plan. The amazing textures and flavors of food are not going to bring you pleasure unless you are paying attention to them. And unless you are self-monitoring your eating process in the sense of maintaining an awareness of your changing hunger level and your degree of fullness and satisfaction, you are not going to feel full or satisfied. Delicious food is meant to be savored and enjoyed! And at the World's Healthiest Foods, we believe that this savoring and enjoyment are keys to Healthy Eating.
Although overly quick eating might seem like an obvious problem with "eating on the run," the research in this area has brought out some amazing details that we think you will find helpful to know.
Studies in this area include some fascinating findings about how quickly we take bites of food, how many times we chew each bite, and how many calories of food we end up consuming as a result. According to research studies, most people take between two and five bites of food per minute during a meal. While this range might sound fairly small, it can add up to some major differences in total bites over the course of a very short meal. For example, a person taking 2 bites per minute will take about 20 bites in 10 minutes, while a person taking 5 bites per minute will take about 50 bites. So it is easy to see how a person taking a lot of bites would also likely consume more calories in comparison with a person who is taking fewer bites. In research studies, this difference in bite rate per minute has translated into a difference of 140-165 calories per meal, with the faster bite rate corresponding to the greater intake of calories.
Of course, a slower bite rate is also likely to mean more chewing, and researchers have also studied this aspect of eating (chews per bite). As it turns out, most individuals take between 15-40 chews per 10 gram bite of food (10 grams of food is roughly two teaspoons). Just as calorie intake has been found to increase with the total number of bites per minute, it has also been found to decrease with the total number of chews per bite. So a person chewing 40 times per bite averages significantly fewer calories than a person who chews only 15 times per bite.
These details about biting and chewing are helpful in understanding the impact of eating on the run since eating on the run is associated with selection of foods that can be ingested more rapidly, often without the help of either utensils or even a plate. Studies show that eating on the run is associated with increased speed of eating, and increased speed of eating translates into more bites per minute, fewer chews per bite, or both. Of course, eating on the run also tends to be accompanied by lower awareness of both biting and chewing.
Just how different can our eating times become in fast "on the run" eating versus slow "sit-down" meal consumption? Studies show many fast meals last as few as 7-9 minutes, and many slow meals last approximately 22-25 minutes. And based on speed of eating alone, the average difference between slow and fast meals is approximately 10% of total calories consumed. For example, in a 600-calorie meal, the difference between slow and fasting eating is approximately 60 calories (with the slower eaters consuming fewer calories). While this difference may not sound like a lot, if you multiply this difference by 3 meals per day and 7 days per week, you get a difference of 1,260-calorie for fast versus slow eating over the course of a single week.
Another compelling aspect of slow versus fast eating can be found in study findings about commonly eaten foods and their average speed of intake. These studies show that we tend to eat different types of food at different rates. For some foods, we consume less than 50 grams of food per minute. (This amount, 50 grams, is fairly close to two ounces, depending on the particular food in question.) In this category are included vegetables like carrot, cucumber, lettuce, peas, and potato. By comparison, we tend to consume milk and filtered juices at a rate of over 500 grams/minute—nearly 10 times more quickly. One of the most compelling findings in this research area has been the observation that we consistently consume more grams per minute when a food has been subjected to increased processing. For example, study results that the consumption of whole boiled potatoes take an average of 20 grams per minute whereas when the same boiled potatoes are mashed it takes 50 grams per minute to consume them. Similarly, the consumption of raw carrots average 13 grams per minute and 128 grams per minute when boiled to the point of softness. Insofar as we pick processed foods to facilitate eating on the run, we are likely to increase the amount of food we eat per minute and our total calorie intake as well.
In addition to robbing us of the pleasures of chewing and eating, one of the great problems associated with fast eating is the mismatch that it creates for our digestion system and overall metabolism. Our feelings of hunger and fullness, satisfaction from food, and our sensory enjoyment of eating are all affected by the speed at which we eat. Some of this impact takes place through changes in the release of hormones and hormone-like substances in our digestive tract and brain. Researchers have studied a wide variety of appetite-stimulating substances (called orexigenic substances) and appetite-decreasing substances (called anorexigenic substances). Included on the appetite-stimulating side are ghrelin, neuropeptide-Y (NPY), and agouti-related peptides. Including on the appetite-decreasing side are leptin, glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1), orexin A, cholecystokinin (CCK), and peptide YY (PYY). Of increasing interest in this area of research is also oxytocin; a well-known hormone, oxytocin is a peptide hormone produced in the brain and best known for its role in pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation. However, it is very likely to play an important role in our experience of eating as well.
In general, scientists have observed a mixed set of relationships between speed of eating and release of these various appetite-related hormones. But one important trend in their observations has been a tendency for disruption to occur in our appetite control mechanisms following overly quick eating. Several studies have shown a link between disruption of these body system and increased risk of obesity and higher body mass index, and to a lesser extent, increased risk of metabolic syndrome, blood sugar and insulin regulation, and fat metabolism.
From our perspective, overly quick eating associated with eating on the run is a sure way to destroy some of food's most treasured features involving texture, flavor, aroma, and appearance. We believe that eating on the run is very likely to rob us of food's deliciousness, since we will end up consuming it too quickly to recognize how delicious it actually is. If we take great care in the selection of our food and great care in our cooking methods as well, we simply cannot afford to turn out back on a food once it is time to eat.
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