Slow Eating and Mindfulness: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Because we love all things food and health, let us look this week at the benefits of mindfulness and slow eating. Mindfulness has usurped Life in the Fast Lane. And it’s a good thing. Or is it? Generally speaking, mindfulness is the way to go: better health, better work, better sex, and greater happiness top the list of the many benefits of mindfulness and slow eating (the pinnacle of mindfulness for foodies).

Certainly mindfulness and slow eating are the hallmark of a healthy diet. When we slow down and pay attention to how and with what we satiate ourselves, we often find more pleasure with less. Slow eating is a very popular and heavily endorsed approach to healthy weight loss. And it is generally a good idea. But recent studies indicate that like most things when taken too extremes, slow eating has a dark side.

Certainly the benefits of slow eating are myriad and well-documented. Better digestion, greater hydration, improved enjoyment are wonderful benefits of slow eating. We tend to take in fewer calories when we eat more slowly. When we slowly savor our food we realize better nutrient absorption. Eating slowly is great for weight maintenance and can sometimes assist with weight loss.

Fast eating has the opposite effect. Because it takes the body about 20 minutes to feel sated, when we rush through meals, when we shovel in food fast we can easily trick ourselves into eating more than we need. But eating too slowly can be a symptom of orthorexia, the eating disorder that PsychologyOfEating.com calls a “fixation on righteous eating.”

“People who have orthorexia don’t necessarily count calories, nor are they driven by thinness, although they can have those elements. But they do channel perfectionism into eating according to a health standard that is rigid and pure, such as a perfect paleo diet, or only organic and unprocessed foods, etc. It’s about food quality and adherence to “clean” eating. There’s nothing wrong with healthy eating or wanting to give oneself good quality food, and many people who like to eat healthy may identify with the above habits. However, for those who suffer from orthorexia, the disorder begins to affect their social and psychological functioning.” (http://psychologyofeating.com/what-is-orthorexia/)

Margaret Ashwell, president of the Association of Nutrition in Britain, suggests in The Australian that,  “At face value, slow eating is better than eating too fast,” she says, “but as with any generally healthy strategy there will be individuals who use the strategy to justify more unhealthy goals or behaviours.” (https://www.theaustralian.com.au/life/health-wellbeing/superslow-eating-no-miracle-cure-for-weight-loss/news-story/b2b17ff51dc112969a2d138e72090922)

Instead she advocates for “normal-paced eating — the kind most of us practise without realising it.”

Are you a slow eater? A super slow eater? Or are you a normal-paced eater? A look at your motivation behind your eating style can help you assess its health benefits.

Bon apetit.