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The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Grazie mille!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Why You Should Stop Inhaling Your Food

Slow Down, You Eat Too Fast; Got To Make Your Mealtime Last

You probably know somebody like this: You sit down for a nice meal, either at home or at a restaurant. The food comes out of the kitchen looking good, smelling great, and ready to enjoy. The meal begins.......and before you've had a chance to say “pass the pepper, please,” you notice that Cousin Bill has almost cleaned his plate. He's like an eating machine. Leaning in and plying his knife and fork at an amazing rate of speed, he completely demolishes his dinner long before anybody else at the table is even halfway finished with theirs, leaving you to wonder “how did he do that?” A better question might be “why did he do that?”

In medical parlance it's called “tachyphagia” and it can be a serious problem. Sometimes it's caused by a physiological disorder, but more often it is the result of a psychological condition. The psychological root cause in most cases goes back to childhood. Many fast eaters cite “supply and demand” as the reason for their accelerated rate of consumption. “I grew up in a big family. If I didn't get there first and fast, there wouldn't be anything left.” And, “If you wanted seconds in my house, you had to be fast with your fork.” Or, “I ate as fast as I could so I could leave the table and go back to doing other things.” These childhood habits often carry over into adult life and often with unhealthy consequences. If you are a “fast eater,” there are several reasons why you should slow down.

Numerous studies have shown that gobbling down food bypasses the mechanism that tells the brain when the stomach is full. This results in a higher rate of obesity among fast eaters. A recent review published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition shows that eating more slowly is linked with statistically significant weight loss.

Another issue speed eaters face is an increased incidence of digestive difficulties. Acid reflux and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) are common among those who wolf down their food, as are bloating and gas. You take in a lot of air when you gulp down food, and it's gotta go somewhere. Fast eaters have higher rates of indigestion than those who eat more slowly and are often candidates for ulcers and IBS (irritable bowel syndrome.)

People who gobble their groceries also face social stigma. You might have gotten away with eating every meal like it was your last when you were ten and you might even have made a game of speed eating by your college days. But most adults consider stuffing your face to be ill-mannered and rude. This is especially true in Asian and European cultures where mealtimes are social occasions. The enjoyment of food is a part of the enjoyment of life and mindlessly rushing headlong through a meal so you can get it over with is often seen as ultimately disrespectful of the food itself as well as of the company in which you are eating it.

Finally, there's flavor. Cooks know and science has proven that there are more factors involved in the taste of food than just the common “taste buds” in your mouth. The real complexity of flavors comes from a food or drink's aroma. That doesn't mean you have to shove food up your nose to taste it. Food scents and aromas actually travel from the backs of our mouths up into our nasal cavities, where everything comes together to enable our brains to determine the differences in flavors. When you just throw food in your mouth and swallow without hardly tasting a morsel, you bypass these complex flavor detecting mechanisms, thus depriving yourself of an enhanced sensory experience. Hot dogs and Kobe beef are likely to taste pretty much the same to people who just shove it all down their necks.

There are almost as many opinions on how to slow down your eating as there are “experts” to render them, but here are a few of the most common suggestions:

Sit Down: Eating on the run usually results in eating too fast. Sit down in order to slow down.

Chew: You've heard it over and over since childhood; you should chew your food X number of times. The number varies from thirty to a hundred depending on whether it's your mother, your grandmother, or your Aunt Sally lecturing you. But they've all got the right idea. If you have to think about chewing your food, it's going to slow you down. As to the actual chewing time, nutritionists suggest you chew most foods for fifteen or twenty seconds before swallowing. Selecting chewier foods will slow you down even more.

Sip: Keeping a drink near at hand and sipping at it between bites of food will reduce your rate of shoveling down the comestibles.

Put Down Your Fork: Or your spoon. Setting down whatever utensil you are using between bites naturally forces you to slow the pace of your eating.

Time: Use an actual timer to regulate your eating speed. The people who know these things say that, on average, it should take you about twenty minutes to finish a meal. If you're making it in five, you need to slow down.

Unitask: When it's time to eat, eat. Don't eat and watch TV or eat and read a book or eat and do anything else. When you're distracted by such things, you tend to ignore what you're eating and how quickly you're eating it.

Smaller Bites: People who eat too fast tend to heap up large amounts of food on their forks or spoons. Taking smaller bites forces you to slow your pace and to be more aware of how much you're consuming.

Don't Starve: When you are famished, chances are you will eat faster. Try not to let yourself get so hungry that you're likely to gorge.

Eat With Slow Eaters: Sometimes just being with other people who eat at a different pace will make you more aware of how quickly you're eating.

Visit Your Dentist: In extreme circumstances, your dentist might be able to assist by prescribing a dental appliance designed to help you eat more slowly. The device resembles a dental retainer. You place it in the roof of your mouth before meals. It reduces the size of your oral cavity and forces you to take smaller mouthfuls.

One last tip; avoid “fast” eating places. Fast food or fast casual restaurants are particularly dangerous places for fast eaters because they encourage quick consumption. Most restaurants live and die by “turning tables,” that is getting people in and out as quickly as possible. The more times a table is turned in a shift, the more money is going into the till. All well and good for the business, but not so good for you. If your server presents your check along with your plate or if you can feel the server's eyes boring into you as you eat, you're being rushed. Find somewhere that will let you savor the food and enjoy it at a slower pace; a place that doesn't present a “here's your food, there's the door” vibe. Doing so will help you slow down and actually taste what you're eating.

When her kids sat down and started shoving food into their faces, a lady I once knew used to tell them, “Hey, it's dinner, not a race.” And that's a good thought to bear in mind. With apologies to Simon and Garfunkel, slow down, you eat too fast; got to make your mealtime last. For better health, for more social acceptance, and for more enjoyment of the food you eat, take it slow.  

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