Kari Dahlgren

Coach | Author | Advocate

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Why Do I Eat So Fast? The Psychology of Eating Speed & How to Slow Down

Why do I eat so fast? Unpacking the psychology of eating speed

If you’ve ever wondered, “Why do I eat so fast?” your curiosity is commendable. While we’re often told that slow eating is the key to better health, the truth is, the psychology of eating speed is complex and goes far beyond the simplistic advice to “just eat slower.”

As an eating psychology coach, I’ve seen firsthand how fast eating can be a symptom of deeper psychological patterns. Whether it’s stress, a packed schedule, or emotional eating, there are underlying reasons why we might speed through our meals.

In this guide, we’ll explore the psychological factors behind fast eating and offer practical strategies to slow down and savor each bite. Join me on this journey to uncover the “why” behind your eating speed and transform your relationship with food, one mindful bite at a time.

Symptoms & Signs of Fast Eating

Fast eating is a common eating habit of consuming food at a rapid pace, often without fully savoring or appreciating the flavors and textures. Fast eating may raise concerns about habitual overeating and potential health consequences, which can be distressing for many individuals.

Here are some signs and symptoms that may indicate someone is eating too quickly:

  • Speed: Finishing meals significantly faster than others at the table
  • Discomfort: Feeling uncomfortably full or bloated after eating
  • Indigestion: Experiencing indigestion shortly after meals
  • Inadequate chewing: Noticing that you’re barely chewing your food before swallowing
  • Mindlessness: Realizing you don’t remember the taste or texture of your meal

Eating too fast can impair your body’s ability to absorb nutrients since chewing is the first step of the digestion process. Eating quickly can also result in overeating, as the body doesn’t have enough time to send fullness signals to the brain.[1]

If you feel anxious about fast eating or frustrated because you want to eat slower but struggle to put it into practice, rest assured that behavior change is possible. Before we dive into the steps for eating slower, let’s get clear on why fast eating occurs in the first place.

Why Do I Eat So Fast?

When someone asks the self-reflective question, “Why do I eat so fast?” it’s already a step in the right direction as it indicates awareness. Being aware of fast eating is the first step towards a more relaxed eating experience.

Along with awareness, change is also assisted by fully understanding the causes of unwanted behavior. By digging into the psychology of eating speed, we can further unpack why some people struggle with fast eating.

Here are some common reasons for fast eating speed:

  • Busy lifestyle / time scarcity: As emotional eating expert Geneen Roth famously said, “The way we do one thing is the way we do everything.” If you eat fast, you probably live fast too. Understanding this connection can shed light on the psychology behind eating speed and its broader implications for lifestyle.
  • Emotional eating: Some individuals eat quickly in response to emotional triggers, using food as a way to cope with stress, anxiety, or sadness. When eating happens in a flurry, it doesn’t allow many emotions to surface, providing a short-lived and maladaptive coping mechanism.
  • Mindless or distracted eating: Whenever you catch yourself wondering, “Why do I eat so fast?” take a look around you. Eating while distracted by technology or other activities can lead to a faster pace, as people are less aware of their eating speed and fullness cues.
  • Binge eating: Fast eating can be a characteristic of binge eating episodes, where there is a loss of control and a desire to consume large quantities of food quickly.[2]
  • Excessive dieting: Excessive dieting often creates a cycle of restriction and deprivation, which can lead to intense hunger and a sense of urgency around food. As a result, individuals may find themselves eating quickly to satisfy their cravings or to compensate for the periods of restriction, ultimately leading to a habit of fast eating.
  • Habits: Long-standing habits can contribute to a consistent pattern of fast eating. Although habits can be difficult to break, understanding the psychology behind fast eating can often provide enough leverage to unlearn old habits and rewire new ones.
  • Food scarcity: Growing up in environments where food was scarce or in large families can lead to a mentality of eating quickly to ensure one gets enough. For example, if your bigger, older sibling often took the last helpings, there might be early childhood conditioning to get what you can while you can.
  • Last supper eating: Aside from early childhood conditioning, restrictive dieting can also trigger the need to eat what you can while you can. This is often referred to as “last supper eating” overeating occurs before anticipated deprivation (e.g. overeating on Sunday night before starting a diet Monday morning).[3]
  • Social eating: The next time you ask yourself, “Why do I eat so fast?” take a look at the people around you. Sometimes eating speed is influenced by a conscious or subconscious attempt to match the pace of those around you. In eating psychology, this behavior can be seen as a form of people-pleasing, the desire to evoke positive feelings in others (e.g. not wanting to make people feel bad for their fast eating, so you eat quickly too).
  • Shame and guilt: Feelings of shame or guilt about eating certain foods can lead to a desire to eat them quickly and out of sight, such as eating in secret.
  • A love of food: Sometimes, a sheer love and enjoyment of food can lead to fast eating, especially if the foods are your favorite or hyperpalatable, which refers to foods high in carbs, sugar, fat, or salt.
  • Dopamine and food addiction: The consumption of hyperpalatable foods can trigger the release of dopamine, the brain’s “reward” neurotransmitter.[4] This can lead to a cycle of food addiction, where individuals eat to experience the pleasurable effects of dopamine release. Eating for pleasure may trigger fast eating in attempt to quickly feel better.

The topic of food addiction is rapidly expanding and very controversial. Some clinical studies support the idea of food addiction while others don’t.[5], [6] That said, in my experience as both an eating psychology coach and someone living in recovery from compulsive eating, I can attest to the addictive nature of hyperpalatable foods. I can also attest to the power of the human psyche to overcome food addiction through a holistic approach, which we will explore soon.

Potential Consequences of Eating Too Fast

Consuming food at a quick pace every now and then is unlikely to cause an issue. However, when fast eating becomes a habit, it can eventually cause long-term repercussions.

Here are some potential consequences of eating too fast:

  • Digestive issues: Eating quickly can lead to indigestion and discomfort, as the body doesn’t have enough time to properly break down food.[7] It may also exacerbate symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).[8]
  • Overeating: Rapid eating may result in consuming more food than necessary before the body signals fullness, leading to overeating. Some studies do not support this association.[9] However, a recent meta-analysis supports the link between fast eating and overeating.[10]
  • Weight gain: Overeating due to fast eating can contribute to weight gain over time, as excess calories (energy) are stored for future use.[11] One study found that people of higher body weight were more likely to overeat when they ate quickly versus people of lower weight, potentially indicating a vicous cycle.[12]
  • Increased Risk of Health Concerns: Fast eating is associated with a higher risk of diabetes and obesity.[13], [14] One study also found that those who eat faster are 59% more likely to have elevated triglyceride levels, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease.[15]
  • Reduced enjoyment: Eating quickly often means less time to savor and enjoy food, leading to diminished pleasure and satisfaction from meals. This can potentially cause some individuals to seek more food for pleasure, a phenomenon known as “hedonic eating.”

Some people speculate that heartburn is a common symptom of fast eating, yet clinical evidence shows no correlation between eating speed and heartburn.[16], [17], [18] However, if you tend to notice an increase in heartburn symptoms when you eat fast, it’s important to recognize that individual experiences can vary, and you are the most reliable authority on your own body’s responses.

Unpacking the Psychology of Fast Eating: How to Slow Yourself Down

Now that we’ve explored the psychology behind the question, “Why do I eat so fast?” it’s important to equip ourselves with practical strategies so that we can take action. While awareness is the first step towards change, action is what drives results.

Here are some actionable steps for overcoming the habit of eating quickly:

1. Embrace a Slower Lifestyle

eating fast is often a symptom of a fast lifestyle

Living a fast-paced life often leads to fast-paced eating. I can personally attest to this. A decade ago, back when I was still struggling with compulsive eating, my life was fast-paced and riddled with obligation. I struggled with distracted eating, night eating, and emotional eating — it was no surprise that I often asked myself, “Why do I eat so fast?”

My journey into recovery from compulsive eating actually started with minimalism and intentional living. I was tired of feeling over-stretched and began paring back the obligations in my life. I believe this was an important step in healing my relationship with food and slowing down my eating speed.

"The way we do one thing is the way we do everything."

Relaxation is an underrated factor in addressing emotional eating. Plenty of studies have found that relaxation training such as mindfulness and meditation help ease emotional eating and binge eating.[19], [20], [21] By embracing more relaxation and mindfulness, which is often the product of a slower life, you can promote a ripple effect that extends to slower eating habits.

Of course, this is often easier said than done. For some people, it can be as simple as creating more alone time, away from friends and family. For others, however, it may require much larger steps such as transitioning to a less stressful occupation. If this step feels inaccessible because time scarcity is a factor in your life (i.e. parents of small children, business owners), rest assured that this is just one of many ways to reduce fast eating habits.

2. Eat Mindfully

When stress causes fast eating, relaxation can foster slower eating

Mindful eating is not just about what we eat, but how we eat. By practicing mindful eating, we can cultivate a sense of presence and awareness during meals, which can have a profound impact on our stress levels and eating speed. Studies have shown that mindful eating can help reduce stress by promoting the dominance of the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), which is responsible for the “rest and digest” response. This is crucial for anyone wondering, “Why do I eat fast?” because stress is known to disturb gastrointestinal function and can lead to rushed, mindless eating.[22]

For instance, one study explores the concept of the stress-digestion-mindfulness triad, suggesting that mindful eating can help maintain autonomic nervous system (ANS) homeostasis, which is vital for optimal digestive function.[22] By reducing stress through mindful eating, we can support our body’s natural processes and create a more conducive environment for slow, intentional eating.

In practice, this means taking the time to savor each bite, paying attention to the flavors, textures, and sensations of our food, and listening to our body’s hunger and fullness cues. By doing so, we can break the cycle of stress-induced fast eating and develop a more harmonious relationship with food.

3. Pause Between Bites — And Practice Self-Compassion If This Step Is Inaccessible

Pausing between bites is a simple yet effective strategy to help slow down your eating pace. By taking a moment to put down your utensil or take a breath between bites, you give your body time to register fullness signals, which can lead to eating less and feeling more satisfied.

However, I understand that for those struggling with compulsive eating, this practice can feel as challenging as asking a smoker to pause between puffs. Even Geneen Roth acknowledges — in her bestselling book Women, Food, and God — that during her retreats, participants often give pushback during the exercise of putting utensils down between every bite.

It’s important to approach this habit with compassion and patience. Start by trying to pause just once or twice during a meal, gradually increasing as you feel more comfortable. Also, the next step will help address the root of compulsive eating.

4. Address the Root of Compulsion

when fast eating is compulsive, explore any underlying emotions

If you struggle with any of the tips so far because fast eating feels compulsive — there is a distinct feeling of being unable to control it or stop — then take a step back and begin to work on the nature of compulsion itself. This can greatly aid your journey towards becoming a slower eater.

To address the root of compulsive eating, try my mindfulness technique called the Stop, Drop, & Feel®️. When you feel the urge to eat quickly, stop for a moment to drop into your emotions and feel what comes up. Of course, this is easier said than done, and the element of permission can help with this.

Promise yourself that you can eat your meal at whatever speed you prefer after the Stop, Drop, & Feel is over. But first, set a timer for 2 minutes and “surf the urge” to eat quickly. Get curious about how you’re feeling and hold space for any uncomfortable feelings that bubble up.

When practiced over time, this can help build emotional awareness and emotional tolerance, two key emotion-regulating skills necessary to stop compulsive eating.[23], [24] As your ability to hold space for discomfort increases, so will your ability to pause between bites, eat mindfully, and otherwise reduce compulsive eating tendencies like fast eating.

5. Develop a Toolbox of Best Practices

5 paint blobs artfully labeled as eat enough food; Stop, Drop, & Feel; mindful eating; slow living; pause between bites. Caption: prepare your toolbox, then take action

Up until this point, we have explore the psychology behind the question, “Why do I eat so fast?” Slowing down your lifestyle, embracing mindful eating, and addressing compulsion are all key factors for learning how to eat more slowly.

With that said, there are some additional tips that can help you on your journey. When taken alone they might not be enough to spark lasting change, but when coupled with the deeper advice in this guide, they can make a true difference.

Here are some other tools for slowing down your eating speed:

  • Set the Environment: Create a calm and distraction-free dining area. This encourages slower, more mindful eating and helps you focus on the meal.
  • Chew Thoroughly: Take the time to chew each bite properly. This aids digestion and allows you to savor the flavors, naturally slowing down your eating pace.
  • Use the Hunger Scale: Pay attention to your hunger signals. Avoid letting yourself become too hungry, as extreme hunger can trigger rapid eating. Aim to eat when you’re moderately hungry and stop when you’re comfortably full.

What to avoid: There’s also another practice for eating slowly that I don’t believe helps people in the long run, and it’s choosing harder-textured food. On one hand, clinical studies show that people tend to eat slower when they choose foods that aren’t soft and therefore require more time to chew.[1]

However, this advice can perpetuate diet culture by focusing on external food choices rather than internal eating behaviors. It’s important to recognize that lasting change comes from understanding and addressing the psychological and emotional factors driving fast eating, rather than relying on surface-level fixes.

Addressing the Psychology of Eating Speed

As we wrap up our exploration of the question, “Why do I eat so fast?” it’s clear that slowing down your eating pace is not just about changing a habit; it’s about addressing the underlying psychological patterns that drive us to rush through our meals in the first place.

Whether you’re inspired to adopt a slower lifestyle or focus your attention towards the root of compulsive eating, you’ll be well on your way to eating at a pace that feels more relaxed. From there, a better relationship with food can emerge.

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Ready to dive even deeper into your journey of self-discovery? I proudly present my most celebrated workbook, Why We Do the Things We Do. This 75-page digital workbook reveals your unique psychological blocks to compulsive eating. By actually putting pen to paper, you’ll be surprised by what comes up.

Some say ‘feel it to heal it’ but this workbook takes it a step deeper and helps you ‘see it to heal it.’ If you’re the kind of person who logically knows how to live a healthy lifestyle but you compulsively do the opposite, this workbook will illuminate what’s standing in the way. Then, you know exactly where to focus your energy.

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2 thoughts on "Why Do I Eat So Fast? The Psychology of Eating Speed & How to Slow Down"

  1. Cherylsays:

    I have been reading your blog for a few years. I started losing a little weight with stop, drop , & feel and simply Not over eating. Then I had a difficult time in 2022. This greatly affected my emotions. On top of that we were in a huge renovation to our house. I lost weight then started gaining it back. I am trying to get back on track. I am reading more of your blogs again. It is helping. Thanks for all you do! Keep up the good work.
    Best Regards,

    1. Kari Dahlgrensays:

      Hi Cheryl! I’m sure we can all relate to this 100%. Home renos are stressful, and stress makes it so hard not to overeat (and! stress can even encourage weight gain when someone isn’t even overeating). So I am glad my blog is keeping you reminded of what matters, and I wish you a relaxing Sunday evening 🙂 thanks for dropping me a line.

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