Impact of Eating Speed on Blood Sugar Levels

Impact of Eating Speed on Blood Sugar Levels
  • Eating too fast can cause temporary gastrointestinal problems and discomfort, but it can also cause long-term problems.
  • Experts say consistently eating too fast may raise your risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity.
  • Trying simple techniques to slow yourself down—such as putting your fork down between every bite at meal times—may help you avoid eating too quickly and overeating.

When it comes to the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, many factors influence your risk—such as excess body weight, genetics, age, physical activity level, whether or not you smoke, and diet.

While what you eat can certainly affect your risk, how you eat can also play a role: research suggests that people who eat faster may have an increased risk of type 2 diabetes compared to those who eat slower.

“There have been some studies done looking at how eating fast may impact blood sugar and diabetes [risk],” David Creel, PhD, RD, an endocrine dietitian and psychologist at Cleveland Clinic. “Not all the studies are consistent, but the literature seems to suggest that when we eat more quickly, our blood sugar goes up faster.”

Though research on the risks of eating quickly has been somewhat inconclusive, there are many known benefits of eating slowly, Creel said. “We’re less likely to overeat when we’re eating more slowly,” he explained. “In most instances, it does take a while for our brain to get the signal we’re full, so slowing down helps us feel that satiety sooner.”

How Does Eating Fast Affect the Risk of Diabetes and Obesity?

Little is known about exactly why eating speed affects blood sugar, but experts do have a theory.

We may eat fast when we’re especially hungry, which could affect how much we eat. “I find that people often eat quicker when they’ve gone a long time without eating because they are very hungry,” Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, CDN, CSCS, founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness and the author of Unapologetic Eating.

“When we go too long between meals, this can cause low blood sugar, which can contribute to us eating fast and then could lead to a rebound spike in blood sugar,” Rumsey said.

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Over time, high blood sugar can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, while overeating—which can occur when people eat too quickly—can increase the risk of obesity. “We’ve got the acute effects of eating quickly—which are blood sugar going up more or [overeating] more often—and then we have the chronic effects if we’re a really fast eater—our insulin resistance tends to get worse and risk of diabetes [increases],” Creel said.

Though some researchers have linked eating quickly with increased risk of disease, there’s no proof that one causes the other. “Some studies show an association between eating speed and the development of diabetes, but we have no evidence that it directly causes diabetes,” Rumsey said. “The development of diabetes is affected by a lot of factors, many of which are out of our control.”

The Benefits of Eating Slower

Experts say that eating slower may help you avoid overeating and, thus, can be beneficial if you’re trying to lose weight. “When we eat slower, we’re more mindful of the food that we’re eating—the flavor, the texture, that sort of thing,” Creel said.

That said, if you have pre-proportioned meals, this may not be as much of an issue, he added. “If someone has a pre-proportioned amount of food and they eat it quickly, that’s probably not going to have the same impact.”

Eating slowly can also help you avoid gastrointestinal problems. “If we eat more quickly, we tend to swallow more air and have more gas, which can cause discomfort,” Creel said. It can also cause the feeling of being “uncomfortably full,” which may be especially difficult for people with certain health conditions. “People who have reflux disease, we know this can make things worse if you eat quickly and get overfull [by causing] acid to come back into the esophagus,” he added.

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Slowing down can also make it easier on your body to break down food: “Eating slower may help with digestion and absorption because when you chew the food longer, the stomach has less work to do,” Rumsey said.

Being mindful of your blood sugar level is especially important to people with diabetes, but it’s important for everyone to consider. “While people who have diabetes need to pay more attention to their blood sugar levels, most people feel best when their blood sugar is stable without large fluctuations,” Rumsey explained.

The way to achieve this, Rumsey said, is by not letting yourself get to the point of being so hungry that you eat too much too fast. “Eating regularly throughout the day can help you keep your blood sugar balanced and can prevent you from getting to the point of starving,” she explained. “This may help decrease your [eating speed], which also supports balanced blood sugar.”

How to Start Paying Attention to Your Eating Speed

It’s important to remember that—while it’s a good thing to be mindful of your eating speed—slowing down at mealtimes won’t necessarily decrease your risk of certain diseases, like diabetes and obesity, that are, in large part, dependent on genetics and other factors, experts said.

But there are a few ways to start noticing—and, when necessary, changing—your eating speed if you regularly feel like you eat too fast.

One of the simplest ways to slow down is by taking breaks. “If you’re eating with a fork, put down your fork between bites,” Creel said.

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You may also slow down if you use tools you’re not accustomed to. “Some people might try eating with their non-dominant hand or using chopsticks,” he added.

Setting a desired length of time for your meals may also be helpful. Creel said he advises people who struggle with this to try to set a goal of, for instance, 20 minutes for dinner. This way, his patients know that after five minutes, they should be only a quarter of the way through their meal, at 10 minutes, they should be halfway done, and so on.

Experts said that trying these techniques may affect more than your risk of certain health conditions—ultimately, they may make mealtimes more enjoyable. “Eating slower can lead to a more pleasurable eating experience,” Rumsey said, “which can foster a positive relationship with food.”

What This Means For You

Eating quickly may eventually increase your risk of type 2 diabetes or obesity, though research hasn’t proven a cause-and-effect relationship. However, eating slower has known benefits, such as improved digestion and decreased likelihood of overeating. If you find that you eat quickly often, trying simple techniques to slow yourself down may be helpful, such as eating with chopsticks, eating with your non-dominant hand, or putting your fork down between every bite of a meal.


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