Americans spend less time eating than just about anyone else on the planet. We’re also among the most overweight.
A graph has been making the rounds.
Taking data from a study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, it plots minutes spent eating per day versus national obesity rates (based on a body mass index of 30 or more). In the U.S. our eating and drinking add up to 75 minutes a day. We edge out portly Mexicans and Canadians, but don’t come close to the 2+ daily dining hours of the slender French.
Most of us have been hearing about this correlation for decades. Doctors and diet books have always warned us about the health hazards of eating too quickly; your own mother probably used to plead with you to slow down at the dinner table. Now we see it playing out on a global level.
With hunger and fullness, like every other sensation and experience, we need our brains to tell us what our bodies are feeling.
It turns out that it’s not our stomachs telling us when we’re full, but our intestines. It takes a while for food to work its way down there—about 20 minutes from the time we start eating until the fullness trigger is tripped. The faster we eat, the more likely we are to overshoot the point of satiety. By the time our brains catch up, we’re stuffed.
Our bodies have a second mechanism built in to prevent overeating. It’s a hormone called leptin that drops when we’re hungry and rises when we’re full, also with a lag before the signal reaches the brain. When we eat quickly, the leptin hits our bloodstream too late to control our appetites; do it enough and we become resistant to its effects. The problem is that we still respond to the hunger cue of low leptin levels, so it becomes a constant cycle of overeating.
Breakfast to go, fast food drive-throughs, lunch at the keyboard, dinner in front of the television. It’s not that our brains are out of synch with our bodies. The problem is that our lifestyle is out of sync with healthy eating.