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I eat too fast and too much. How I can stop?

The question: I eat too fast and I know it isn't helping my weight. As much as I've tried, I can't seem to break the habit. Any suggestions?

The answer: You're right to think that eating too fast can contribute to being overweight. Research has found that people who eat quickly – and eat until they feel full – are three times as likely to be overweight compared to people who eat slowly and modestly. Studies also show that eating slowly results in fewer calories consumed.

Eating quickly is a tough habit to break. It takes constant mindfulness and practice to slow down your eating pace. But it can be done!

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Here are a few strategies I suggest to my weight-loss clients. Some help prevent you from arriving at meals too hungry, which makes it more likely you'll gobble down your food. Other tips focus on getting you to concentrate on savouring your food.

Prevent hunger: If you feel famished, you're more likely to eat quickly and eat more food than you need. Go no longer than three to four hours without eating. To do so you'll need to include between meal snacks such as fruit and yogurt, a handful of almonds, or a small energy bar.

Drink water before and with meals: Doing so will help fill your stomach. Take sips of water between bites to slow down how quickly your fork moves from plate to mouth.

Pause between bites: After every bite, put down your knife and fork and chew thoroughly. One study showed weight loss success by chewing 20 to 30 times before the next bite. Don't pick up your utensils until your mouth is empty. There's an added bonus: chewing food thoroughly also leads to better digestion.

Assess your hunger level: Listening to your body's hunger cues can help reduce your food and calorie intake. Determine how hungry – or satisfied – you feel before you eat, halfway through a meal, and after you finish eating. Stop eating when you feel satisfied, but not full.

Here's a chart I give my clients to help them gauge their hunger level. Stop eating when you reach level 5.

  1. You feel starving. You can’t concentrate and need food now.
  2. You feel hungry but you could wait a few minutes before eating.
  3. You feel slightly hungry. You could eat something, but not a large meal.
  4. Your hunger has almost disappeared. You could eat another bite.
  5. You are no longer hungry. You feel satisfied, not full.
  6. You feel slightly full.
  7. You feel overly full and uncomfortable. Your waistband is noticeably tighter.
  8. You feel stuffed, bloated, even a little nauseas (a.k.a. “Thanksgiving Day” full).

Send dietitian Leslie Beck your questions at She will answer select questions, which could appear in The Globe and Mail and/or on the Globe website. Your name will not be published if your question is chosen.

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The content provided in The Globe and Mail's Ask a Health Expert centre is for information purposes only and is neither intended to be relied upon nor to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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