"One of the very nicest things about life is the way we must regularly stop whatever it is we are doing and devote our attention to eating." — Luciano Pavarotti

Pavarotti famously enjoyed food. We don't know whether the stout singer followed his own advice and stopped to savor every morsel during a meal, but he should have: Research shows that eating too quickly can put a person on the fast track to obesity.

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If you notice your plate is clean before everyone else's, you may be doing your health a disfavor, not to mention missing out on one of life's nicest pleasures — enjoying good food. Here are four reasons to slow down and be mindful when you eat.

  1. It will be easier to stop eating sooner. As your body digests food, it releases hormones that signal your brain that your belly is satisfied. Since it can take 20 minutes or longer for those signals to reach the brain, if you eat too fast, you can easily overstuff yourself before the "I've had enough" message is received. This delay in timing is the leading theory of why fast eating leads to weight gain. But there's another theory getting traction in research circles. Eating a lot of calories very quickly leads to a spike in insulin production. Over time, these spikes can lead to insulin resistance, which is strongly linked to increased belly fat.
  2. You’re less likely to choke. Choking is the fourth leading cause of unintentional death. Food that isn't chewed well can lodge in your throat or go down the wrong pipe — that is, the airway to your lungs rather than your esophagus, the tube leading to your stomach. Swallowing a large amount of food at once can lead to choking, too.
  3. You'll appreciate your meal longer and feel less stressed. "Sitting down to eat, taking a moment to breathe, relax and focus on the moment calms the body and mind. Eating slowly also allows the body a chance to respond to the sight and smells of food by releasing digestive juices and enzymes," says Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD, author of “Eat Your Way to Happiness.” "Focusing on the moment, truly tasting and enjoying the meal connects us to our bodies, our lives, those we dine with and ultimately to life," she adds.
  4. You'll have less trouble with burping. There are many reasons for frequent belching, but the main cause is eating or drinking too fast according to the American College of Gastroenterology. As you rush through a meal, you swallow air. Chewing and sipping slowly should decrease the amount of air you take in.

Can eating more slowly help with heartburn too? Maybe, maybe not. Research results are conflicting. One study found people who slowed down when they ate fries, a chicken burger and a carbonated drink had fewer episodes of acid reflux than when they ate their fast food fast. But in another study, there was no difference in the amount of stomach acid produced when the participants ate fast (in 5 minutes) or slow (in 30 minutes).

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How to dine more mindfully

People who eat fast probably have done so since they were kids, so it can take time and practice to get into the habit of eating more slowly. First, sit down to eat — standing seems to encourage fast eating.

Next, "take a full deep breath to center yourself. Look at the food on the plate and smell it," advises Rita Black, a clinical hypnotherapist who specializes in weight loss and quitting smoking. "Take about ten bites and chew each one slowly. Then pause and put your fork down. Tune in to your stomach, and ask yourself, how full am I now? Repeat until you feel satisfied."

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Dianne Lange is a Lake Tahoe-based freelance writer specializing in health and travel. She is the author of four books on cancer and a former editor at SELF, Health, Natural Health and Prevention. Her work has appeared on websites such as RealAge.com, SymptomFind.com, WebMD and Everyday Health.