Over the past winter break, I was given the opportunity to go to Salerno, Italy to study the Mediterranean lifestyle and diet. As a Nutrition and Dietetics student, I was thrilled to experience and really immerse myself in the Mediterranean lifestyle. Most people have heard of the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet; however, few people know the benefits of the Mediterranean lifestyle until they have experienced it for themselves. For now, I’ll clue you in on what a typical day looks like in Salerno. 

Lizzy Payne

In Salerno, people move a little slower. They wake up a little later, spend more time with friends and family, and all together live around a more flexible time schedule. However, what surprised me the most was the pace that they eat. I don’t know about you all, but my eating schedule is strongly swayed by my busy class and work load. I oftentimes find myself quickly grabbing a granola bar on my way out the door, or eating lunch on the shuttle in between classes. In Salerno, meals were drawn out into lasting hours at a time all the while surrounded by friends and family. While eating slowly is a great time to check in with loved ones, it also has huge health benefits.

Learning Hunger Cues

Lizzy Payne

Not many people are aware that eating at a slower pace actually enables the body to better sense when you are full or hungry. It takes around 20 minutes from the beginning of the meal for the body to sense when it is satisfied. However, within a hectic lifestyle most meals don’t even last this long! So how does this impact our eating habits? If you are unable to recognize signs of satiety, then it can lead to overconsumption throughout the day. On the other hand, studies have shown that slowing down meals leads to more adequate portions. The same study found that eating slower can keep you from feeling hungry again later on. So basically eating slow leaves you feeling more satisfied with your meal! Who doesn’t love that?

Hormonal Signals

Lizzy Payne

Here's a lil’ refresher in case it’s been a while since your last biology or physiology class. There are stretch receptors in the stomach that become activated as the stomach fills, which signals the vagus nerve in the brain. This causes a release of hormonal signals as partially digested food starts to enter the small intestine. One of these hormonal signals is cholecystokinin (but you can call it CCK). CCK is released by the intestines when eating food. Another hormone that helps out CCK is leptin, which is produced by fat cells. Leptin communicates with the brain about satiety (a state of fullness) and long-term nutrient intake needs. CCK is magnified by leptin, causing an increased sense of satisfaction from a meal. But get this, if you eat too fast, your hormones won’t be able to work together as efficiently. 

Improved Digestion

Lizzy Payne

Digestion can be an overwhelming process to understand, but improving digestion through the pace that you eat is easy! The whole process begins in the mouth with your teeth. Your teeth break down your food into smaller pieces, so your digestive enzymes can thoroughly break it down. Your stomach will also have less of a workload in turning your solid food into chyme (liquid type mixture) before entering the small intestine. When you chew your food slowly it ensures that you will have an adequate amount of saliva to aid in digestion. This all in all prevents conditions like heartburn and indigestion, which nobody wants. Overall, taking your time to chew your food takes a lot of stress out of the digestive process and moves things along in a smoother manner. 

Tips for Slowing Down

Lizzy Payne

So you may be thinking, eating slow sounds great, but where do I start? Eating slow sounds simple, but changing a habit can be tricky. Here are some good places to start!

1. Limit your distractions while eating: I promise you can wait a little to answer that text 

2. Choose high fiber foods: choices like fruits and veggies can take a little longer to chew (a.k.a good practice)!

3. Relax: eating should be a pleasant experience, so take a deep breath every once in a while and chill

4. Try using smaller utensils: put down that huge spoon and try some chopsticks (they're more fun anyway)

5. Find yourself a slow paced buddy: try to match the pace of your friend who you know takes forever to finish their plate

6. Put aside time to eat: giving yourself more time to eat results in ample health benefits and more time to spend chatting with friends during meals

Let us adopt the ways of our friends in Salerno, keep calm and eat slow! You just might find you will live a happier and healthier lifestyle, just like the locals do in Salerno, Italy.