Run, run, Rudolph! Between parties, shopping, decorating, and traveling, the holiday season is packed with activity and excitement. It might be hustle and bustle until the New Year (or maybe all year round), but there is definitely one place you should slow down: the kitchen table. Speed eating may actually be linked to metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors associated with heart disease and several types of cancer.

A Japanese study published in the British Medical Journal looked at over 56,000 people during their annual health checkup. Participants were given questionnaires regarding their medical history and eating habits, and could pick from slow, normal, or fast to describe their eating rate. Scientists found people who ate quickly had significantly higher BMI, waist circumference, triglyceride levels, and blood pressure than those who ate slowly. Fast eaters were also more likely to have metabolic syndrome, which can have serious health implications.

There is a reason slow food is gaining popularity. A review from this year analyzed 22 different studies on eating rate, finding those who ate slowly ate fewer calories than the fast eaters. Excessive caloric intake leads to weight gain, which can ultimately lead to chronic disease and a slew of health problems.

Step on the breaks and put down the fork. If you tend to turn meals into a sprint competition, here are a few tips to help you slow down:

  • Take smaller bites or try eating with your non-dominant hand.
  • Put down your fork between bites. Really taste your food before you pick up more.
  • Eat with a friend. Having a conversation can help you slow down.
  • Take a sip of water between each bite. This will also help you fill up faster.
  • Sit down for meals. Eating on the go or standing up can make you feel rushed.

Published December 1, 2014