There may be a simple way to avoid weight gain and associated health problems as the holidays approach and food takes center stage: eat slowly rather than gobbling your food.

Eating slowly makes you less likely to develop obesity and metabolic syndrome, according to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions in Anaheim, California.

Fast eaters experienced more weight gain, higher blood sugar and expanded waistlines.

Metabolic syndrome is a group of risk factors that increases your risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. When any three of these occur together — high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low HDL (good) cholesterol, abdominal obesity and/or high fasting blood sugar — metabolic syndrome is diagnosed. Lifestyle changes can usually delay or prevent serious health problems.

Over 1,000 men and women, average age 51 years, who did not have metabolic syndrome were evaluated in 2008. Japanese researchers divided the people into three groups according to how they described their usual eating speed — fast, normal or slow. Five years later, the participants were evaluated again.

People who described their eating speed as fast were more likely to have metabolic syndrome than those who were slow or normal eaters. And fast eaters experienced more weight gain, higher blood sugar and expanded waistlines.

Slowing down the speed at which you eat may be a simple, yet crucial, lifestyle change that can help prevent metabolic syndrome, according to Takayuki Yamaji, study author and cardiologist at Hiroshima University in Japan.

“When people eat fast they tend not to feel full and are more likely to overeat. Eating fast causes bigger glucose fluctuation, which can lead to insulin resistance,” Yamaji explained, in a statement. He believes the findings would also apply to the U.S. population.

With all the food you will likely face in the coming weeks, it’s a good time to start practicing the art of eating more slowly, a habit you can carry over into 2018 to jumpstart your New Year’s resolutions.

The study has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, so its findings should be considered preliminary.