One Simple Action for Eating Less, Improving Digestion and Boosting Pleasure

Chew your food.

Really, it's that simple.

I'm sure you're like, "Whatever, mom, I do chew my food."

Hmmm, are you sure about that?

Or, do you kinda, sorta chew your food and then expect those teeth in your stomach to finish the job?

It's ok. I used to think I chewed my food too.

Then one day I shined a spotlight on my chewing ways, and lordy, was I ever shocked (and terribly embarrassed).

I discovered I was a fast-eating, multitasking non-chewer.

I'd chew a bite a few times and then take a big gulp of water to swallow it down.

Even worse, I would chew a bite and then shovel another bite in my mouth before I swallowed the previous one. I was a double biter!

No wonder I often pushed my bloated Buddha belly away from the table burping, groaning and silently cursing for overeating.

Can you relate?

Eat Snappy, Feel Crappy
Not chewing well puts a burden on your digestive system making your gut work like a dog to digest your meals.

It takes anywhere from 24 to 72 hours to fully digest food (eat some red beets to see for yourself). Our fast-paced culture leads to rapid-firing eating that's totally out of sync with our slow-paced digestive system. As a result, we suffer from indigestion, bloating, belching, gas, cramping, acid reflux, cruddy sleep, low energy, excess weight and other unpleasant side effects.

Is eating fast worth feeling like crap?

The Best Digestive Aid
When suffering from digestive distress, many try to remedy the problem with handfuls of Tums and other digestive aids and painkillers rather then address its source, which could, quite simply, be a lack of chewing.

Digestion begins in the mouth. The act of chewing sends a signal to your gastrointestinal system to start prepping for digestion thus expediting the process. And, the longer you chew, the longer you expose food to saliva which contains powerful enzymes that aid in digestion. Saliva also makes food more alkaline, which creates less gas.

Protect Your Pipe
Mom repeatedly told us to chew our food so we wouldn't choke on a hot dog or pierce our throat with a Dorito. Not only does breaking down food into smaller particles prevent choking, it also causes less stress on your esophagus. If you find yourself frequently swigging a bevvy to flush down chunks of food stuck in your pipe, it's time to slow down.

More Nutrients, Less Gas
Thoroughly chewing food increases nutrient assimilation. When it comes down to it, you're not what you eat, you're what you absorb.

Large, unchewed food fragments are hard to fully break down leading to incomplete digestion and inadequate nutrient absorption. Undigested food becomes fodder for colon bacteria causing bacterial overgrowth, gas and other digestion woes.

Also, when you eat fast, you gulp air with makes you gassy, bloated and, quite frankly, cranky.

Satisfaction with Less
It takes about 20 minutes for food to be digested enough to release the hormones that tell your brain you're full. By chewing more you will automatically eat more slowly giving your noggin a chance to register fullness before you reach for seconds. Instead of feeling like a stuffed turkey, you will feel lighter, energized, satisfied and full on much less food. 

Boost Pleasure
Eating slower creates more space to enjoy a relaxing meal (sadly, a rare treat for most).

By taking time to savor your food and focus on the act of eating, you will be rewarded with a very meditative experience. Your food will even taste better. Or, the opposite may be true. You may discover that those fast-food burgers and fries aren't as tasty as you thought when you eat them slowly. Cold Big Mac anyone? As a result, you will start choosing higher-quality foods to ensure maximum pleasure.

Blast Sugar Cravings
Chewing releases the sweet flavor of whole carbohydrates. The longer you chew them, the sweeter they become. Thoroughly chewing healthy carbs like brown rice can satisfy your sweet tooth reducing your cravings for sugary treats.

Chewing Tips
Chewing more sounds simple, but actually doing it is a bit more challenging. It takes presence, practice and commitment--and, in the beginning, a lot of patience. I promise you, the results are worth it and soon it will become second nature.

Here are tips for cultivating this healthy habit:

  1. Set aside an ample amount of eating time, at least 30 to 60 minutes.
     
  2. Create a calm, distraction-free environment. You can't focus on chewing if you're reading email, driving or watching TV. Sit at a table, light a candle, play some chill tunes, hide your phone, dine outside.
     
  3. Take small bites.
     
  4. Put your utensils or food down between bites. I like to rest my hands in my lap.
     
  5. Chew your food until it's dissolved enough to swallow with ease (unassisted by a drink).  

    I don't prescribe a set number of chews per bite. On average, most people chew a bite less than 10 times. Unless you're eating yogurt, this is likely not enough. I strive to chew until my food is liquified or the consistency of baby food. This works best for me. Tune into your current habit, experiment with different foods and get a sense for what's right for you.
     
  6. As you chew, close your eyes and notice how the taste and texture changes. It's quite fascinating.
     
  7. Resist the urge to swallow too soon. This process will feel painfully slow and strange at first. Be patient, curious and committed.
     
  8. Minimize beverages with your meal if you habitually use them to swallow unchewed food. It's also believed that drinking while eating lessens the effects of your digestive juices.
     
  9. Start by practicing solo or with a slow-down buddy as it can be challenging at first to put this into practice when dining with others.
     
  10. Notice how you feel physically, mentally and emotionally at the end of your meal and the hours and days following.

Once you get the hang of chewing longer and experience the benefits, hurried eating becomes quite unpleasant. You'll also be astounded as you start noticing how fast other people wolf down their food. Don't judge, for you were once a speed eater too. Send them some slow-down vibes and re-focus on yourself remembering we're all on our own mindful-eating path.

Happy Chewing!

Treat yourself to another mindful-eating article here.