Take a moment and think about how fast or slow you eat. Do you eat alone, with others, with a book or watching TV? Do you take the time to enjoy all the textures and tastes a bite of food has? As some of you know, I enrolled in school July 2012 to become a certified health coach and one of the things that keeps coming up is chewing. This made me think about how fast I eat my food and Stella eats even faster than me and I often tell her to chew what is in her mouth before putting another bite in. I wondered why do we eat so fast? I know that in the mornings it is sometimes a challenge to get out the door on time to walk Stella to school, but what is the reason on the weekends or at dinner time.
I won’t go into much here, because I will start a tirade of food, health and our school system that would go on and on!!! Stella often brings part of her lunch home with her because she does not have enough time to eat it!!! Many of her friends have stopped buying lunch because by the time they stand in line to get it they only have about 5 minutes to eat it!! So the fact that they are serving crap, they are not even giving the kids enough time to eat it, let alone properly digest it and then they wonder why afternoons are more difficult for kids and learning. The other item is that school starts at 7:30, with some kids getting on the bus before 7am and then this year lunch in at 11am – school let’s out at 2:15 and dinner in our house is 6pm – right there the time in-between meals is crazy (so an answer as to why she eats dinner so fast). I will stop here.
To get back to chewing and the fine art of it – and yes there is an art to it. Think about how long you spend preparing a meal and how fast it is gone off the plates – do you think anyone really tasted the food? Probably not. Digestion starts in the mouth, not in the stomach or the intestines. The process of chewing is a vitally important component of the digestive activities that occur in the mouth, linked to good digestion, and therefore, good health. The action of chewing mechanically breaks down very large pieces of food into smaller particles. This helps with both your esophagus and the longer your food is exposed to saliva – the more lubricated the food and the saliva enzymes contribute to the chemical process of digestion. Chewing is the start and trigger to other processes that occur during digestion. Between your stomach and your small intestines there is a muscle called the pylorus – this muscle must relax in order for food to leave your stomach and pass into your small intestine – saliva helps this process. Yet, the contribution of chewing to good digestion does not even stop there. The process of chewing also activates signaling messages to the rest of the gastrointestinal system that triggers it to begin the entire digestive process. This is the “cephalic stage of digestion”, the phase in which you first see, smell and taste your food. The length of time spent chewing the food is related to the length of the cephalic stage of digestion since with more extensive chewing the longer the food gets to be seen, tasted and smelled.
By chewing your food, really chewing your food – you give your stomach the chance to let your brain know when you are full – this is usually about 20 minutes into a meal. If you have already inhaled a plate plus seconds in that time – your brain never knew you were full and so you kept eating. Whereas if you take the time to enjoy your food – you will stay full longer and you will not eat as much! What a concept.
Other things to help with digestion is to limit your fluid intake – too much fluid in the stomach will slow down digestion. You are better to drink a glass of water 20 – 30 minutes before you eat and drink nothing while you eat. Concentrate on your meal – don’t have the TV on or other distractions – making nourishing your body an enjoyable part of your day – it will also nourish your soul.
In our house we count 25 chews for each bite – putting our silverware down until we are done chewing. Some people say to chew for 100 times – but really you just want the food to be liquid and not be able to tell what it is. If you have kids – they will love this – chew ad chew and then show each other and see if you can still tell what it was that you put into your mouth!! it definitely makes eating a little more fun and goes against the normal rule of keeping your mouth shut while chewing. 🙂
The benefits of thoroughly chewing your food will extend beyond improved digestion. It will cause you to slow down when you are eating, making more space for the enjoyment of your meal. Food will begin to taste even better when there is more focus and concentration on the process and act of eating. By chewing your food well, you will be able to better enjoy the benefits of the World’s Healthiest Foods – their abundance of nutrients and great, lively tastes.