Photo credit: "Eating" by Hamza Butt via Flickr/BY CC
Or, what happened when I decided to thoroughly chew my food.
Have you ever counted how many times you chew your food before swallowing? 10 times? 15 times? 20? Yes, it does depend on what type of food you are eating, but on average it seems people chew less than 10 times before swallowing (unofficial survey done by me!)
If you are looking to lose weight and just gain more satisfaction out of the food you eat, slowing down and chewing just might be one strategy to try. For example, in one recent study from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, participants reduced their meal size by nearly 15 percent by thoroughly chewing their food. This reduction could be enough to help with weight management. In another study, findings showed that people who are overweight tend to chew less (and for shorter periods) than those who are a normal weight.
Given these findings, I thought it would be interesting to give myself a “homework assignment” to slow down my eating by thoroughly chewing each bite of food. I had done this exercise about 4 years ago. But with my recent schedule, it seemed a good time to get back to some healthier eating habits.
My mission: to spend an entire day chewing my food at least 30 times.
Here is what I discovered.
It takes a long time to eat when you chew slowly. This is pretty obvious. What I didn’t expect was my reaction to eating slower. I was impatient. Maybe even a little bit frustrated. I had a list of things I need to get done that day and hadn’t planned on taking extra time to eat my meals. It probably took me twice as long as usual to eat my morning porridge (30 minutes!)
After a few minutes into the meal though I began to calm down and found I got into a rhythm. My whole body seemed to relax. I began to enjoy the experience more and to appreciate the colors and shapes of my food. I began to put to put my fork or spoon down between bites.
At lunch, I was still dreading the “slow meal” a bit, but not as much. By dinner, I was beginning to welcome the routine.
I focused only on this one activity, eating, which led to my second discovery.
It’s hard to eat and count, and do anything else. During this chewing experiment, I found if my mind wandered while I was chewing, I lost count!
In order to stay mindful, I coach clients to focus on the meal and avoid doing other things. That means no reading, no television, no crossword puzzles (my downfall), or any other activity that will distract you from appreciating the experience of eating.
For me, this attention to one activity, in a way, became almost meditative. I had just one thought: count the number of chews. By clearing out the other clutter in my brain, I began to focus on the act of eating. I realized I chew on one side of my mouth more than the other and that I needed to use my tongue more to move the food around. I also noticed that chewing is noisy inside your head. I normally wouldn’t have been aware of any of these things.
I clued into the taste and texture of my meal. As I was chewing I noticed that each bite started with a bright burst of flavor (wow, that strawberry tasted so good!) After a while the saliva began to mix with the food and it began to lose some of its taste.
At lunch, I noticed that my chicken had a very different texture than the salad. It also took a lot less chewing to finish a mouthful of vegetables than meat (about half the number.) I am usually not thinking about the size of the food pieces that I am swallowing, but this time I was aware of them and tried to keep chewing until there was little left.
I ate smaller portions and took smaller bites. Because it took longer to eat, I ate less. But that wasn’t just because I was bored. I was satisfied and felt comfortably full!
By eating more slowly, I gave my stomach time to communicate with my brain, telling it that I was eating and giving it time to switch into “digestion mode.”
According to Cara Stewart, a registered dietician and member of the Penn Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery team it takes the body about 20 minutes for the brain and stomach to register fullness. 1 If I am eating alone, my meals usually are shorter than that! How many of your meals last that long? If you are a quick eater, you may tend to eat more calories than your body needs. It needs a certain amount of time to transition from other tasks (such as work or exercise) and concentrate on sending additional blood and oxygen to the digestive system where they are needed to assist in absorbing the nutrients from our food.
When we eat slowly, the stomach has time to communicate with the brain using chemical messengers to signal that we are full. If we eat too quickly, our body doesn’t have time to catch up with our fork. We eat more before we get any message to stop.
I also didn’t snack between meals. The contented feeling I had when I finished my meal stuck with me throughout the day. I usually tend to snack when I am looking for a distraction or stressed. Maybe I was focusing better because my body wasn’t concentrating so hard on digesting.
Digestion is a very demanding process for the body, requiring a great deal of energy. Thoroughly chewing your food helps you digest more efficiently. Your food is broken down into smaller particles and mixed well with the saliva in your mouth. Smaller particles are easier for the body to digest. In addition, the enzymes in saliva begin to break down carbohydrates and fats, taking some of the burden off of the stomach and intestines.
My jaw muscles got a workout. This was something I totally didn’t expect. In fact, they were a bit sore. I didn’t realize mindful chewing was going to exercise my jaw. I guess I really did use those muscles a bit more than usual. I wonder if “toned jaw muscles” are noticeable?
All in all, I felt so good after my day of chewing, I decided to continue for a while longer. It isn’t always easy to eat this way, especially when you are in public. It certainly would be awkward in any one-on-one conversations, but I am willing to continue for when I am eating alone. When I am with others, I will try to remain mindful and chew slowly, just maybe not as much as I have been doing over the past few days!
But wait; there was another bonus to chewing that I almost forgot about.
I had more leftovers so I didn’t have to cook as much!
I hope you enjoyed learning about my experiences with chewing more mindfully. Have you ever tried this practice? I would highly recommend trying it even for one meal. You may be surprised at what you discover. Leave me a message below and or send me an email about your experience. I would love to hear from you!
Yours in Health,
P.S. I enjoyed my meals so much these past couple of days, I thought I would share two of the recipes from my menu. One is a breakfast staple of mine. The other is a great recipe from one of my programs “Eating for Your Best Self,” which comes with its own program guide and cookbook. If you would like to learn more about healthy eating or have any health and wellness related questions, please feel free to reach out to me. I’d love to help.
This is a flavorful, satisfying alternative to oatmeal in the morning. I make up a big batch of my Breakfast Mix and store it in the refrigerator (see recipe below.) It makes this recipe so quick and easy to make. If you tolerate eggs, adding them to the mix gives this more of an oatmeal consistency. Try using different combinations of seasonal fruits and nuts to switch things up! Yum! Oh, if you use blueberries, you get Purple Porridge!
When using pumpkin, I like to substitute 1/2 apple for the strawberries and add about 1/2 tsp of pumpkin spice. Pumpkin pie for breakfast!
½ banana, cut into chunks and divided in half
¼ cup strawberries, roughly slices, divided in half
1/4 cup pumpkin puree or 1 beaten egg
2 Tbsp Breakfast mix (see below)
Toppings: almond or coocnut milk or yogurt/fruit/nuts
- If using egg, crack open in a small cereal bowl. Add 1-2 Tbsp of water, almond or coconut milk. Beat lightly.
- If using pumpkin puree, combine pumpkin and 1-2 Tbsp of water, almond or coconut milk to a small cereal bowl. Mix to combine.
- For both versions: Add half of the cut up banana and strawberries to bowl. Mix to combine.
- Add 2 Tbsp Evey’s Breakfast mix, and stir.
- Microwave mixture for 1 minute until bubbly and fruit is softened and juices are released. Remove and stir contents to ensure even cooking. Some parts will be firm and other parts still liquidy.
- Microwave 1 minute more. Remove and mix again.
- Add the remainder of the banana and strawberries, or add other toppings of your choice. I like almond yogurt and nuts.
- Note: If you are in a hurry you can mix all the ingredients together and microwave for 2 minutes. Stirring once at 1 minute.
Evey’s Breakfast Mix
This makes a big batch that you can store in the refrigerator until you want to use it.
½ cup whole flaxseed
½ cup ground flaxseed
½ cup almond flour (or crushed almonds)
¼ cup chia seeds
1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
1/2 cup raw sunflower seeds
3 T cinnamon
1 t salt
1/2 cup shredded coconut (optional)
¼ cup maca (optional, adds nutty sweet taste)
¼ cup hemp seeds (optional, adds healthy fats and protein!)
Mix all ingredients in an air-tight container and store in refrigerator. Will last for several weeks.
Adzuki Bean and Sweet Potato Hash
This dish can be eaten for breakfast, lunch, or dinner and can also be served over cooked quinoa or brown rice. To save time preparing this dish, you can use a can of organic adzuki beans and leftover quinoa. Cutting the sweet potatoes into small cubes (about 1/2 inch,) will ensure they cook quickly without burning. Adzuki (also azuki) beans are small oval bush beans native to East Asia. You can substitute any one of your favorite beans. I have used black beans before.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 35 minutes
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium (or 1 large) sweet potatoes, peeled and diced small
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cumin
2 cups cooked adzuki beans or 1 can of organic adzuki beans, drained & rinsed
4 to 5 collard greens, finely chopped (or substitute with kale, or even spinach)
black pepper to taste
- To finely chop collard greens, first stack the leaves on top of each other. Then tightly roll. Use a sharp knife to thinly slice the collards, and then cut those slices crosswise into small pieces.
- Heat a large skillet over medium heat. When hot add olive oil. After olive oil is heated, add onions and a few dashes of salt. Sauté for 4-5 minutes or until the onions are translucent.
- To this, add sweet potatoes, thyme, and cumin. Sauté for a few minutes uncovered. Cover and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until yams are tender. Check occasionally to make sure they don't burn.
- Add collard greens. Cover and cook 5 minutes more.
- Add beans and heat through, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.
- Serve and enjoy!