The most basic yet impactful thing you can do for better health – and it’s free!

Being a typical type A personality, I rush everything I do including eating. 9 times out of 10 I’ve gobbled up a plateful of food whilst others are not yet half way through.  Or, I’ve sat at my desk working away eating my lunch but not really tasting or savouring it.  I walk fast, talk fast, eat fast – it’s just the way I am.  Often, I end up feeling heavy and uncomfortable. Sometimes, I feel dissatisfied: I’m still hungry and I want to eat more food.

Am I alone in feeling this way? I’m guessing some, if not many of you, are in the same boat.

There’s one simple thing all of us can do to improve our health and our digestion: chew.

We need to chew our food more. It sounds so simple, right? Yet, I realise I don’t always do it.  Eating is one of our primary pleasures but more often than not, I don’t take the time to chew and savour each mouthful.  Do you?

“What’s the big deal about chewing?’ I hear you ask.

Chewing is key to smooth digestion, initiating the release of digestive enzymes that break down food and lead to a greater assimilation of nutrients. Whole food carbohydrates, especially whole grains, must be mixed with saliva and chewed until they become liquid to release their full nutritional value. You may also notice that the more you chew whole (complex) carbohydrate foods, the sweeter they taste. Because digestion becomes more efficient when you chew your food thoroughly, your body feels lighter after meals.

How do we ensure that we chew more? One of the best ways is to actually count the chews in each bite. (In your head, of course. Talking while eating is a no-no!) To begin, chew every mouthful of food at least 20 times each – maybe 30 or more eventually – whatever it takes until the food becomes liquid before swallowing.

It helps if you put your fork down between every bite too.  It’s not easy, believe me I know, especially to start with but bear with it and you’ll be surprised at how much better you feel.

If you feel compelled to swallow before you’ve finished chewing enough times, simply move the food over to the other side of your mouth and swallow saliva (as you would with chewing gum).

Then bring the food back out into the centre of your mouth to finish chewing. Take the time to enjoy the whole spectrum of tastes and aromas in the meal that you might never have discovered before!

An added bonus may be that you actually feel more satisfied and eat less too – it takes 20 minutes for your brain to register it is full and if you tend to gulp down your food you can find that you overeat hence feeling bloated and heavy.

Hand in hand with chewing is mindful eating. Below I share some tips to help foster mindful eating so you really get the most out of your dining experience.

 My mindful-eating top tips:

Before

  • Wash your hands
  • Turn off the television, radio, and telephone. Ideally, do not read either
  • Find a clean quiet place to eat. Perhaps light a candle or play soft music. Stretch, breathe
  • Say a prayer or reflect on your gratitude for the meal
  • Take 3 deep breaths

 Whilst Eating

  • Place a bite of food in your mouth
  • Put your knife and fork or chopsticks down in between bites
  • Place your hands together or rest them calmly while chewing
  • Begin chewing and deep breathing
  • Concentrate on what you’re doing. Enjoy and savour each bite of the food, appreciate the colour, the texture, the aromas and the flavours
  • Look at your food as something attractive. Or if you like, close your eyes partially or fully
  • If you are enjoying the company of someone else, keep the conversation light and pleasant

After

  • Reflect on your gratitude for the meal
  • Sit and talk after your meal
  • Then, take a light stroll

I challenge you to try a couple of things:

  1. You may want to try this mindful eating exercise. Take a raisin, a segment of fruit or a square of chocolate. It doesn’t matter what you choose. What matters is that you pay undivided attention, utilizing all of your senses, to first hold the item of food in your hand and then slowly and deliberately eat it and experience it as totally as you can.  Notice the sensations and think about how differently eating in this way may have felt to you. There are no right and wrong answers. It is just about how the experience was for you.
  2. This week, give yourself the gift of 10 minutes each lunch time. Sit quietly, move away from or turn your back on your computer, for example, and eat your lunch mindfully. Be fully present and aware of all the colours, textures, smells and flavours. Is it savoury, bitter, sweet, spicy? How does it change as you chew?   Notice what thoughts and emotions rise up as you are eating.   Maybe you’ll have  feelings of stress about how much you have to do and how much time you are ‘wasting’. Perhaps your mind will wander off to something else. You may end up planning what you will do next or reflect on what you have just done.  If so, that’s fine, just gently bring your focus back without criticism or judgement to eating and savouring your lunch and reflect on the gift of enjoying your food and being alive for just these 10 minutes.

Mindfully yours

Alison Middleton

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