Eating slowly and not overdoing it
My grandma might have been right: chewing each mouthful 28 times is good advice. We've since found that eating slowly and chewing well doesn't just improve digestion, it also has other benefits, including maintaining a healthy weight and quite possibly allowing us to enjoy our food more. The cooler months are the perfect time to slow eating right down.
I’m a slow eater. I’m usually the last to finish my meal in company, either at home or out. It can be a challenge: often as not people around me are ready to go onto dessert and I’ve barely finished my mains or still eating. I secretly wish the whole world would just slow right down when it comes to meal time. I don’t fret about it, though, as I think I once did. I just can’t eat faster than I do. Nor do I want to. When I was a lot younger I could and did eat fairly quickly: I’d compete with my brothers for seconds. Those days are long gone. I don’t even know how it happened. Did my grandma always admonishing us kids to ‘chew each mouthful 28 times’ somehow finally sink in and become a habit? Possibly. I did used to count them!
I know when I was in my second year of university, I remember keeping pace as I ate with my friend, Andy, who was teaching me all about macrobiotics. We admitted to each other that we were like two peas in a pod in a world of bolters! Our meals were small by comparison with those around us. Chewing well left us not wanting more. We’d watch in surprise and perhaps awe at how some in our very large household would shovel food down almost without drawing breath. So, maybe having a companion with whom I ate regularly for two years helped cement the practice. I have to admit it was quite a different world then, living as we were on the edge of campus — no long commutes — and life was far simply by comparison with today’s hurly-burly. There was just so much more time to prepare food and eat it.
These days, I mostly eat on my own. I eat best that way. I enjoy savouring each mouthful. I’ve found I do spend time with most mouthfuls, feeling tastes and textures. I will say it would be good to find more slow eaters to sup (or sip) with. I’ve also noticed I don’t like noisy restaurants. On my own, I can turn off to it; in company, it’s far harder and I am not one who’s prepared to yell to maintain a conversation.
Science tells us it takes 20–30 minutes for our brains to get the message we’ve had enough, but if we rush our food and finish our meals in under 20 minutes we’ll run the risk of wanting more food before the ‘full sign’ goes up. There is a point when our bodies will tell us when we’ve had enough. However, we do have to listen out for it. I do get to hear that signal — it’s like a silent burp that doesn’t quite surface, like a little heave. I know I’m approaching satiety. It’s not the same as being full, aka “I can’t fit another thing in”. There’s only one way to tell the difference and that’s to actually feel it yourself: eat slowly and let your body tell you when it’s satisfied.
If we finish our meals before this natural signal kicks in, we run the risk of reaching for a second helping and then before we know it we’re stuffed — full of food, that is! — and have to lie down for a while. Post-Christmas lunch, anyone? It’s good to allow the body time to register that it no longer needs more food. Deliberately under-eating to no more than 80% full, as practised by the Okinawans off Japan — among the longest-living communities on the planet — might afford us a less troublesome, healthier-for-longer life. They even have a term for it: ‘Hara hachi bu’, which literally means “Eat until you are eight parts (out of ten) full”.
Six tips to slow down eating
Sit down to eat in a relaxed environment with minimal distractions. Subdued lighting is conducive, as is ambient or similar music. Don’t eat while driving or while using a screen.
Find another slow eater to pace yourself with. Children who take forever to eat can be helpful, after all!!
Put down your utensils between bites. Pause. Breathe. If you’re eating with others, enjoy light conversation for a few minutes. Do it consciously and deliberately, at least to start with.
Try setting a minimum number of chews per bite. See what 28 chews per mouthful feels like. You should get close to a smoothie/thick soup state.
Use smaller plates and bowls and utensils such as chopsticks, or long-handled teaspoons, which I prefer. That way you can only pick up smaller amounts of food at a time.
Set aside enough time to eat so you won’t be or feel rushed. You’ll need even longer for dinner — or lunch, if that’s your main meal of the day. Eating is not some chore you have to do. Like sleep, you’re fuelling body, mind and soul.