Slow the F*ck Down
You eat too fast.
Well, probably 90% of folks reading this eat too fast. It’s totally normal in our society for you to eat too fast. We scarf our food down like we are in the world’s biggest hurry, probably because we so often are. But boy howdy is it bad for you.
It’s so fricken hard to eat with people when you’re a nutritionist. Like, I’m not gonna ever be that dude who’s policing all of my friends for their choices, but inside my head all this science is rushing around being like, “but their poor bodiiiieeeessss!!!!” Nothing causes that more than watching people inhale their food. It’s like a movie playing in my head of that food passing through their digestive systems wreaking havoc and not even giving them any of the nutrients it has. I bite my tongue, but inside I am a giant crying emoji.
(😭<— it me)
Chewing is step one of digestion. Everything that comes after is dependent on it. You can't digest properly if you don't chew properly. . There are three reasons for this. The first and most basic reason is that your stomach begins producing stomach acid for digestion as a response to smelling and tasting food. When you don’t chew, you don’t taste your food as much, so you don’t produce as much stomach acid.
The second is an enzyme called salivary amylase, which is (obviously) in your saliva. Salivary amylase works to break down carbohydrates and starches into usable forms of sugar—dextrin (a fiber) and maltose (a sugar).
The third is that chewing your food breaks it down into small enough bits for your body to be able to digest it. If you’ve ever marinated meat in an acid (lemon juice or vinegar, for example), you know that the longer it sits in it, the more “cooked” it becomes. That process is called denaturing—the proteins break down into the amino acids they are made of, making those amino acids available to the body. Cooking also denatures proteins. Stomach acid is integral to the process though, so it’s important to make sure it can do it’s job. When you put large chunks of protein into your stomach, your body is not able to properly denature those proteins, and you are therefore deprived of the amino acids they contain—which are super important for your body’s ability to repair itself. Literally your whole self is dependent on amino acids for cellular function.
It’s not just for protein breakdown, though. Larger chunks of food also are acted upon less by the digestive enzymes from your duodenum, pancreas, and gall bladder. The less digested your food is, the more available it is for bacteria to feast on, which can cause and exacerbate things like IBS, leaky gut, and SIBO.
Perhaps the most motivating factor in all of this is that the more you chew your food, the less gas you'll have. I have seen in numerous clients that report having gas consistently at a certain time of day. When we trace that timing back to the last meal they eat before the onset, that meal is always the most rushed meal of the day. When they begin consciously chewing that meal, the gas almost always goes away.
So, what does proper chewing look like? Take small(er) bites. I have observed that most people should be taking three bites for every one bite they currently take. Next, count your chews. I am not joking. The only way I have seen work for folks to train themselves to slow down is for them to count each and every bite. So take your bite, and count your chews—30x per bite of food. You will notice that some foods (particularly meat) require more chews than that. You will also notice cool things like your bread or crackers becoming sweeter the longer you chew them—that’s the starches breaking down into sugars! How neat!
The more you do this, the more it will become a habit. Once it’s a habit you will find not chewing nearly impossible.
Here are the hard parts of making this change:
you will eat slower than everyone else around you. You will often find yourself taking food home with you from restaurants because everyone else was ready to move on but you were still eating. It can be uncomfortable, but it’s worth it.
You have two chew everything. That means smoothies, soups, yogurt, and other things that seem like drinks but are actually foods. This is the hardest thing to remember and the thing that makes the most clients balk. I had one client passionately declare that they would never drink another smoothie if they had to chew it. Which… okay, that’s fine? No one said you have to eat smoothies.
The things that seem to be appropriately chewed the fastest (bread, crackers, potatoes, etc) are the ones that most need salivary amylase to be properly broken down. They will feel chewed enough before you hit 30 chews. Stick with it.
Now, go forth into the world and start digesting better! I have complete faith in your ability to accomplish this task.