Mindful Eating

Chances are, you don’t think much about the way you chew — and who could blame you? It’s not something we really focus on when we are eating. Instead, we think about what we’re eating, how many calories, and maybe even the way we’re eating. 

 

A Pathway To Better Living

food for healthy brain practice mindful eating

 

All of this makes perfect sense. Chewing is part of the digestive process, but in general, digestion is an autonomic process, meaning it is unconsciously and involuntarily carried out. Therefore, why think about it?

Still, maybe we should be concerned with how we chew. Hear us out.

Not only do you chew every day, and many times at that, but the simple act of conscientious chewing is actually one of the best ways to:

  • Improve digestion.

  • Absorb more nutrients from the food that you eat.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.

  • Better enjoy and savor your food.

  • Eat more mindfully.

  • Reduce stress.

Yes, all of these benefits can come from better chewing habits! 

So how can you improve your chewing?

In the following guide, we’ll tell you exactly how to adopt better chewing habits for more conscientious eating. 

 

What Is Mindful Eating?

Conscientious chewing is the act of eating more slowly and more mindfully. When you chew conscientiously, you masticate your food properly. You are unrushed and deliberate. You chew more times than you normally would on average. As a result, your digestion benefits and so does your mind.

While it may not seem very important, the act of chewing your food is essential to your health and well-being. Proper masticating through conscientious chewing is even more important.  

 

The Science Of Chewing: Why Is It Necessary For Digestion?

There are numerous reasons why chewing is necessary. In a very real way, if you didn’t do it well enough, you would be putting yourself at a higher risk of choking. At its simplest, chewing allows for the healthy digestion of what you eat. It is the first step in the digestive process.

Without the chewing process, your body would not be able to adequately absorb the important nutrients found in your food. Basically, this is because the act breaks down food into smaller pieces. If you did not chew each bite, your food would not be digested properly. 

This would lead to low absorption of nutrients while the food is in your intestines and stomach. Other troublesome complications such as constipation, indigestion, nausea, stomach ache, headache, low energy levels, heartburn, and other symptoms could occur as well. Over time, lack of necessary energy and nutrients might lead to even greater health problems, such as nutrient deficiency, bone loss, and a weakened immune system.

 

Is It Always Healthier To Chew More And Slower?

Conscientious chewing habits do indeed advocate chewing more times and more slowly. Whether or not it’s always important to do this really depends on the circumstances. But in general, yes. Most of the time, adopting these mindful eating habits will always be beneficial to your mind and body.

 

How Many Times Should You Chew Your Food?

There is no set number of times that you should chew your food. You may have heard ten times when you were a kid or even 32 times1 as an adult. You can certainly use the 32-chew rule if you like. However, most doctors, nutritionists, and scientists have debunked arbitrary numbers such as these.

How many times you chew your food will naturally depend on what you're eating. For example, if you’re having yogurt or ice cream, you’ll hardly need to chew at all. If you’re enjoying a banana or some cake, both of which are soft, you're probably only going to need to chew it six to ten times before it's ready to be swallowed. 

Conversely, if you're chewing something that's quite tough such as a piece of jerky or fruit leather, you’ll want to chew it many more times. The same goes for large pieces of crunchy foods such as cucumber slices or crackers. 

Conscientious chewing isn’t about following a specific protocol. Instead, it’s about the entire process of slowing down your eating, being more mindful and gentle with the way that you consume food.

If you’re simply someone who likes to have rules where health recommendations are concerned. Think of conscientious eating in terms of reaching the desired consistency and/or time rather than in the number of chews. 

In order to get yourself to chew more and more slowly, think of continuing until the food loses its texture. This topic tends to get a little graphic, but don’t worry we’ll be brief. In general, you want to transform your food into a sort of mush (think baby food) before you swallow. 

You might also try contemplating your chewing in terms of time. We tend not to masticate our food very well when we don't allow very much time between bites. Therefore, the goal here would be to extend the time between bites. To do this, you could tell yourself that you're going to set your cutlery down in between each bite. You might even decide that you're going to take a drink of water before continuing. If you are dining with others, you might say something to the other person between bites.

 

Can You Chew Your Food Too Much?

There are no hard and fast rules about how many times you should be chewing your food. However, it's safe to say that if you do so more than necessary, there's no real benefit. Remember that the point of conscientious chewing is to improve digestion, nutrient absorption and to be more mindful and present when you're eating.

 

What Does Mindful Eating Have To Do With Mindfulness?

According to UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine2, “Mindfulness means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, through a gentle, nurturing lens.”

You might think of mindfulness as a way to monotask intensely.

This is the act of doing one thing at a time and putting your full attention on it. As such, you will feel less stressed.

Conscientious chewing relates to mindfulness because it is the act of putting your full attention on the chewing/eating process and not multitasking during a meal. This means no reading, watching TV, playing with your phone, or letting your mind wander too far-off places while you chew and eat.

 

What is Mindful Eating?

We know that chewing is just one part of eating and digestion. There is actually a mindfulness practice that includes chewing, but it also covers the other steps involved in the process of eating. After all, eating is more than just chewing!

This process is called mindful eating.

One of the biggest supporters of this practice is the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh3.

 

What Thich Nhat Hanh Says About Mindful Eating

He has written and spoken extensively on the act of mindful eating. He says that this act can bring you great joys and delights in your life. He uses mindful eating as an example of the way you can use mindfulness in your daily life with basically any activity. That is, the same principles that he applies to mindful eating can be applied to any task you undertake. 

Thich Nhat Hanh has many teachings on the practice of mindful eating. He discusses mindful eating when enjoying an orange, munching on an apple, or drinking tea. All individual acts should be cared for in the most delicate, gentle, and attentive manner.

The goal of mindful eating is to go slowly, to focus fully on each act and movement that you undertake. Concentrate on how all five of your senses are affected by what you are doing at each moment. 

On eating an apple, for example, Thich Nhat Hanh has this to say:

“Let’s have a taste of mindfulness. Take an apple out of your refrigerator. Any apple will do.

Wash it. Dry it. Before taking a bite, pause for a moment. Look at the apple in your palm and ask yourself: When I eat an apple, am I really enjoying eating it? Or am I so preoccupied with other thoughts that I miss the delights that the apple offers me?”

 

Applying Mindful Eating Practices To Other Daily Tasks

 

person enjoying mindful eating while eating a salad

 

Generally speaking, eating is an enjoyable task. But remember that the mindfulness practices you use with eating can also be applied to other daily tasks. Many are often seen as boring, rote, difficult, or annoying. 

For example, you can practice the same eating mindfulness practices when you are doing things like laundry, lawn mowing, driving, or painting. There’s never a moment in life where mindfulness is a bad idea.

 

How To Start Better Chewing Habits

Below, we provide a step-by-step plan to eating a meal with conscientious chewing habits.

 

Conscientious Chewing Step-By-Step

Let’s say you are going to prepare a small snack of apple slices to eat alone in your home. Here are the steps that you can take to prepare and eat this snack with both conscientious chewing habits and mindful eating behaviors in mind. 

Once you finish reading the steps, try making this snack (or something similar) for yourself and follow along. 

 

1. Turn everything off.

The music, your smartphone, the television, and your computer. You're going to eat in silence — don’t panic! Trust us when we say that it can be a truly enjoyable experience.

 

2. Set your table and prepare your meal.

You'll be eating at the table. Make sure not to have your meal on the couch, while standing up, or as you walk around your kitchen doing something else.

To prepare your table, be mindfully attentive as you slowly wipe it clear of crumbs and debris. With each movement, pay attention to your sensations. In this case, touch, sound, sight, and smell.

Retrieve your apple. Slowly, take it to the sink and wash it, feeling the water run softly over your hands and the apple. Palpate the skin of the apple and notice what texture it has. Since the temperature of the water and adjust it as necessary.

Carefully, slice your apple into pieces. Hear the sound the knife makes as it cuts through the flesh of the fruit. Can you smell it too? Do you feel the cool moisture of the apple on your skin? 

Put the apple on your plate, arranging it carefully.

 

3. Take your first bite.

Sit down at the table with your apple in front of you.  Be aware of all your senses. You’re about to eat, so you may feel saliva building up in your mouth. You may smell the apple or do you smell anything else?

Notice the varied textures of the apple. Pick up a piece and feel it. As you brush your fingers along its juicy flesh and the outer skin, what do you hear? How does each texture sound, look, and feel different?

Bring a slice up to your mouth. Feel the apple touch your lips and tongue. Hear and taste the apple breaking as your teeth slice through a piece. Notice every sensation, and savor it. Think about the apple you are eating and how you and it are actually joining together. Appreciate and thank the apple for providing you with delicious taste and essential nutrients.

Chew your apple adequately. Remember, there’s no set number of chews here.  Once you swallow. Contemplate the taste, the feel, the smell — everything.

Congratulations! You are practicing conscientious chewing and mindful eating.

 

How Can Better Chewing Habits Through Mindful Eating Affect Physical Health?

Like many things, one good habit begets another. Which in turn, creates another good habit, and so on …

This is certainly the case with conscientious chewing. When you do it, you are really practicing mindful eating. When adopting a complete mindful eating practice, you'll end up carrying out other beneficial eating behaviors as well.

Ideally, one of them will be eating a more balanced diet. Both your physical and mental health can benefit greatly from better eating. When you choose to eat mindfully, aim to consume foods that are good for you and filled with nutrients. In general, your diet should avoid alcohol and caffeine and instead focus on a good balance of the following:

  • Fruits and vegetables.

  • Lean proteins, including fish, poultry, meat, eggs, nuts, and beans.

  • Calcium-rich dairy products.

  • Whole grains, such as brown rice, oatmeal, and bulgur.

  • Healthy fats like olive oil and avocado.

  • Plenty of water.

 

Mindful Chewing And Eating At Home

If you live with family members, whether it’s your spouse, children, a partner, your parents, and/or siblings, everyone in your family can benefit from more mindful eating practices. 

For the most part, this will come into play during dinner. Therefore, here are some healthy eating habits that you can try cultivating each night at dinner.

  • Try to eat at the same time every night and always eat at the table. This can help add a sense of consistency to your eating schedule. It’s something that will aid in digestion and metabolic regulation for everyone. Also, this will give a sense of dedicated routine to your home life. This is especially good for kids.

  • Make the dinner table a device-free zone. Inspire mindfulness at the dinner table by leaving the phones, tablets, games, and other devices in the next room.

  • Cultivate positive communication over dinner. While mindful eating is often done alone and/or in silence, you can still eat a meal mindfully while connecting and communicating with your family. Try to maintain mindful eating practices, but also use this time to ask about each other’s days. Share something you’ve recently learned or tell a funny story.

 

Mindful Eating At The Workplace

colleagues eating in the office during lunch break

You can also practice mindful chewing and eating while at work. In addition to all of the other mindfulness benefits, we’ve mentioned so far, practicing these mindful actions at work can actually make you more productive. 

It all comes down to the act of taking a break. 

So many of us think that working through lunch is really the best way to get our tasks done faster, better, and more efficiently. In fact, taking a timeout to fully focus on your meal at lunchtime, a snack, or during a break is much more effective.

In this vein, when it comes to eating at work, step away from your desk. You might even go outside and find a bench or picnic table where you can eat. Don’t bring your phone. Give yourself enough time to chew and eat slowly. Practice all of the guidelines you’ve read about so far.

 

Mindful Eating: Frequently Asked Questions

 

Can you lose weight by increased chewing?

Increased chewing will definitely help the eating process. Because we know that sometimes hunger pangs are stronger when we begin eating, we tend to eat faster than the hunger pangs can go away. Thus slower chewing may actually help us reduce the pace of eating in general. In turn, this might help us consume fewer calories at each meal or snack. Something, in theory, can help you lose weight.

 

Can mindful eating help you lose weight?

It’s worth pointing out that the consumption of fewer calories at each meal or snack should not be your sole goal for eating more mindfully. It goes without saying that many countries have a weight and obesity problem. 

There are many reasons for this and they likely warrant another article. But in general, it's easy to look at mindless eating as one of the culprits aiding in the over-consumption of calories. 

This only makes sense, if you're not paying attention to what you are eating but rather scrolling through social media on your phone, watching television, playing video games, or doing other distracting activities, you're not going to consume the amount of food you need. Rather, it’s probable you’ll over-consume.

When you are mindful of your eating, you are aware as soon as you feel full and satiated. You can stop eating at that moment so that you indeed get enough food — but not more than necessary. 

 

What if I'm in a rush and don't have time for mindful eating or conscientious chewing?

It's not always possible to practice conscientious chewing and mindful eating. While having it as a consistent goal is always a good idea, and recommended, there are going to be instances in which eating slowly simply isn't practical.

For example, if you have only a few minutes to catch a flight and have to eat before the plane takes off (or risk not eating for several hours), you may have to quickly down a sandwich and forgo some of the finer points of the mindful eating process. 

Alternatively, if you had to run errands during your lunch hour at work and as a result only have several minutes to eat your lunch. You may not be able to savor each morsel of food in a mindful way.

While these situations do happen, it is still within your power to practice as many of the mindful eating and conscientious chewing guidelines as you can. For example, you can still avoid looking at your phone while eating or taking enormous bites. These practices are always going to be helpful, even when not carried out completely.

 

Is it better to eat slow or fast?

It is always better to eat more slowly. This helps your digestion and improves mindfulness for a better eating experience overall.

 

How do I stop eating so fast?

Do you tend to be a fast eater? Do you always finish your meal before others at your table are even halfway done?

Some people develop quick eating behaviors in childhood. They may have been rushed during their meals by their parents or older siblings.  Others grow up in a home with many siblings, if they wanted to get enough to eat at each meal, they had to reach across the table to nab their favorite foods. Quickly gobbling them down even faster so that no one else got them first! Finally, some people simply eat quickly as a nervous habit.

Regardless of why you might eat your food too fast, it's a good habit to leave behind. We recommend using the mindful eating techniques listed above to help yourself to eat slower. 

In particular, focus on each bite. Take smaller ones. Set your eating utensils down between each mouthful. Take a drink of water frequently. Sit up straight so that you are further away from your food and have to bring each bite to your mouth more carefully to avoid dropping any. 

All of these small tricks can help you slow down your eating for a better dining experience.

 

What if my family members don't want to practice mindful eating?

Whenever someone in a family takes on a new habit or set of behaviors, it can feel disruptive to other family members. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be the case.

With mindful eating, it's best to share with your family that you would like to be more mindful in your eating habits. You might even note that you're working on your conscientious chewing.

Don't be surprised if you get a few funny looks. If and when you do, don't take it personally. 

Not everyone is at the same point on their mindfulness journey, and not everyone is willing to take it in the first place. That’s fine. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't continue with your mindfulness eating and conscientious chewing practices. On the contrary, you can use them whether your family members participate along or not.

If, for example, your family is used to eating in front of the television at night, you can simply say that you'll be eating your meal at the table. This doesn't have to be an aggressive statement. Just stick to your plan.

If your family thinks that you're eating too slowly, don't worry about it. You can eat at your own pace and over time, they’ll get used to the idea.  You'll likely even see them modify their own eating habits as well.

The point is to continue on with your practices whether you are helping your family start them as well or even if you’re doing everything on your own.

 

The Importance Of Mindfulness In Everyday Activities

Ironically, chewing can easily seem like one of the most mindless activities that we do. You can imagine someone chewing away on a sandwich while reading the newspaper, or noshing on some popcorn engrossed in a film at the cinema. These people aren’t thinking about the process of chewing. In fact, it’s questionable whether they’re even tasting and enjoying their food. Instead, they’re fixated on the article they’re reading or the movie on the screen.

Naturally, this isn’t the worst thing in the world. Still, learning how to focus your mind more on the chewing process and devoting more of your attention to conscientious chewing overall, is really what being mindful in your life is all about. 

Mindfulness is an amazing tool. Its goal is to help us better appreciate and concentrate on our daily tasks. These include activities and behaviors as simple as brushing your teeth, washing dishes at the sink, and, of course, chewing.

We know that better masticating habits can improve digestion and nutrient absorption. But it also contributes to the health and wellness of your mind and spirit. Take the time to cultivate and improve your own conscientious chewing habits and see what this new behavior can do for you.

 

Additional Resources:

  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/how-many-times-should-you-chew-your-food

  2. https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/topic/mindfulness/definition

  3. https://www.lionsroar.com/the-moment-is-perfect/