“Take the time to eat an orange in mindfulness. If you eat an orange in forgetfulness, caught in your anxiety and sorrow, the orange is not really there. But if you bring your mind and body together to produce true presence, you can see that the orange is a miracle.”
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 think about eating. Instead, we think about what we’re eating, how much we’re eating, and maybe even the way in which we’re eating.
All of this makes perfect sense. Chewing is part of the digestion process, sure. 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 a day, at that), but the simple act of conscientious chewing is actually one of the best ways to:
Yes, all of these benefits can come from better chewing habits!
So how do you do it? How can you improve your chewing?
In the following guide, we’ll tell you exactly how to improve your chewing habits for better, more conscientious chewing.
Conscientious chewing is the act of chewing more slowly and more mindfully. When you chew conscientiously, you chew your food properly. You aren’t hurried. You are deliberate. You chew more times than you normally would on average. And 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 chewing through conscientious chewing is even more important.
There are numerous reasons why chewing is necessary. In a very real way, if you didn’t chew your food well enough, you would be putting yourself at a higher risk of choking. But really, at its simplest, chewing allows for the healthy digestion of the foods that 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 chewing breaks down food into smaller pieces. If you did not chew each bite, your food would not be digested properly.
In turn, this would lead to low absorption of nutrients while the food is in your intestines and stomach. Other troublesome complications such as constipation and indigestion, nausea and stomach ache, headache, low energy levels, heartburn, and other symptoms could ensue as well. Over time, lack of necessary energy and nutrients could lead to even greater health problems, such as nutrient deficiency, bone loss, and a weakened immune system.
Conscientious chewing habits do indeed advocate chewing more times and chewing more slowly. Whether or not it’s always important to do these things really depends on the circumstances you’re in. But in general, yes. Most of the time, chewing more times and chewing more slowly will always be beneficial to your mind and body.
There is no set number of times that you should chew your food. You may have heard “10 times” when you were a kid or even “32 times” as an adult. You can certainly use the “32-chew rule” if you like; however, most doctors, nutritionists, and scientists have debunked arbitrary numbers like these.
First of all, how many times you chew your food will naturally depend on what you're eating. For example, if you’re eating yogurt or ice cream, you’ll hardly need to “chew” at all. If you’re eating a banana or some cake, both of which are soft, you're probably only going to need to chew it 6 to 10 times before it's ready to be swallowed.
On the other hand, 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 like cucumber slices or crackers.
Furthermore, conscientious chewing isn’t about following a specific protocol. Instead, it’s about the entire process of slowing down your eating and being more mindful and gentle with the way 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 terms of the number of chews.
For example, in order to get yourself to chew more and to go more slowly, think of basically chewing your food until it loses its texture. This topic tends to get a little graphic, but don’t worry we’ll be brief: In general, you want to transition your food into a sort of mush (think baby food) before you swallow.
You might also try thinking about your chewing in terms of time. We tend not to chew our food very well when we don't allow very much time in between bites. Therefore, the goal here would be to extend the time between which you take bites. To do this, for example, 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 between each bite, or you could tell yourself that you’ll say something to the person you are sitting with between each bite.
Again, 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 chew your food beyond necessity, there's really no real benefit. Remember that the point of conscientious chewing is to improve digestion and nutrient absorption and to be more mindful and present when you're eating.
According to UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Magazine, “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.
Monotasking is the act of doing one thing at a time and putting your full attention and that one thing.
More conscientious chewing relates to mindfulness because it is the act of putting your full attention on the chewing/eating process and not multitasking while you eat. This means not reading, watching TV, playing with your phone, or letting your mind wander too far off places while you chew and eat.
We know that chewing is just one part of eating and one part of digestion. There is actually a mindfulness practice that includes chewing, but it also includes 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 mindful eating is the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.
What Thich Nhat Hanh Says About Mindful Eating
Thich Nhat Hanh has written and spoken extensively on the act of mindful eating, saying that this act can bring you great joys and delights in your life. He uses mindful eating as an example of the way in which 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 eating an orange, eating an apple, and drinking tea — all individual acts that should be cared for in the most delicate, gentle, and attentive manner.
The goal of mindful eating is to go slowly, to focus fully and each act and movement that you undertake, and to concentrate and 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
Generally speaking, eating is an enjoyable task. But keep in mind that the mindfulness practices you use with eating can also be applied to other daily tasks that 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, and painting. There’s never a moment in life where mindfulness is a bad idea.
Below, we provide a step-by-step plan to eating a meal with conscientious chewing habits.
Let’s say you are going to prepare a small snack of apple slices to eat alone in your home. Here are the steps 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 following along.1. Turn everything off.
Turn off the music, your smart phone, 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 eat 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. Feel the skin of the apple and notice what texture it has. Notice 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 fruit’s flesh. Can you smell it too? Do you feel the cool moisture of the apple on your skin?
Put the apple on your plate, carefully arranging it.3. Take your first bite.
Sit down at your table with your apple in front of you. Notice all of 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 differently?
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 it. 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 a delicious taste and essential nutrients.
Chew your apple adequately (remember, there’s no set number of chews here), and once you have, swallow. Notice the taste, the feel, the smell — everything.
Congratulations! You are practicing conscientious chewing and mindful eating.
Like many habits, one good habit begets another good habit, which begets another good habit, and on and on …
This is certainly the case with conscientious chewing. When you practice conscientious chewing, you are really practicing mindful eating. When you engage in a complete mindful eating practice, you'll end up carrying out other beneficial eating behaviors as well.
Ideally, one of these behaviors will be eating a more balanced diet because 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 full of nutrients. In general, your diet should avoid alcohol and caffeine, and instead, focus on a good balance of the following:
If you live with family members — whether it’s your spouse and 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 time. Therefore, here are some healthy eating habits you can try cultivating in your home each night at dinner.
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, mindful chewing and eating at work can actually make you more productive as well.
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 work done faster, better, and more efficiently. In fact, however, taking a timeout to fully focus on your meal at lunchtime — or a snack 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 conscientious chewing and mindful eating guidelines you’ve read about thus far.
A: Chewing your food more will definitely help slow the eating process down. Because we know that sometimes hunger pangs are so strong when we begin eating that we eat faster than the hunger pangs can go away, this slower chewing may actually help us slow down our eating in general. In turn, this may help us consume fewer calories at each meal or snack, which can help you lose weight in theory.
A: 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. At the same time, it goes without saying that as a nation, we do have an overweight and obesity problem.
There are many reasons for this, and these likely warrant their own 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. That is, if you're not paying attention to what you eat and are instead 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 likely you’ll over-consume.
When you are mindful of your eating, on the other hand, you are aware as soon as you feel full and satiated, and you can stop eating at that moment so that you indeed get enough food — but not more than enough food.
A: 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 going to happen.
For example, if you have only a few minutes to catch a flight and have to get something to eat before the flight takes off (or risk not eating for several hours!), you may have to quickly eat a sandwich and forgo some finer points of the mindful eating processes.
Alternatively, if you had to run errands during your lunch hour at work and now 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 practices as you can. For example, you can still avoid looking at your phone while you eat or taking enormous bites. These practices are always going to be helpful — even when not carried out “completely.”
A: It is always better to eat more slowly. This helps your digestion and improves mindfulness for a better eating experience overall.
A: 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 fast eating behaviors in childhood. They may have been rushed during their meals or snacks by their parents or older siblings. Some people grow up with many siblings, and 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 up 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 quickly, it's a good habit to leave behind. We recommend using the mindful eating techniques listed above to help yourself stop eating so fast.
In particular: Focus on each bite. Take smaller bites. Set your eating utensils down in between each bite. Take a drink of water in between each bite. Sit up straight so that you are further away from your food and have to bring each bite to your mouth more slowly so that you don't drop it.
All of these small tricks can help you slow down your eating for a better eating experience.
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.
In the case of mindful eating, it's best to share with your family that you would like to be more mindful of your eating habits, and 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 too personally either.
Not everyone is at the same point on their mindfulness journey, and not everyone is willing to take this journey in the first place either. That’s okay. This doesn't mean that you shouldn't continue on with your mindfulness eating and conscientious chewing practices. To the contrary, you can use these practices whether your family members participate along with you 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 go ahead with your plan.
Alternatively, if your family thinks that you're eating too slowly, just don't worry about it. You can eat at your own pace. Over time, they’ll get used to the idea, and you'll likely see them slow down in their own eating habits as well.
The point is to continue on with your practices whether you are helping your family start these practices as well or you’re doing everything on your own.
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 while being 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 engrossed in the article they’re reading or the movie they're watching.
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 those things that we do every day. This includes activities and behaviors as simple as brushing your teeth, washing dishes at the sink, and, of course, chewing.
We know that better chewing habits can improve digestion and nutrient absorption. But it can also contribute 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.