As a Nutrition and Lifestyle Coach I help people make better food and lifestyle choices so that whatever their starting base they can live fuller, more energetic, happier, longer lives.
However I always stress "How we eat is as important as what we eat".
Many of us with busy lives – children, caring, careers, studies, training – eat on the run, standing up, in the car, at the desk, in front of the TV, using the smart phone or writing articles for a magazine.
So why does that matter?
Think of your digestive tract as a long tube extending from your mouth right through the digestive system to its' ultimate end, with not only organs such as your stomach, liver, pancreas, gallbladder and intestines but also fluids released from these organs. All together, they help you break down large food pieces into progressively smaller units that can undergo absorption and nourish the cells and tissues of your body.
Your mouth is the only part of the digestive system that you have voluntary control over. And we all like to be in control. This is called the Cephalic Phase.
From there you dictate what happens next.
When you think about food you salivate and that signals the digestive juices in the stomach to get ready. Chewing increases the signals so by the time the food reaches the stomach everything is in place to pull out the nutrients, mush stuff up more and move it along the tube.
Speed eating can result in digestive issues such as bloating, cramps, constipation, gas, diarrhoea and a general feeling of yuckiness and discomfort in your middle. It can contribute to a leaky gut and IBS and have many more hidden consequences resulting from nutrient deficiencies.
On the other hand, research shows that slower eaters are less likely to be obese or have higher blood glucose levels.
So, here are a few Top Tips I’ve compiled from recent research. Not all these tips may feel right for you — try a few and see how they work.
1. Be mindful
Take a moment to reflect. Are you rushed? Stressed? Sad? Bored? Hungry? What are your wants, and what are your needs? Differentiate. After you have taken this moment then you can choose if you want to eat, what you want to eat, and how you want to eat.
2. Sit down.
Don’t eat on the go. Have a seat. You’re less likely to appreciate your food when you are multi-tasking. It’s also difficult to keep track of how much you are eating when you snack on the go. This is an important tip if weight loss is your goal.
3. Turn off the TV (and everything else with a screen).
Distractions make us less aware of what and how much we are eating. I find this one difficult as I love to eat my evening meal chilled out on the sofa on a tray – and I still do this most evenings, but I do eat very mindfully, chewing my food for a long time. I love the way this stretches out the pleasure of the meal.
4. Pick the smaller plate.
You might crave less if you see less. Smaller plates will help you with your portion control. This is another one that is extra important for those with a weight loss goal but equally important for all of us maintaining a healthy weight.
5. Chew 30 times.
FACT - The smaller the particles you swallow, the more your small intestine can absorb nutrients from them as they make their way down. Imagine gulping down all that healthy food and the nutrients not getting used – talk about a waste.
30 is a rough guide, as it might be difficult to get even 10 chews out of a mouthful of porridge. But most food needs a lot of chewing to prepare it for digestion. Take time to enjoy the flavours and textures in your mouth before you swallow. This may also help prevent overeating by giving your gut time to send messages to the brain to say you’re full.
Of all the tips – this is the one that I really noticed helps me most. I eat less than I used to because of this, have less digestive issues and I really enjoy the longer eating time as me time.
6. Put down your utensil.
Often, we are already preparing the next mouthful with our cutlery while we are still on our previous bite. Try putting down your utensils after each bite, and don’t pick them back up until you have enjoyed and swallowed what you already have in your mouth. I still struggle with this, but see what works for you. I can still eat slowly and chew more with my knife and fork in my hand – it’s like a security blanket I think.
7. Resign from the Clean Plate Club.
Many of us were brought up to finish everything on our plate. It’s okay to cancel your membership to the Clean Plate Club. Consider packing the leftovers to go, or just leaving the last few bites. Even though nobody likes to waste food, overstuffing yourself won’t help those in need. (This is also where Tip #5 comes in handy.) And eventually you will get a better feel for your appetite.
Mums – think of this when we are encouraging our children to finish their food.
As with any change or goal, start small. Pick one or two of these tips to start you off and see how you feel. As you can see, I don’t incorporate all of these but focus on the ones which give me the biggest impact.
NB - this piece first appeared as an article in the October 2018 edition of the Highlight Magazine