Becoming a Slow Eater

TurtleWhen I was four, my father would pile all my vegetables into a mound on my plate. He called it a farm, and one forkful at a time, he tried to get me to eat my way through the farm. I probably found it fun the first or second time, but to this day, my stomach turns at the memory of the pile of food on my plate. I was a very slow eater, because I refused to swallow my food until I had chewed it well. If I didn’t get it to the right texture, I spit it out, grossing out my older brother who didn’t hesitate to comment on my bad table manners.

Between childhood and adulthood, I became a very fast eater. I had a vague idea about the time it takes for the stomach to communicate satiety to the brain, but I did not connect the dots. Fast eating led to second helpings which translated for me into excess weight. And even after I started losing weight nearly a decade ago, I remained a fast eater.

About a year ago I read The Inside Tract by Gerard Mullen and Kathie Madonna Swift. Using the metaphor of a train, they describe the digestive journey responsible for converting food to the nutrients our bodies need to sustain us. Digestion starts even before food touches our lips, as all our senses help to set the stage for good digestion. The first stop for food is the mouth. This is what they say about chewing: “If you gulp your food, you are shortcutting one of the first and most important steps in digestion: chewing. Once food is ingested, it needs to be ground into tiny bits and mixed with salivary enzymes so they can begin breaking down the starches, fats and proteins into a soft substance called chyme. This is done simply by chewing your food.

Reading that passage, I had an “aha” moment! By being lazy about chewing, I was making very hard work for the rest of my digestive tract!  I started chewing my food, taking as long as I needed for it to become chyme in my mouth before swallowing. It took me back to that four-year-old child who took all the time in the world.

If you are a slow eater, congratulations! If you are a fast eater, becoming a slow eater is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. Eating slowly will enhance your digestion, quell your appetite, improve your mood, and help you find your natural weight. Don’t expect it to happen overnight. Like many things, eating slowly requires practice.

Here are 9 things you can do to begin the shift from fast eater to slow:

  1. Schedule more time for meals – often we don’t give ourselves the time we need to digest and assimilate our food or our lives.
  2. Create a relaxed atmosphere when you eat: sit down on a chair or stool, surround yourself with beautiful objects and with people who nourish you intellectually and emotionally.
  3. Say a prayer of gratitude for your food.
  4. Savor your food with all your senses: Look at it and smell it before tasting it. Once you put it in your mouth, focus on the taste and texture and how it feels in your mouth. Chew it and let it become chyme before you swallow.
  5. Take a break: Rest your fork between bites, and wait until you have swallowed before lifting your fork again.
  6. Breathe – take three relaxing, slow breaths before you begin eating. Stop several times during your meal to breathe – put your hand on your belly and feel it rise and fall with your breath.
  7. Upgrade mealtime conversations and set aside stressful conversations for another time.
  8. Privately compete with your dining companions to be the last to finish.
  9. Wait 30 minutes after eating to return to a faster pace – take a walk or linger over a cup of tea or coffee.