Chew on this: Little nuggets that changed my relationship with food

Diary of someone who has a sometimes-love-sometimes-hate relationship with food.

Firstly, all is good with my world. No problem. Yes, I am passionately in love. Yet my love is equally ambivalent. If you don’t know the meaning of the ‘a’ word, I would suggest you look it up. It’s important.

Every time I see my love, my heart goes racing, and I’m happier. And each time, interacting with my love is just as easy. So, sometimes I do feel satiated, and at other times, a bit of flatulence. Love does have its highs and lows.

My life revolves around my love – food. I can’t do anything without it, though at times I manage an artificial, semi-control.

So you can imagine how fast my ears perked up when I heard my four-year-old niece speaking to my friend, seriously explaining the workings of the human digestive system.  Did you know the small intestine is 23-feet-long? She also explained the benefits of eating food slowly.

“Our teacher said we should chew 32 times – once for every tooth,” she proudly said with a toothy smile. While I guiltily remembered the six bites I took to finish my club sandwich just two hours ago.

It turns out I’m not the only one. Astonishingly, a 1,000-people-study by Subway, a sandwich franchise, showed that people chewed only six times. Equally fascinating is the fact that I could burn up to 2,000 calories per month only by chewing right. That’s important if I’m going to spend 32,098 hours of my life, eating and drinking – just like the average joe.

I wish I had paid more attention to my grandmother when she would narrate the benefits of eating food slowly. It turns out I could be 35% more at risk for metabolic syndrome like higher blood pressure, excess abdominal fat than a slow eater. And, I could gain weight faster over an eight-year period compared to slow eaters. (A study showed this regardless of a person’s BMI, drinking habits or exercise frequency.)

I decided time’s up on my non-chewy ways. I began at the very beginning. My niece’s worksheets. Her teacher had meticulously pasted cartoons to illustrate the dangers of not chewing enough. My nutritionist friend confirmed them and revealed some more.

Danger ahead

Remember the bloated feeling sometimes? No, we’re not meant to be hot air balloons. It turns out that the un-chewed food is too big for our digestive system, so it needs more place. Sounds logical? The stomach needs to start operating faster and harder to deal with the pressures of the unprocessed food, so blood from different organs rush to help the poor little stomach. Chaos reigns as blood from the brain, too, joins the battle of the titans! That’s why we feel sleepy after big meals. (I never realized I could start a war, but here’s proof.)

The undigested food becomes toxic in nature, and sometimes the toxins enter the bloodstreams, harming the body. (Yes, even if it’s those super healthy steamed greens. Apparently, your healthy eating is going down the wrong drain.)

When we don’t chew properly, saliva is not secreted. Our taste buds don’t have enough time to send a signal to our brain: “Hey brain, I’m done in here.” They need 20 minutes. So we end up eating more, thinking we need to seize the moment, live the day and, have some more.

And we’re simply rolling out the red carpet for Mr. Obesity and Ms. Mood Swings. Let’s also welcome Ms. Acne who has just joined us and of course, Mr. Diabetes who is a red carpet regular.   

Just the sheer damage is sending me in spins – and all because I thought I’d save time by finishing my meal in 10 minutes. (Though I did end up spending more time in the gym yesterday.)

Knowledge is supposed to expand horizons and make you a more enlightened person. In this case, knowledge has just shocked my mind and senses.

Drink food and chew water

You would have heard this and wonder what it means. Chew 32-40 times so that the food becomes a paste and is ready for the stomach to do its digestive magic.

Sip water and other liquids, roll it around in your mouth and then swallow.

This activates saliva, which contains digestive juices. To cut a long story short, drinking food and chewing liquids is great for your digestion, health, and fitness.

So, what are the benefits of chewing slowly?

Apparently, a lot. And super important. Chewing processes the food and gets it ready for digestion. “Our stomach doesn’t have teeth ‘coz God gave teeth to our mouth,” says my niece, irritatingly wisely.

Chewing helps to give the taste buds enough time to the brain. And while their conversation is on, we can chill, and eat. Good chewing leads to good digestion and good assimilation. Good chewing absorbs nutrients in food. It’s great for our immune system, promises better focus, restful sleep, more energy. (Essentially, everything that we’re aspiring to be.)

It seems we don’t need to start with exercise, food or special drinks (though all could play a role). We just need to chew right and we’re already a step closer to healthy eating.

How can we slow down this almost reflex action of gulping down food?

My favorite: There are spas that chew-train you over a piece of stale bread. I thought of that when I sat down for my next meal. And counted. My best was 12 chews.

I decided I’m going to be patient. (After all, a runner can’t be ready for a marathon in a day!) I’m far from the ideal 32 to 40 chews, but I can try. If we chew more, it’s alright. One chew at a time, remember.

This too: I started taking smaller portions and kept refilling as needed. I’m not sure if my overall portion was the same, but I felt pretty full. I avoided water 30 minutes before and after meals. Except, when I was preoccupied or upset about something before my meal. I followed my nutritionist-friend’s advice and had a few sips of water. That, she said, helps the mind to feel calm and settled. I’ve started saying a food prayer. Just to thank all those who have helped reach the food to me.  

You will never believe:  Keep that phone away. When we’re not paying attention and giving food the respect it deserves, we’re eating un-mindfully. Apparently, as a comeback, alkaline food turns acidic and we’re not getting the benefits from the nutrients. Chances of overeating are also high. A calm mind ensures you don’t overeat and the formation of unnecessary acid does not happen in the body.

I’m a self-confessed, internet-addicted, perfectly normal human being. This one is super tough on me.

If you’re up to it: Sit in sukhasan or cross-legged on the floor. This keeps the spine straight, lowers blood pressure, facilitates blood flow to the abdominal region. If you can’t find a floor, sit cross-legged on a chair. If possible. Otherwise, it’s alright. (Your digestive system will thank you.)

There is a lot more that happens when we chew well. I sincerely thank my four-year-old guide for this life lesson. I realized everyone has their constitution and size depends on one’s natural constitution. I don’t know if my waist will become slimmer. However, my stomach just somersaulted in joy. And I feel fitter. All because I chewed well today.  

Disclaimer: Please take this for what it is. A sincere understanding of a basic human function. This is not a comment on any fad, trend, or food ingredient.

Based on the inputs from Kaushani Desai, Faculty Member, Ayurvedic Cooking Program; Art of Living Programs

Written for The Art of Living site 



2 Comments Add yours

  1. drpayaldande says:

    Thanks Resha..for reminding us once again.. the importance of chewing and eating the right way.. I’m sure, many of us are aware of above.. Still we overlook and don’t follow them consistently.. I’ll add like to add a small piece of information too.. Don’t wait till you become very hungry.. As it leads to gulping or hogging.. A hungry stomach overcomes one’s determination of eating food slowly…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We, often, forget the simplest of things. And a hungry stomach does overcome any kind of determination. Very true.


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