Growing up, it wasn’t out of the ordinary for me to pat my stomach, look my parents straight in the eye, and say, “I’m hungry,” so the nickname stuck: hungry. At meals, my mom would always comment on how I hardly touch my glass of milk or water, and yet I clean my plate within minutes. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a big appetite; after all, your girl’s gotta eat. But there’s a difference between mindful eating, and mindlessly gorging, which is exactly why eating slowly is good for you. To this day, my focus is on food: what I’m going to eat, when I’m going to eat it, and if there’s enough for seconds. When I take my time between bites and really savor the dish, though, nine out of 10 times, I'm satisfied before I even finish the meal.
On the surface, curbing a craving probably seems like a pretty straightforward process. You get a plate of French fries, you place each piece of salty deliciousness in your mouth, one by one (or handful by handful, no judgment here). You chew, swallow, and each little food particle goes merrily on its way down your digestive tract, piling up in your belly until your stomach gives that little twang of discomfort as a sign of surrender — and that's all there is to it, right?
But here’s what you probably don't realize: Eating is so much more than supply and demand. It’s physical, it’s mental, and it’s also really emotional.
There's a lot of brain work that goes into the act of eating and digesting your food.
I’m sure you’ve heard of brain power, right? Well, there’s a lot of it being used when you eat, and it all goes down the second you get hungry. According to Dr. Josh Axe, D.N.M., C.N.S., D.C., founder of Ancient Nutrition and DrAxe.com, the entire digestive process begins way before that fork even enters the same atmosphere as your mouth. Digestion actually starts in your brain, Dr. Axe tells Elite Daily, and more specifically, “when you see food that is appealing to you.” I guess that means I’m low-key digesting all day every day, because TBH guys, all food is appealing to me.
Once you have your plate set up with all the fixings, the next step is to take that very first bite, and that’s when the hard labor begins. Dr. Axe tells Elite Daily that your saliva contains special enzymes that start breaking down pieces of food on impact. In order to do this effectively and ensure healthy digestion, taking time between bites is essential, and that's where your eating habits come into play.
It’s actually really fascinating when you think about just how strong the connection is between your belly and your brain. As far as digestion goes, Harvard Health reports your stomach has what are called “stretch receptors,” which are sensors that respond to the expansion of your belly as you eat. When you’re filling up on liquids and food, the receptors send out an SOS to your brain, letting it know you're satisfied, and that there’s really no need to finish that entire bag of potato chips. But, if you eat too quickly, those signals can get crossed, causing a traffic jam of information flowing to the brain, and it can become impossible to tell whether or not you’re actually full — that is, until you’re uncomfortably bloated.
In an exclusive interview with Elite Daily, Dr. Daryl Gioffre, a wellness consultant and founder of the Gioffre Chiropractic Wellness Center, says it takes your brain roughly 15 to 20 minutes to catch up with your digestive system, so if you eat too fast, it’s going to be a while before your brain lets you know it’s time to call it quits.
You’re not what you eat, but you are “what you digest, absorb, and assimilate,” Dr. Gioffre says. “So slow down, take the time to chew your food, and your health and energy will reap the rewards.”
Food is also meant to be enjoyed, but you can't truly savor something delicious if you barely chew before you swallow.
Dr. Robert Graham, M.D., of FRESH Med at Physio Logic NYC, tells Elite Daily that some ancient medicinal belief systems, such as traditional Chinese medicine, and the Ayurvedic way of living, suggest “you should chew your food 25 times” per bite. Now, that might sound a little excessive, and maybe even tedious, but when you consider the physical benefits you’ll reap by slowing down and actually eating, rather than inhaling your food, it’s not a bad idea. That, and 25 chews per each and every bite will force you to actually take in the meal.
Now, I don’t mean “take in,” in the sense that you eat and finish whatever’s in front of you. I mean “take in” as in, savor every last bread crumb or drip of ketchup with pleasure. Think about it: Do you really know what it means to truly enjoy the food you took time to prepare, or a meal you picked up on your way home from work? What is it about the way your favorite restaurant seasons its chicken fingers, and what is it that makes mom's chocolate chip banana bread taste so indulgent?
"Slowing down allows us to experience the pleasure of eating," Grace Derocha, a registered dietitian, certified diabetes educator, and certified health coach at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, tells Elite Daily. But it's not just about processing flavor, or feeling the texture of bread or jello balance on your tongue.
"Neurons in the nose pick up the scent from the food we eat and help us to process the flavor of what we are eating," Derocha explains. "So the slower you eat, the more you can taste what you are eating. We can’t enjoy our food if we scarf it down in two seconds!"
But how can you eat slowly if you're constantly on-the-go?
Sorry, friends, but you don’t get a pass on this one. Even if you’re swamped in between assignments or appointments, there’s never a good enough excuse that pardons an abused gut. So even if you’re MIA half the time, consider these tips the next time you’re tempted to scarf down an entire meal, so you can head out the door on time.
For one thing, try your very hardest not to snack while you're simultaneously working on a project, driving, and the like. Dr. Axe tells Elite Daily that, the less distracted you are during a meal, the more you can focus on and enjoy your food. So maybe instead of penciling in a mere five minutes for breakfast before your commute, pack something delicious and portable the night before that you can leisurely enjoy at your desk (i.e. overnight oats, yogurt parfaits, etc.).
Moreover, when you do focus on your food, actually make it a point to focus, Dr. Axes tells Elite Daily. Avoid the urge to multitask while you eat, give your meal the same undivided attention you would a friend or family member, and you’ll always be on top of how you eat, how much, what sort of foods your body’s craving, and why.
Another great tip from Derocha? Drink a glass of water before or throughout your meal. Taking mindful sips, or "putting your eating utensils down between bites," she says, will "help the stomach signal the brain that it is full." That way, even if your eyes are bigger than your stomach, your body will be able to reel you in before getting to that yucky, full-to-capacity feeling.