How many times have you heard the admonishment “slow down and chew your food”? For many people, the answer is “countless times.” But it turns out that mom was right—slowing down and chewing your food thoroughly is a great idea, as it helps to reduce obesity. Obesity has become an increasingly common and damaging condition over the past 20 years, and there are many questions being raised by doctors and researchers. One very important question is why obesity happens, and there is no simple answer—but one factor is certainly how fast or slow you chew your food.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the idea of slow, thorough chewing leading to less food consumption goes back to Horace Fletcher, nicknamed “The Great Masticator” for his enthusiasm regarding chewing. The NIH recently conducted studies on Fletcher’s hypothesis and found that it had scientific merit. “Horace Fletcher (1849–1919) spread his doctrine to chew each mouthful thoroughly in order to prevent gaining weight. We sought to test this idea by manipulating chewing instructions whilst using electromyography to monitor chewing behavior. Comparing 35 with 10 chews per mouthful, we showed that higher chewing counts reduced food intake despite increasing chewing speed, and despite doubling meal duration for achieving a subjective reference point for feeling ‘comfortably full.’”
There is good reason to heed Fletcher’s (and your mother’s) advice. There are many serious consequences of obesity such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease. Other health complications associated with obesity include sleep apnea, metabolic syndrome, gallbladder disease, infertility, liver disease, cancer, stroke, and high cholesterol.
Many people don’t know that obesity puts you at risk for musculoskeletal disorders. One of the reasons many chiropractors urge patients to eat well and exercise is the fact that excess weight puts a lot of strain on the body’s musculoskeletal system. Again, the NIH: “The global epidemic of obesity has far-reaching effects on the musculoskeletal system and associated conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, spondyloarthropathy, and fibromyalgia. Obesity increases the need for, and reduces the health outcomes from, joint replacement surgery, which has enormous implications for societal economic burden. New insights have been gained into the possible mechanisms by which obesity is associated with musculoskeletal disease incidence, symptom severity and treatment outcomes particularly for osteoarthritis.”
To reduce your risk of obesity, here are some practical tips for chewing your food thoroughly. First, give yourself enough time to eat—set aside 20 to 30 minutes to eat a meal. It can take up to 20 minutes for your brain to get the signal from your stomach that it is full, so eat slowly. Also, don’t eat amidst distractions, such as the TV, computer, or while driving. It helps to be fully present while you eat—it can even be a pleasurable experience if you notice the smell, temperature, texture, color, and subtle flavor differences of each food you consume.
Take smaller portions, and take a break before refilling. Put your fork down after each bite and eat mindfully, chewing each bite as many times as necessary to pulverize any texture. If you’re eating in a group, be aware of the speed at which others are eating. As a game, you can challenge yourself to be the last to finish. Your body will thank you for it.