By Lauren Duffy
This month I began to see a few of my friends doing “January challenges,” and I decided that I wanted to try one, too. Since I knew I would be spending this month driving back and forth between Wrentham and Amherst a couple of times a week (an hour and forty five minutes each way), I realized that whatever challenge I did needed to be simple, easy, and not too terribly strict since buying diet-strict groceries and following an exact exercise plan was not an option with the commute and craziness.
After doing some research, I found an article about counting while chewing. At first I rolled my eyes at the idea; I thought it was a silly crash-dieting antick that someone like Regina George and her “I just wanna lose 3 pounds” mindset would do, but I was so wrong.
Apparently, most Americans don’t chew their food enough and they eat way too fast without even realizing it and I was no exception. This can mess up the digestive system and cause us to overeat, therefore causing excess weight.
From some wonderful health blogs and articles, I learned that good digestion starts in the mouth. When we focus on chewing and really break down big pieces, it makes our body’s ability to absorb nutrients and break down food much easier. Also, our saliva has powerful enzymes that can help break down food.
Chewing properly can also help our eating habits on a mental level. The more time we focus on chewing, the more time we are giving our brain and body to recognize that we have eaten enough and we can avoid that uncomfortably full feeling.
So this month I tried to slow down significantly and here’s what I found:
In the beginning, I realized how habitual it was to bite, chew a few times, then swallow. It was a huge effort to try to focus on slowing down and breaking down the food. I noticed that the chewing varied completely on the food and the texture. For example, I would struggle to chew a piece of pineapple 10 times, but a bite of an apple could be chewed 20+ times, and almonds 30+ times. I found that the only way to keep me on track was to count every single chew and make sure I chewed a bare minimum of 10 times for solid foods, otherwise I would mindlessly return to old quick habits. I kind of made it a competition with myself– how many times can I chew this until it’s impossibly small? Nerd alert.
Sounds absolutely ridiculous, I know, and some even say this idea is a myth.. but this little experiment has made me feel amazing. For whatever reason, I’m craving water like never before, so I’m drinking my full water bottle several times a day, and feeling great from being so hydrated. I’m fuller faster, yet totally satisfied and I don’t ever feel bloated after eating. And, the more I’ve been focusing on this new habit, the more naturally slower chewing and chewing more comes to me. I was not too terribly strict with this little challenge, which is one of the reasons I liked it– it really worked with my schedule. I also had to be flexible because if I was ever eating with friends I would lose count or forget to count because I was talking, so I just tried to focus on it when I was eating on the run or by myself between shifts, which was frankly most of the time this month. The challenge wasn’t about the number of chews– but more about the bigger picture of slowing down and seeing what happened.
Sometimes in life we all just need to slooooooow down, and this is a nice way to start.
I plan to do a bigger challenge next month, like trying to go gluten-free or maybe even join my two roommates on their Paleo diet… maybe. But if you’re looking for a nice and easy challenge or just a healthy lifestyle change, I highly suggest you start with chewing! Weird as it sounds, it’s made a world of difference.
I have a week and a half left to complete this January mini-chewing challenge, but I’m sure I’ll try to continue this healthy habit for life. :)