When you tuck into your lunch do you realise that food digestion actually begins in the mouth, not the stomach? As you chew your salivary glands secrete enzyme rich saliva which breaks down food starch into sugar and begins the process of fat digestion. The saliva itself moistens the food and helps to create a food bolus (a ball) which can then be swallowed easily. The more you chew, the more your food begins to be digested thus making it much easier for your stomach to finish the job. Under-digested food can cause gastrooesophogeal reflux (that’s heartburn to you and me). This happens when the stomach contents, consisting of food, stomach acid and digestive juices, travel back up from the stomach into the oesophagus and cause a painful burning sensation. Yuk!
While you are eating your intestine is sending signals to your brain. Once it’s had enough food it sends out an ‘I’ve had enough to eat’ message to the brain. When the brain receives this it activates the satiety response which is what makes you stop eating. According to the experts it can take up to 20 minutes for food to move from the stomach to the intestine, the intestine to send out the signal to your brain and your brain to put the brakes on. If you're eating rapidly you don’t actually hear that ‘I’m full’ signal quickly enough and end up eating more than you need. This not only gives you that awful bloated feeling but can of course contribute to weight gain in the longer term.
If you eat slowly you will actually start to taste your food properly. That in itself can be a pleasurable and sensual experience; savouring the flavours, textures and smells from your favourite meal, how they intermingle and work together. Not only that but you will actually start to pay attention to what you are putting in your mouth. Chowing down on a mouthful of value hamburger and French fries is likely to become much enjoyable and therefore you may subconsciously effect a change from unhealthy to healthy eating.
There are reasons other than health, however, to exhort the benefits of eating slowly. In today’s fast paced world, many of us don’t take the opportunity to actually sit down and enjoy a meal as it should be enjoyed. Instead we treat food as an inconvenience simply to be tolerated. To put it simply, we eat on the go. We eat at our desks, we eat in our cars, we eat standing up in the kitchen while we’re waiting for the washing machine to finish. But by repeatedly doing this we are disconnecting ourselves from a very important ritual that has, for centuries, been at the heart of society - sitting around the table with friends and family and just breaking bread together!
In many cultures a meal is considered to be an extremely important social occasion. Family and friends gather for hours, talking, eating and drinking. The French and the Italians, for example, take their food very seriously, savouring each course and complementing it with wine. We would do well to take their lead. Sharing a meal with friends and family is one of the most important social rituals we can observe; appreciating good food and spending quality time with the people that we love the most.
So, eating slowly will not only improve our health, it will benefit our social wellbeing too!