One of the things I enjoyed about my trip to Paris was taking on a different lifestyle for a while and absorbing the local customs. Part of which included quiet, slow, relaxing meals. Parisians and Americans do not have the same social habits surrounding food. For instance, I observed that Parisians never eat while they are walking. They don’t even drink a cup of coffee on the go. Only once did I see someone eating on the metro and it was an overweight woman eating some sort of gummy candy. The only thing they might eat while walking is a small chunk of bread from a baguette. I didn’t observe any home environments, but in restaurants people really took their time. And your waiter will never ask if you would like your check because it’s considered rude or pushy. People sit, chat, observe, and eat their meals slowly. There must be something to this way of eating, as their diets are not particularly healthy (at least not to our standards), yet only a very small portion of their population is overweight or obese.
Compared to the French, American’s dine in very odd ways. Standing up at the kitchen counter, driving a car, on the subway, discussing business deals, watching television, reading a magazine, going through the mail, searching the net, and playing video games are just a few. Be honest with yourself. How many times during a week do you eat while doing something else? It’s unfortunate that eating is no longer viewed as an activity in and of itself. What most people don’t realize is that while we eat food, we are also assimilating energetically whatever else is going on around us. During eating, the body is an open and receiving mode, and we take in more than just the vitamins and nutrients in our meal. We also absorb what is happening in the environment around us. If we eat in an ugly, noisy, neon lit room, the energy of that space is going to affect us. If we eat quietly in a beautiful park or by the ocean, we will also absorb the positive qualities of those surroundings. When eating with other people, we absorb their moods, their laughter, their complaints and their busy minds.
Many Americans suffer from a range of digestive disorders, from acid reflux to irritable bowel syndrome and more. Often these conditions take a long time to develop, so don’t think that you are immune if your are not experiencing these problems. These conditions are connected not just to what we eat, but how we eat it. Our bodies have sensors that connect our guts to our brains and our five senses. When these sensors are triggered, they get our digestive juices flowing, helping us to properly process our food. These sensors tell us when we have had enough to eat, so we don’t overload our systems. But when we eat too fast, on the run or under stress, these sensors don’t have enough time to go off. Our bodies are unable to rev up and prepare for digestion. By the time our brains get the message that we are getting full, we’ve already scarfed down a huge meal and moved on to our next activity. As a result, our bodies barely recognize that we have eaten, even though there is plenty of food in our stomachs. I’m sure you’ve had this experience. For example, many of us eat while sitting in front of a computer and wonder why we feel hungry an hour later, and some of us will then eat more. This overeating can overwhelm the body and aside from adding on weight can eventually lead to chronic conditions.
The body likes to be relaxed, inactive and in a peaceful environment when assimilating food. The body doesn’t want to be in a tense “fight or flight” mode, alert for danger and unexpected events. In this heightened state, the heart beats faster, and blood goes to the center of the body. Proper assimilation of the nutrients in food is essential to health, and if we want this assimilation to take place, we need to be calmer like you would be if you were to sit down for a relaxed meal.
Another aspect of healthy eating is to eat with all your senses. We need to see our food, smell it, and spend time enjoying it. People used to enjoy food by eating dinner together. This traditional daily ritual had a binding effect on the family as a unit. Sharing meals made the family more cohesive. This mindset is rapidly changing. In some families, each member will eat dinner at a different time, sometimes even all at home, but at different times.
Whether you are single or part of a family unit, experiment with ways to eat in a calmer, quieter, more loving way. Maybe you can organize your family to eat a home cooked meal together once a week. Notice the difference this makes in your energy and connection with your family and your food. Try simple rituals to make mealtime special, like eating off your good plates, lighting a candle, listening to soothing music, or saying a blessing before your meal. If you tend to eat at your desk at work, try to change this habit. Try simply going into a different room to eat, or better yet eating outside. Look for a co-worker whose company you enjoy and set a date to eat with them. Be creative and discover what you can do to bring your body into a more relaxed state during your meals. It could make a very big difference to your long term overall health.
I want to talk a bit about the importance of chewing in conjunction to conscious eating. Most people use a fork like a shovel, putting the next bite in before they have finished the previous one. It’s part of your fast paced culture. Aside from missing the enjoyment of a long, relaxing meal, eating quickly can be detrimental to our health. Digestion actually begins with the chewing process. If you think about your stomach working to break down every little bit of food you put into your mouth, it makes sense that the more you break it down in the chewing process, the easier the digestion process will be. If your food is not properly broken down before entering the esophagus, it can remain undigested and cause bacteria overgrowth in the intestines. In addition, the action of chewing and the resulting production of saliva both send a message to the stomach, intestines and entire gastrointestinal system that the digestion process has begun. These organs can then prepare for their digestion tasks and keep the body in balance.
Chewing also makes food more enjoyable. The sweet flavor of plant foods is released only after they have been chewed thoroughly. Complex carbohydrates start breaking down in the mouth by and enzyme in saliva known as amylase. It is only by chewing the carbohydrate rich foods thoroughly and mixing them with amylase that we can taste all of their natural sweetness. Therefore, this sweet flavor becomes a reward for chewing.
I don’t have a recommended amount of times that you should chew a bite, but in general I do recommend putting down your fork or utensils in between each bite to help you focus on the food in your mouth. Once you are done chewing, then you can take your next bite. It can be difficult to focus on chewing when eating with others, so try eating on your own and focus on fully chewing each bite. Turn off the TV, resist the urge to read and really focus on your eating experience. Use all your senses. You’ll see that it takes you longer to eat your meal, but that you get full faster. Another useful tip to help people slow down is to try eating with chopsticks since you can only pick up a limited amount of food with them, and it can be a fun eating adventure. ld like a check, it’s considered rude or pushy. People sit, chat, observe, and eat their meals slowly. And even though they have a fairly high fat diet, there are very few overw