We hate to tell you this, but you probably aren’t chewing your food enough. If it helps though, you’re not alone. According to nutritionist Daniel O’Shaughnessy, nobody he knows chews properly, meaning we eat too quickly (and possibly even too much) leading to wind, bloating , stomach cramps and, longer-term, to digestive issues such as IBS .
How do you know if you’re chewing enough? This simple hack can tell you. Take a mouthful of food, close your eyes, chew and see if it takes you longer to finish your mouthful than usual. “The speed at which you chew with your eyes closed is probably the speed you should eat," says Daniel. “Often we’re so distracted by media and phones that we eat food too fast."
What's making us speed eat?
“We're a very fast-moving society and we’re always eating in front of a screen, so we’re not focusing on the food,” says Daniel. “We're always scrolling on Instagram, or looking at an email. Working from home has made it worse; we don't have specific lunchtimes so we're taking our meal to our desk and eating while we read emails."
Eating more slowly might take longer, but you might well end up eating less, he adds. It takes a while for your brain to tell your body you've had enough food. If you're eating too fast you don’t get the signal after you've finished eating, when in fact you might have been full long before that. When you’re eating slowly your body will tell you when you've had enough and you'll eat less which can help with that uncomfortable full feeling.
What happened when we tried it
I normally read a magazine while I eat and I tried Daniel’s eyes-closed trick as I ate my lunch of Scotch broth soup and white roll. It took much, much longer to eat. I was more aware of when a shred of chicken wasn’t fully chewed. I found it tedious chewing until it was mush, a texture I didn’t enjoy at all but probably should learn to love given its gut-health benefits. There’s no denying I was more mindful of my meal and I can see why eating slower means you to eat less, feel less bloated and notice your food more. Maybe I need to choose something with more variety of textures than soup.
How long should you chew your food for?
There’s no set amount of time we should chew for – we all have different-shaped mouths and different teeth – but food consistency is key, which is why the closed-eyes hack works so well. Ideally, our food needs to be chewed until it’s nearly the consistency of mashed potato, says Daniel. Quite apart from making things much harder work for our stomach and intestines, if we send them great big chunks of carrot rather than puree, it makes it much harder to absorb the nutrients from our food.
“Our digestive system is one long tube, going from the mouth to the anus,” he explains. “If you don't chew your food for long enough, it enters the stomach too quickly, which means it's harder for the gut to break it down and for us to get the vitamins and nutrients we need."
What's more, chewing releases digestive enzymes in saliva and the stomach, to help break down the food. "If you chew the food into a bigger surface area, it's easy for the digestive system to work.”
If you don't chew for long enough, you might notice undigested food in your poo or have stools that are harder to pass. You might also notice a dip in energy levels or skin issues such as dullness or acne.
Put simply, the more you do at the top, the less you have to do at the bottom.
As a guide, Daniel says each meal should take about 20 minutes to eat.
Tips to help you eat more slowly
1. Try eating just your first mouthful or two with your eyes closed, to set the pace for the rest of the meal.
2. If you're in a situation where you can't close your eyes, put your knife and fork down (or sandwich) down between every mouthful. Only go in for a second bite after you've swallowed everything.
3. Put away your devices. Rather than wolfing down a meal while checking your emails, Daniel advises trying to be fully present and savouring each mouthful. Being more mindful of eating, focusing on the taste and texture, will automatically slow you down.
4. Shift your mealtime to a less busy moment. Breakfast is a prime bolt-down meal, says Daniel. "You might not be fully awake when you’re having breakfast, so you eat mindlessly. I never eat breakfast until later in the morning when I know I’m fully awake.” Remember too “If food is quick to prepare we're more likely to eat it quickly,” he says.
Next time you're eating, try closing your eyes and seeing if you eat more slowly, here's betting it works!
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