Have you heard the admonition to “eat to 80% full” and wait until the signal reaches the brain to feel full?
No doubt you’ll find that little weight loss tidbit sprinkled throughout various fitness magazine articles with such headlines as “Top Ten Tips for Staying Slim”, or “Five Ways to Eat Less”. (Side note: We want to be FIT, not slim. We want to eat MORE, not less. I digress.) That advice, however, is simply missing the bigger picture altogether. Frankly, it just doesn’t make sense.
Why would our bodies be designed so that when we actually felt full, we were really full 20% ago? So we over eat most of the time by 20%? Seems odd. Why not just feel full when we are full? That makes much more sense.
In fact, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. That is . . . if one very simple but very important thing is considered.
I often give my clients what I call “chewing homework”. For a few meals they will count how many times they chew before they swallow, or feel like swallowing. Simply the act of counting can mess up the normal count, so striving to make it as normal as possible is helpful. Depending on the type of food and how much goes on the fork, it typically falls between 6 and 12 chews. Far too few.
Chew your food. Wait . . . over chew your food. Try 30 chews before swallowing. For most people that’s a challenge and they have to fight the urge to swallow. Go ahead, challenge yourself.
Why you ask? Well, several reasons.
The process of digestion is far more complicated than most of us realize. It starts with the sight of food. You know, when the waiter puts your favorite meal down in front of you and as you reach for the napkin you begin to salivate. The smell wafts through the air and hits your nostrils. This is the beginning of digestion. The brain is signaled that food shortly is on its way. Digestive juices start flowing — stomach acid, pancreatic juices, the gall bladder is getting ready to release bile salts, etc. If the food that goes in your mouth isn’t chewed up sufficiently, several things can go awry.
First, the food particles are larger than they should be, which makes it harder for the stomach and intestines to break them down. Second, since it takes more time, the food can sit in your stomach longer than it should. And larger foodstuffs tax out your stomach acid and can require more to digest the food (which, for some, the increased demand of stomach acid can be a tall order). Can you say indigestion?
On the other hand, if you chew sufficiently, you actually assist your body in the natural breakdown of food while it’s still in your mouth, plus you get a head start on extracting valuable nutrients. Chewing releases saliva, which contains a myriad of enzymes that can’t wait to help break down food. Skimp on this step and you might surprise your stomach with a bolus dose of food that requires a lot of work to break down, and this stresses out your system.
So how does this all fit into feeling full?
The signal to feel full begins with chewing.
Sensory neurons from your mouth to your brain can begin to release satiety hormones before the food even gets to your stomach. Of course we rely on satiety hormones released from the gut, but if we don’t let food spend enough time in the mouth, it takes a shortcut to the stomach. From there it takes time to make its way into the digestive tract where more secondary satiety signals, like distention of the gut and elevated blood glucose can influence the fork.
Bottom line: When we don’t chew enough, we rely on signals farther down the digestive pathway to tell us we’re full. So stopping at 80% full and waiting allows your body the time for those later signals to kick in. Save yourself the guessing game. Chew more and let your digestion be timed perfectly with satiety.
Now I’m not completely discounting eating until you’re 80% full (or Hara Hachi Bu – yes, it does have a name!). However, I think what it really is admonishing us to do is it be more mindful when we eat. Tune in to your body rather than the television, which is a very good thing. But feeling full sooner will come naturally if you simply chew more. Much more.
Feel free to post your experience if you tried the “chewing homework”. When I did it, it changed my whole outlook and I tasted food in a way I really hadn’t until then.