Last week I expressed my joy at watching an elderly gentleman actually take the time to savour his food. I nattered on for a while about how we should all follow suit and eat slower. But I didn’t actually give very good (or scientific for that matter) reasons for doing so. This is where I rectify that. Consider this as ‘slow food ramblings part two’ or ‘why we would be crazy to not slow down at meal times’. After some extensive research (well if previous discussions with naturopaths, personal experience, ‘scientific observations’ of others and twenty minutes on Google yesterday counts as extensive), I’ve drawn up what I believe to be the three ‘main’ benefits or ‘goals’ of slow eating. This excludes reaping enjoyment from what we eat as a) I talked about it for far too long last week (sorry about that) and b) if you work to reap these three benefits, then the enjoyment will should come naturally. Unless you find some warped pleasure in devouring your meal as though it was your first and if that’s the case, I can’t help you. Because what we’re aiming to do is treat it as your last, savour every last mouthful and enjoy the heck out of it.
1. Your digestive gnomes will thank you: Imagine that the consumption of your meal is like competing in a sporting event. In order to function at their optimum, your gnomes – read organs – need time to prepare. To warm up. If you cram everything in your mouth in a matter of seconds they don’t exactly get much time to do that, do they? They’d appreciate a warning signal. A thirty minutes to kick off whistle, perhaps in the form of a small bite. Did you know the digestion process actually begins in your mouth? All those salivary enzymes (known to normal folks as spit) start to chemically break down the food that has hopefully been well masticated with plenty of chewing. Sounds appetising doesn’t it? Mm mmmm. Also, by taking more time to chew your food – and in smaller mouthfuls – you’ll reduce the amount of air you swallow. You know that uncomfortable sensation of writhing indigestion you get after eating a meal too quickly? Half the time (side note: my figures aren’t exactly accurate) it’s just a big balloon of air trapped in your small intestine. And we all know what that leads to. So to wrap things up here, eating slower will help maintain a healthy and happy digestive system. No post ‘race’ cramps, gnome rebellions or bloating allowed.
2. It’ll help prevent overeating: Uh-huh, that’s right. Any dietician/personal trainer/nutritionist/diet-guru-person worth their salt will tell you that if you’re trying to lose/maintain your current weight you need to eat slower. It takes twenty minutes for your body to actually register that its energy supplies are stocked up. So if you’re wondering why you’re reaching for that second helping when you’ve already downed a large portion, it’s probably because you ate too quickly. Your body doesn’t know that it’s full yet and is most likely also in a state of shock. Linger over your meal for twenty minutes plus and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much less you ‘need’ to eat. Lighter on the waistline and the wallet, right?
3. It presents an opportunity to socialise: Socialising at dinner? What’s that? You’re not alone – we in the western world are busy critters and planning a household meal together can be difficult what with the evening traffic/sports training/meetings running late etc. etc. However, on the occasions that everyone does sit down to a meal together, eating slower should help foster social interaction. It presents more time to do so (though if you’re a teenager sick of your parents that’s probably not what you want to hear), and in a less harried manner. If you flip the situation around socialising over a meal can also help you to eat slower – more talking means less frequent bites – therefore it’s really a no-brainer to do so.
Now, how are we going to go about reaching such ‘goals’? Here are a few tips that I try to follow (it’s not that they don’t work – they do – but I have a habit of forgetting to implement them).
– Put down your knife and fork between mouthfuls. Not only does it help slow you down, but if conversation turns heated it reduces the chance of you poking someone’s eye out with exuberant gestures.
– Eat foods that take longer to chew. Obviously this isn’t going to work every night (I’m not going to ban you from soup or mac and cheese) , however foods higher in fibre (raw also helps) will force you to eat slower, unless you fancy having a chunk lodged in your throat.
– Engage with others. I think we covered this pretty well in point three: socialising = more talking = slower eating. An exception is if you talk with food in your mouth, in which case I disown you.
– Use smaller utensils. Believe it or not a smaller knife/fork/spoon should encourage you to take smaller bites. And as a side note, if you’re a clutz with chopsticks, like me, and desperate to slow down your eating, then they’re always a good alternative! Just be prepared to be the laughing stock of the table.
That may seem like an awful lot to take in, but the best way to remember it is to put it into practice – and for long enough that the benefits become clear to you. Lastly, I said it last week and I’ll say it again now, eating inordinately fast demonstrates little regard for how long it took to prepare the meal. If you do take the time to eat slower, then you reduce the risk of an irate cook slapping you around the chops for not appreciating their efforts. You’ve been warned.