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3 ways to better every bite of food

Maybe I learned it as a little one, watching burger commercial after burger commercial where after every bite the actor’s cheeks looked like a too-big belly hanging over a too-tight belt. But to this day, whether it’s delivered by my fingers, speared with a fork, or sitting atop a spoon, I tend to put too much food into my mouth.

A straight-shooting nutritionist might say this makes malabsorption of nutrients more likely - as well as digestive problems like heartburn, acid reflux, cramps, bloating, gas, and diarrhea - and can lead to irritability, headaches, and skin problems. A cockeyed psychologist might say this mean I’m seeking immediate gratification and unsatisfied with my life, yet unwilling to take the needed measures to change the situation.

But enough with the “maybes.” Time for three certainties.

Do as I do once you put whatever the amount of food in your mouth, and you’ll digest it better, burn more of it, and elevate your mental state.

Before I explain just what to do, consider why - despite the general consensus that doing so was not good - I kept cramming too much food into my mouth. It wasn’t because I was so time-crunched that I had to eat in a rush.

It was simply because I liked that full-mouth sensation while I chewed.

I’ve had discussions with other just-as-discriminating (or is it just-as-daft?) dieters and more than a few feel the same. Maybe the full-mouth sensation substitutes in some way for the scarcity of sugar in our diets.

While that’s speculation, this isn’t. Because I take pleasure in the sensation, I prolong it. In other words, I chew and chew and chew and chew.

Sometimes even the 40 times a Healthline.com article suggests for hard-to-chew foods like steak and nuts. Yet very few of the foods I choose are hard to chew.

Some, like Greek yogurt and two pudding-like high-protein concoctions I make, simply need to be savored before being swallowed. Others, like spinach, butter lettuce, steamed veggies, baked squash, oatmeal, fat-free cottage cheese, egg whites, and 100-percent whole wheat bread - need no more than 15 chews to make them mushy.

But the extra chewing does more than extend my enjoyment; it increases blood flow to my stomach thereby improving digestion. It also leads me to eat less and secrete less of a hormone that increases hunger.

Research performed at Harbin Medical University in Harbin, China and published in the September 2011 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition indicates it can do the same for you.

Researchers there found when both lean and obese subjects took 25 more chews than normal during meals, they ate 12 percent less on average. After the meals with the extra chews, the subjects also secreted less of the make-you-hungry hormone, ghrelin, in the following 90 minutes than they did when they chewed as often as they typically would.

Besides chewing more often than most people, I also chew more slowly. A quick check of two weeks of my food log and some simple math, in fact, reveals I took a bit longer than a half an hour on average to consume those 14 suppers.

Chewing slowly, according to a study done at Kyushu University in Kyushu, Japan leads to feeling fuller faster. Subjects coached to do so in the study also lowered their body mass indices.

Based on the information available, it’s conceivable to say that if you consume about 2,500 calories a day and chew more times than normal and slower than normal, you’ll burn about 100 more calories than normal digesting them.

But there’s one other thing you can do when your mouth is full (or not so full) of food. You can be mindful of it, savor it, delight in it. You can notice how the consistency changes the more you chew, how the food often becomes sweeter as a result.

You can make each chew a mini-meditative experience. Since meditation has been shown to reduce stress and increase the enjoyment of any experience, this should do wonders for your mood.

And just like chewing longer and slower tends to make you eat less, so does being mindful as you chew.

As part of a weight management program done in 2018 at University Hospitals Coventry and Warwickshire National Health Services Trust, 33 people wanting to lose weight attended three or four mindfulness training sessions. Twenty others also wanting to lose weight participated in all other parts of the program - except the mindfulness training.

Six months later, the average weight loss for those who had attended the mindfulness training was nearly 6.3 pounds greater than those who did not.