I'm standing in line in Naval Basic Training in Chicago, and I'm dead last because I'm short. We are marching to the chow hall for my first meal away from home at 18 years old. Getting food at this new cafeteria didn't seem much different than high school, so at least that was familiar. I add spaghetti to my tray, a roll, some salad, then grab a drink and sit down. As soon as my butt hits the chair, I hear, "Division 247, you have five minutes remaining."
"This can't be right," I thought, "I just sat down. I can't eat this in five minutes." I spend the next three minutes trying to find out if we have to leave that soon. I get a few bites in, and it's like I'm taking the SATs all over again. "Forks down." I tried taking the roll out with me, but I'm told to throw it away before I get back in line because we can't remove any food from the chow hall.
It's been a very long day, and now I'm starving. I suck it up, but after a couple more meals like that, I discover which foods will survive the trip to my bunk and go unnoticed in my pants. I also learn how to eat faster. A lot faster.
Seven weeks later, I'm at an all-you-can-eat buffet with my parents to celebrate my graduation. Both of my parents are obese, and packing away food in one sitting has never been a problem for anyone in my large family. Here I am, eating the last bites off my plate when I glance up at my dad without moving my head. And he's just sitting there, jaw dropped to the floor, not eating a bite.
"What," I ask, wondering if I've got food stuck in my teeth or something.
"I have never seen someone so small eat so much so fast," he says.
That's when I noticed how I had wrapped my arm around my plate as if someone might steal it, and it’s two inches away from my mouth to make shoveling food into it easier. I realized, maybe eating like this wasn't normal.
I didn't go the traditional college route after high school, but I still came out of boot camp with a “Freshman 15.” Plus, I didn't even need an entire year to add on 15 pounds, just 8 weeks. What was my secret? Eating fast. It's a great way to gain weight.
Unless gaining weight is your goal, then SLOW DOWN. I'd say it's the most impactful thing you can change if you're trying to drop a few unwanted pounds. But what does that mean, and how can you start to do it?
First, we probably ought to get clear on what it does NOT mean. One of the first things that come to mind is moving reeeaaaaallly slowly, like the sloths in Zootopia (insert a Zootopia sloth gif if possible). That is not what I mean. Don't chew your food in slow motion.
What I do mean is chew THOROUGHLY. Think of your mouth like a blender and chew until it's liquid. Your mouth is where your digestion process begins. The longer you chew, the more you start breaking down your food. It's kind of like giving your body a helping hand.
If you were to make some fresh fruit and vegetable juice with a juicer and then drink it, you'd get a quick boost of energy. Why? Because the juicer already broke down those foods so your body can quickly absorb the nutrients. It doesn't have to work as hard.
When you chew your food thoroughly, it's a similar process. From this change alone, you'll often discover that some foods that usually cause a little bit of bloating, pain, or gas aren't quite as bad anymore.
Chewing thoroughly also means that it'll take you longer to eat whatever you've got on your plate. If you're an overeater, a clean-your-plate person, or an eyes-are-bigger-than-your-stomach person, that's good news. It takes about 20 minutes for the hormones in your stomach to let your brain know that you've gotten enough food and can stop eating. So if you aren't shoveling your food in your mouth, you just might discover that you genuinely don't need anywhere near as much food as you think to be satiated and content.
"But what if I truly only have a five-minute break for lunch? I don't want to starve. I need the energy to finish getting through my busy afternoon." I know you're thinking it, and I get it. Whether it's work that you need to get done or you're going minute by minute from one thing to the next, trying to get all of your errands done before the store closes, you will experience this from time to time.
For that, I say, experiment. Then make your fallback plan for whenever you find yourself in this situation.
How will you experiment? You can use anything you can think of, but here are three common strategies to try and see if any work well for you:
- Remember that hunger is rarely an emergency. If you only have five minutes, take a bite and chew thoroughly. If that means you only get three bites of your sandwich in before it's back to work, that's okay. See how you feel. You’ll often discover that you have enough energy just from those three bites to make it through the day.
- If solid food won't go down in five minutes, try liquid. Protein shakes can be great options on the go or when you're short on time. Just remember to take all of the time you do have to drink it. Think "chew your liquids." Guzzling it down is similar to swallowing your food whole. Slow down and take your time. Afterward, pay attention to your hunger levels, mood, and energy throughout the day.
- Graze. Yep, I said it. If you're able, pack food that travels well, which you can eat a bite at a time whenever you can spare a minute or two throughout your day. To be clear, I’m not talking about grazing on anything and everything you see all day long. I mean, take whatever your planned lunch was and have a bite here and there (chewing thoroughly) as the day goes by. Again, observe. See how you feel, what your energy and mood are like, and how hungry you are.
In the end, do your best. Whatever that happens to be.
helpful tips for slowing down
Here are some of the tried and true tips to help you spend a little more quality time with your food and help you spend a bit less time wishing the scale would go down:
- Put your utensils down between bites.
- Don't load up your next bite until your mouth is empty.
- Eat distraction-free. No electronics! No driving! Enjoy the company of the people you're with or enjoy the company of your meal.
- Sit down when you eat. (You don't need to stand over the trash can or sink. A plate or even a napkin will catch your crumbs too.)
- Give your food some TLC. Savor every bite like it's the most delicious thing you've ever tasted.
- If it isn’t the best thing you've ever tasted and you can't pretend, try getting curious. Notice everything that you possibly can about it. You can easily spend 20 minutes answering these questions bite by bite:
- What does it smell like to you?
- What does it look like to you?
- How would you describe it to someone who has never had it before and can't experience it themselves?
- What do you like, or not, about the presentation of it?
- When you first start chewing, what do you notice about the texture? About the taste? (As the amylase enzyme gets to work breaking down your food, you'll discover that the taste of some foods changes. Some taste sweeter, and some things start tasting like chemicals. I bet you can guess what those might be.)
- Is there a point where you don't like the texture, or is it all the same to you?
- What does it smell like to you?
- Pay attention to your hunger levels. Challenge yourself to describe what you're feeling and how you know. What signs can you observe (physical symptoms) and what signs can you feel (mental thoughts)?
one helpful habit
We live in a fast-paced world, yet the times when we progress are in moments of pause.
If you could only work on ONE helpful habit, slowing down would be it. I believe that alone can drastically alter your health, relationships, stress levels, and more.
Slowing down is one of four keys to unlocking a life and body you love. It sounds simple (and it is), but putting it into practice can be a lot harder than it looks. It takes time and patience, so be gentle and forgiving with yourself.
Start living with the mantra, "Slow Down," and watch how the quality of your life improves.
Sending you love, health and happiness,
Holistic Health Coach
Owner: Serenity Fitness LLC
Creator of the Limitless Transformation Program