Wednesday, February 11, 2009

20 Chews - Conscious eating

Here I am leading my 6 week weight management pilot project at Windsor Medical Aesthetics. My class consists of a small group of committed, intrepid, explorers navigating this new pathway in the world of healthy eating called conscious eating. One of the first tools to steer us in the direction of conscious eating and stay the course is to chew our food 20 times. Since I make it a point to have first hand experience of anything I teach I took it upon myself to revisit this territory.

20 chews, doesn’t sound like much. Many a parent has said to their little ones, “chew, chew, chew your food well”. Now, I know they encourage this so they won’t have to Heimlich their kid, but it also serves other purposes. As we chew much of our digestion, especially of carbohydrates, is initiated in the mouth, the saliva breaks down the food into smaller bits making it easier on our stomach and digestive tract, not to mention our elimination system, to do their job.

Did you know that “fish can taste with their fins and tails as well as their mouth” but we only have our tongue and mouth to do the job? Since our tongue is crammed with taste buds for sweet, sour, bitter, salty the ability resides in our mouth for us to really savour the flavours released as we chew our food. For sweetaholic like me – root veggies, bread, rice all taste sweeter the more they are chewed thus helping to satisfy a sweet tooth.

One almond actually takes more than 20 chews, rice was even possible and crackers a breeze; apples and veggies no problems. Bananas were a little bit of a stretch, I found myself taking bigger bites in order to reach the required number.

But it was 20 chews that just about did me in when 20 odd years ago, after 15 years of vegetarianism I decided to re-introduce chicken and fish into my diet having fallen in love with a carnivore. I remember it like it was yesterday. As I chewed the flavour of the chicken quickly subsided and my brain wouldn’t shut up. “You realize don’t you that you’re chewing FLESH”! The gag reflex kicked in big time. As discretely as I could I brought my napkin to my mouth to cover my embarrassment, stifle the retching sound and pocket the wad. I was a charming date that night let me tell you.

And just 2 weeks ago that same lucky guy (my husband) and I went out for a meal we treat ourselves to on occasion– fish and chips. There I was wolfing down my food; washing it down with the obligatory can of coke, to dissolve the grease, when I remembered my commitment to consciously eat 20 chews.

I cut off a piece from my halibut fried in batter and put it in my mouth. Put down the knife and fork as I proceeded to chew. The first few chews released the grease from the batter – it squished into my mouth leaving it with that familiar fuzzy coating. As the batter disintegrated the smooth texture of the fish was replaced by dried out flakes of flesh. And, I swallowed. And the chips were no better grease, vinegar, and salt were added to the mix. I did this about a dozen times before I’d had enough. It wasn’t so much that I was full just that I couldn’t stomach it any more.

One thing that night did for me though was to initiate 3 days of craving for veggies, rice and fruit, as if I was compelled to eat lighter fare to clear the pipes.

Not everyone in our group found the 20 chews to be satisfactory. Sometimes the change in texture had a negative impact on food they normally enjoyed. Often this food fell into the category of “junk” food. The group and I agreed that it is probably easier to 20 chew “real” food.

And, I guess that’s the point. If we really allowed ourselves to take the time to taste our food we would make better choices about what we consume

This experience also taught me that, on the rare occasion when I have a hankering for fish and chips, the only way to really enjoy it is to snarffle it down. And that I can live with.

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