Do not bite off more than you can chew. Do not chew more than you can swallow. And do not swallow more than you can digest. – Ankala V Subbarao
Eating food is a defining human activity. Everyone does it. Which is why we understand eating idioms. Don’t bite off more than you chew. We all get it.
Food, more than anything, might be human’s common language.
Chewing is an integral part of our experience with food. And when we look at the biological and even psychological processes involved with this largely unconscious activity we can make some interesting parallels to other situations in our life.
The Psychobiology of Chewing, a short video with Emily Rosen, is a fascinating introduction to the physical experience of chewing.
I took away four main points from Rosen’s presentation.
1. We’re designed to chew and crunch.
We are satisfied with that action in our jaws and there’s even a certain decibel level of a crunch noise that we find most pleasing.
The potato chip industry uses this scientific data to engineer food that’s hard to resist. This explains why for many us, once we start eating chips it’s hard to stop.
2. We eat food too fast.
Even though our taste and food sensory experiences happen in our mouth, we seem anxious to by-pass the possibilities of that experience. We eat faster than necessary, more concerned with filling our belly than savouring our food.
When we focus on just getting the food in and down we miss out on the most pleasurable part of eating.
3. When we don’t chew properly we put extra stress on our digestive system.
We’re meant to chew our food well and break it down into small bits that are then easily digested by the stomach.
When we swallow large bites of food, when we don’t take our time at the first step, our stomach works harder to digest those larger chunks, producing more acid to break the food down, contributing to acid reflux, heart burn, and irritability of the stomach lining.
We stress our body when we don’t chew properly.
4. Chewing sets in motion a rhythm that affects our entire body.
Fast chewing initiates an unsettling in our state of mind and this in turn creates uncomfortable sensations in the digestive system.
A conscious decision on how we chew our food sets off an involuntary chain reaction. In other words, an easy choice within our control, directly affects, and can positively influence, something outside of our control, the body’s involuntary responses.
Better chewing can, in Rosen’s words, bring a “relaxed awareness” to our experience and help us cultivate an “an attitude of nourishment” towards our food.
Who knew there was so much to the simple act of chewing our food?!
This is all really interesting biologically and psychologically, and I do recommend you watch the video for the full explanation.
But as much as I’m keenly interested in nutrition and healthy eating, which is a big part of my life, I’m equally interested in contemplating how I “chew on life”.
To be fully nourished by food we must experience it. We experience it first through taste, through chewing, through that first point of contact in our mouth.
So to be fully nourished – emotionally, spiritually, intellectually – by an experience or an idea in our lives we must first taste and chew it thoroughly as well.
Do we take the time to chew on our life experiences and ideas? Or, are we more interested in having the “food” hit our belly so we can move onto the next thing, the next idea?
Are we swallowing big bites of life experience and stressing our system to digest and absorb that change? Or are we savouring our life, cultivating a relaxed awareness and gratitude for this nourishment.
We are designed for task of chewing on life.
Life is difficult. And we’re designed to handle it.
There is pleasure to be gained by the effort it takes to break something down, make it manageable; to swallow and absorb that experience in our lives.
Chewing is an effort, it actually expends calories in our physical bodies. It slows us down, it takes time, but just like the enjoyment we get from the crunch of carrot, a crisp apple, or a manufactured potato chip, we are designed to enjoy the experience of the effort it takes to chew on life.
We have the power of choice to chew on life.
We can choose not to chew on our experiences, to not break them down over time and make them easier to manage. We can choose to gulp ideas whole, without stopping to think and evaluate. We can choose not to savour an experience but to rush on to the next.
Or we can take our time with something and honour the gift of our conscious awareness, our ability to think, problem-solve, appreciate, and experience; to fully taste life.
When we don’t chew well we deal with the consequences.
Have you ever had a case of poor life choices ingestion? Have you suffered the heartburn of a hasty decision?
Sometimes we incur extra stress in our lives, digestive consequences, because we skipped the important step of adequately chewing or thinking through something before swallowing.
We can create and set the rhythm for our lives.
There are things within our control that will set in motion a lot of things out of our control, like our bodies involuntary response to the pace and rhythm of our physical chewing.
We have the opportunity to cultivate nourishment and gratitude in our lives based on how we break down, or chew on the ideas and experiences of our lives.
What are you chewing on? What are you eating?
Join me in the episode as I share secrets of the potato chip industry, consider the physical health benefits of good chewing, and contemplate how we might apply those to other areas of our life.
Media & Resources mentioned in this episode:
Music: Happy lub-dub, Swift-Tuttle, and Mazu by Achille Richard.
Divine truth is known by participation with and practice of, not by more thinking or discussing or even believing. You eventually have to ‘eat’ the truth more than even understand it…we move beyond mere words or rational thought and go to that place where we don’t talk about the mystery; we begin to chew on it. – Richard Rohr