Biting Off More Than You Can (Mindfully) Chew


I’ve been a little busy this week, and found myself questioning when I would find time to sit and meditate. The answer is, there is always time. Sometimes it just doesn’t feel like it.

Rather than a sitting meditation, I decided to try another kind of meditation – mindfully chewing my food. It sounds almost laughable when I say it. A seemingly simple task, but then again, sitting still would appear that way too.

…the more we try to cram into our days, the more our bodily needs come to seem a time-consuming nuisance. They become automatic, activities done mindlessly as we are trying to accomplish other tasks that have a tangible end result.

Ayurvedic principles stress that we eat at the same time every day. They would also maintain that we should prepare food that is not too hot nor too cold, and that we chew food thoroughly without any distraction until we are satiated, but not overly full.

In today’s culture, we try to do so much. The speed of technology and transportation only exacerbates this need. If we can get from A to B in C amount of time, then we better have X, Y, and Z done before we get there. And worse, we don’t even need to get from A to B because our phones and computers can get us there faster.

Ayurvedic principles stress that we eat at the same time every day. They would also maintain that we should prepare food that is not too hot nor too cold, and that we chew food thoroughly without any distraction until we are satiated, but not overly full.

In today’s culture, we try to do so much. The speed of technology and transportation only exacerbates this need. If we can get from A to B in C amount of time, then we better have X, Y, and Z done before we get there. And worse, we don’t even need to get from A to B because our phones and computers can get us there faster.

My point is, the more we try to cram into our days, the more our bodily needs come to seem a time-consuming nuisance. They become automatic, activities done mindlessly as we are trying to accomplish other tasks that have a tangible end result. And in the rush, we shovel our food down while sending our daily work emails or watching that television show we’re not going to have time to watch later. Our stress mounts and our digestion suffers doubly from that stress because, ultimately, we’re forgetting to chew our food.

So for one week, I tried it. When it was meal time, I had to sit with only my food in front of me, no cell phone, computer, or (an especially hard one for me) a book. I started with a goal of chewing each bite thirty times before swallowing.

Unsurprisingly, this was not an easy task! Just like seated meditation or asana practice, it’s tough to keep our impatient minds focused on just one thing. Over the course of the week, I often found myself thinking about the day ahead and losing track of how many times I’d chewed. I found that to chew each bite thoroughly stretches a small meal time from 3-5 minutes to nearly 10. Something hard to reconcile when I was in a rush.

A simple breakfast felt like it took ages! Turns out, a bite of tough bread takes at least thirty bites to totally break down. It felt like I had put my poor, lazy jaw through bootcamp for the first time!

While a difficult task to sustain at times, I did find a lot of benefit in the practice of eating mindfully. Consuming my food slowly and thoughtfully left me calmer after meals. And because I slowed my pace a little, I gave my stomach the extra time to catch up and send signals that I was full.I ate less overall, finding I could distinguish between “satiated” and “full” easily because I was taking the time to listen without distraction. And as a lifelong sufferer of indigestion due to stress, I found that doing my body the simple favor of a little more mechanical digestion helped a noticeable amount. Finally, food tastes better when you really get in there and chew!

So is it worth it? I think it is totally worth it, but maybe it’s not a realistic goal for every meal, every day for the rest of my life. I tried eating mindfully while out to lunch with a friend, and I found that the second she started telling an engaging story, I had started scarfing down my salad without thought. 

So, while it’s not always possible to slow down every meal, I think what is most important is to check in with ourselves; noticing which activities we’ve come to do automatically without a sense of mindfulness. Which activities do we let consume all of our attention while others fall by the wayside, like simply chewing our food.