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Changing How We Eat Is an Idea Worth Chewing On -- Slowly
While I was cruising down the Internet freeway of ideas and news the other day, looking for useful nuggets of information related to heath, the title of a new book jumped off the page. I had to pull over and take a closer look. It is called "How to Eat," by Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh. It's the latest installment in a series of how-to books on incorporating mindfulness practices as part of everyday life, from walking to sitting to how we relax. This newest title encourages viewing eating as something done to nourish not only the body but also the mind — taking time to truly savor what we eat and to explore how food reveals our connection to the earth, as well as others.
We have learned recently that the rates of obesity appear to be leveling off among both children and adults and that people are consuming fewer calories. But this "How to Eat" playbook got me thinking. Are we heading down the path to improved health not just without a road map but without proper driving instructions? Could it be a factor in our making such slow progress? Can we take the needed steps in the right direction if we only examine what we eat and not how we eat? Is eating slowly, for example, a lost art?
Like Thich, author Jeff Goins seems to think it's time we started teaching ourselves how to eat. Writing in Relevant magazine a few years ago on the subject of slowing down in an accelerating world, he noted a dilemma in which many young people, including him, find themselves. As the pace of his life quickened, he speeded up with it; meals were something to be done with quickly. He started chewing and swallowing as fast as possible to get on with the things that needed to get done. The result? He was eating more, gaining weight and getting indigestion and completely lost the notion that food is to be enjoyed. A Christian, he started thinking of the ritual of food and feasts in Scripture — not as metaphors but as reminders. He realized that "there's something sacred in the slow."
In many countries, mealtime is sacred. Yet in America, it seems that we rarely eat together anymore. It's no longer either a priority or a possibility. This wasn't always the case. In 1965, 95 percent of the calories that Americans got from food came from food cooked at home or ready-to-eat food bought at a grocery and eaten at home, according to a study by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That percentage had dropped to 68 by 1996.
There is a long list of proven benefits to be derived from not only eating healthful foods but also eating slowly. In a 2014 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, researchers found that individuals who ate slowly consumed fewer calories. Eating slowly is shown as one of the key factors in both weight loss and maintaining it.
Digestion starts by chewing food. According to the website Healthy Diet Base, the more you chew your food the more you break it down and make digestion easier with less wastage of nutrients. If food is not digested properly, it can lead to numerous gastrointestinal problems. So make a conscious effort to take at least a few more chews per bite. Just making that small adjustment in your daily habits will help lengthen the time it takes to finish a meal. This, according to researchers at the University of Rhode Island, will result in feelings of being more satisfied with the meal while consuming fewer calories.
When I think back to some of the best times shared with others in my life, so many involve the sharing of food. Communal meals can be therapeutic. They create an opportunity to talk and to reflect on the day. Not eating with others has been shown to have quantifiably negative effects on us, both physically and psychologically.
As best-selling author Michael Pollan points out in his book "Food Rules," no other bite tastes so good as the first bite of a meal. It should be savored. The rewards are ours when we also try to spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it. We should take some time for reflection on the process the food has gone through from its origin to our plate. It is, after all, why we say grace. And whether you say it out loud or not, reflecting in a moment of silence on this everyday miracle and our connection with the earth from which our food came, Pollan says, will foster more mindful eating, and more mindful eating helps us to eat more slowly and sanely.
More than enough reason here for us to start to eat simply, eat smartly and eat together.
Write to Chuck Norris (firstname.lastname@example.org) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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