Zen & the Art of Chewing

“The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself which are externals not under my control, and which have to do with the choices I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own . . .”

—Epictetus, Discourses, 2.5.4–5

 

Chewing is hands down the most important part of the digestion process that is always under our control. Think of it as the air squat of digestion. If you do not have the proper technique and mechanics for an air squat, how can you expect to Snatch your bodyweight with a barbell?

Similarly, it appears that proper chewing mechanics are amongst the least understood concepts of eating and digestion by many in western society– and so it begs the question “how can we possibly expect proper digestion and nutrient absorption at every meal with poor mechanics!?” In a nutshell, chewing, or lack thereof is a key component of indigestion.

Chewing needs to be taken seriously in order to mindfully allow time for it, and so like all things in life it is critical to start with the Why.

The Chewing Process…trust the process!

The pace of the chewing will set the rhythm for the rest of the digestive process:

Chewing at the proper rate (more on what that is to come) gives the stomach time to signal the brain that food has arrived.

But WHY?

Our saliva contains both leptin–a hormone that decreases appetite–which signals the brain to help make the decisions to stop eating and grehlin–a hormone that increases appetite.

Saliva is also a source of enzymes (salivary amylase in particular) for carbohydrate digestion and has an alkaline ph.

More good stuff:

Saliva contains strains of good bacteria, antibodies, and anti-microbial compounds.

Some statistics on chewing, and what’s the proper rate…

-According to a study at Harbin Medical University in China: People who chewed each bite 40 times (as compared to 15 times) ate 12 % less food and blood tests showed decreased ghrelin levels (recall: lowered appetite)

-Contrast that with a measure that hypothetically most of us may be eating in western society: A study of 1000 Subway consumers showed they chewed on each bite an average of just 6 times. Young & busy professionals in the 25-34 age group were among the worst culprits.

-On the whole, chewing in the range of 20-30 times appears to be a sound long-term strategy – but it depends on the type of food and how dense it is. Some fruits may just be 10, while raw broccoli or a T-bone steak may be damn near 50.

General rule of thumb & plan of attack: ‘Chew until it is liquid’.

A useful strategy that we as Crossfitters can try out is as follows:

Apply the familiar “21-15-9” rep scheme to chewing

OR

the “your mouth is a Blendtec–chew till’ it’s all liquidy and stuff. Henceforth known as AMCAP until liquid (As Many Chews as Possible)”

Whichever of the two comes first!

Eight key benefits of a proper Chewing game…

  1. Aids in digestion.
  2. Increases the availability and absorption (+) assimilation of nutrients.
  3. Decreases risk of digestive upset, including: Nausea, diarrhea, constipation, stomach discomfort (i.e. reduces bloating and gas) … and is cheaper then Pepto-Bismol.
  4. May aid in downstream weight loss.
  5. Most importantly it increases enjoyment of the food!
  6. Do it for vanity & function: Chewing may increase jaw strength and tone. Seriously, our jaws muscles can atrophy just like all muscles!
    1. https://bauernutrition.com/blog/why-models-chew-gum/
    2. https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/life-style/health-fitness/fitness/Chomp-and-chew-for-a-sexy-jawline/articleshow/9993983.cms
  7. Get a better handle on Neuro-regulation of appetite or appetite control regulation a key component of managing your carbohydrate intake (see: http://goodfoodeating.com/656/appetite-control-regulation/).
  8. Built-in mindfulness meditation practice (see: https://www.mindful.org/6-ways-practice-mindful-eating/).

 

Additional resource:

Podcast: Check out Katy Bowman (Movement bio-mechanist, author of “Move your DNA”) and her Nutritious Movement podcast. I promise you will never think about chewing the same after listening!

Ep. 47. “Food Forces, How Mechanically nutritious is your diet”: https://nutritiousmovement.com/podcast-transcript-ep-47-food-forces/

Interesting and random Article on how humans eat:

https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/26/health/mary-roach-on-studying-food-and-how-humans-eat-it.html?action=click&contentCollection=Health&module=RelatedCoverage&region=EndOfArticle&pgtype=article

Challenge:

On the back-end of doing Murph, this should be easy. For every bite of food aim for 45 chews (21-15-9) OR AMCAP till’ liquid, for 45 days. Let’s see what happens.

Conclusion

It is widely known that legendary NCAA Basketball coach John Wooden would initiate players with a lesson about starting from the bottom-line fundamentals. Not fundamentals like layups or defensive strategies, but simply how to tie their shoelaces properly. He won 10 championships with U.C.L.A in a 12-year span, and he started with shoelaces. True fundamentals. He would say things to his players like “Pull up your socks, leave no flaps inside your sneakers”—simple advice, but maybe you don’t miss a game or two because of blisters. “Pull the laces tight and even, and tie them tightly”—simple and seemingly obvious advice, but nonetheless no sprained ankles.

Take some advice from the playbook of John Wooden. Start from the top, the most basic of fundamentals that is always inside your realm of control—chew, and then chew some more.