Gobbling vs. Chewing

Digestion begins in the mouth and ends in the anus. Take a moment and allow that to marinate in your mind. Every time something passes through the oral orifice it embarks on an awesome winding, topsy turvy journey through 25-30 feet of digestive conduit, efficiently and ingeniously packed into the human machine. Below is a diagram of the digestive system:

 

 

595px-Digestive_system_diagram_en.svg

And here is a breakdown of what happens at each mile marker in the process:

Functions of the Digestive Organs
Organ Major functions Other functions
Mouth
  • Ingests food
  • Chews and mixes food
  • Begins chemical breakdown of carbohydrates
  • Moves food into the pharynx
  • Begins breakdown of lipids via lingual lipase
  • Moistens and dissolves food, allowing you to taste it
  • Cleans and lubricates the teeth and oral cavity
  • Has some antimicrobial activity
Pharynx
  • Propels food from the oral cavity to the esophagus
  • Lubricates food and passageways
Esophagus
  • Propels food to the stomach
  • Lubricates food and passageways
Stomach
  • Mixes and churns food with gastric juices to form chyme
  • Begins chemical breakdown of proteins
  • Releases food into the duodenum as chyme
  • Absorbs some fat-soluble substances (for example, alcohol, aspirin)
  • Possesses antimicrobial functions
  • Stimulates protein-digesting enzymes
  • Secretes intrinsic factor required for vitamin B12absorption in small intestine
Small intestine
  • Mixes chyme with digestive juices
  • Propels food at a rate slow enough for digestion and absorption
  • Absorbs breakdown products of carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, and nucleic acids, along with vitamins, minerals, and water
  • Performs physical digestion via segmentation
  • Provides optimal medium for enzymatic activity
Accessory organs
  • Liver: produces bile salts, which emulsify lipids, aiding their digestion and absorption
  • Gallbladder: stores, concentrates, and releases bile
  • Pancreas: produces digestive enzymes and bicarbonate
  • Bicarbonate-rich pancreatic juices help neutralize acidic chyme and provide optimal environment for enzymatic activity
Large intestine
  • Further breaks down food residues
  • Absorbs most residual water, electrolytes, and vitamins produced by enteric bacteria
  • Propels feces toward rectum
  • Eliminates feces
  • Food residue is concentrated and temporarily stored prior to defecation
  • Mucus eases passage of feces through colon

 

 

The description of the processes above all involve the mechanical and chemical breakdown of food so that our bodies can absorb the nutrients of what we eat. The very first part of the process begins with chewing, and that is the focus of this post.

BEEP, BEEP. BEEP, BEEP!!!!!!! The offensive sound waves emitted by the electronic reminder of how nice it would be to sleep in come crashing mercilessly against our bleary eardrums. And with that a new day is born. Maybe we got up in enough time to prepare breakfast, or maybe a granola bar or banana is snatched up on our blind rush for the door. It’s breakfast; our first foray into fueling our engines and initiating this day’s digestion. Many times getting the kids and family ready to get out the door, or even just getting ourselves ready can be a task. The thought of sitting in a quiet, relaxed space and calmly chewing our food into a liquified state is laughable.

We blaze through the morning stoked up on caffeine and adrenaline, and maybe a mid morning snack, arriving at lunch with either no appetite (due to coffee overdose) or completely ravenous (due to insufficient caloric and water consumption). So, either we skip lunch, force ourselves to eat, or inhale whatever the option is for that day. Again, taking the time to turn down the noise and truly look at this food as a gift, one bite at a time isn’t on our list of priorities.

At some point in the day this routine of indifference to our food and lack of recognition of its value will catch up with us. It could be around 3pm when we start craving something salty or sweet, or we just need a diet soda to hold us over till dinner. It could be when we get home into our comfort zones and graze or binge on anything available as a way to relax and “enjoy” our time to eat. If the act of sitting down and mindfully eating a meal from start to finish doesn’t seem like a conscious decision, then I urge you to monitor your behavior the next time you eat something. What did you eat, why did you eat it, when were you satiated, how quickly did you consume it and were you mentally present in each bite?

When we mindlessly eat for reasons other than hunger we abuse food. When we use food as a coping mechanism, it loses its importance as our fuel. When we keep going back for more of what we do not need, we are unconsciously practicing ungratefulness and taking for granted that which we are beyond blessed to have at our fingertips.

So the challenge is to wake up and stay checked in as you are eating. Instead of gobbling it up like there could not be a next meal, slow down, be thankful for every single bite, be awake in every single bite, and make every meal as special as you possibly can. We were given the cognitive ability to choose what, when and how we eat. The only person ultimately responsible for those choices is us. Choose well and chew longer.

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