It is well known that beauty comes from the inside, and that our diet contributes significantly to our health and appearance. Such statements are often followed by an advertisement for the newest diet or fitness drink that promises to make you slim overnight. But in this article, I'd like to introduce you to a whole new dieting approach, which you might never even have thought of.
It is about the method of thorough chewing (also called fletcherism), which, once you have become accustomed to it, can yield astonishing results. An improved complexion, better body shape, a sense of happiness and contentment (through increased serotonin release), and even the elimination of severe upper abdominal discomfort, are all possible benefits. You will begin to notice more nuances of taste, you will develop a better sense of what foods are good for you, and even food intolerances can in some cases by addressed by this method.
The best thing about it is that thorough chewing is easy, will not cost you anything, and can be done without large amounts of self-discipline. Everything you need to know to get started right now can be found in this article, and we promise that you will notice a significant difference in no more than 3-5 days, should you decide to follow this method.
Thorough chewing acts on several levels.
Food that has been thoroughly chewed can be digested more easily, because nutrients are absorbed directly into the blood stream through the mucous membrane of the small intestine. This mucous membrane is heavily folded and dotted by villi, with a total surface area of 400 to 500 m2. However, this gigantic surface area can only be fully made use of if the food has first been chopped small by proper chewing.
Thorough chewing ensures that food gets well mixed with saliva, which is an important first step within the process of digestion. Our saliva contains enzymes, such as salivary amylase, which break down starch or carbohydrates into usable sugars. These sugars are then absorbed via the oral mucous membranes, leading to an increase in serotonin secretion. However, no spikes in blood sugar occur, which is important for diabetics. According to several studies done by Munich-based metabolic researcher Wilfried Bieger, even after eating a carbohydrate-rich meal, blood sugar and insulin levels will remain stable so long as the food has been chewed well.
Thoroughly chewing protects your body's immune system and digestive tract against infection, because saliva kills bacteria that are found in our food, even while still in the oral cavity. The antibacterial enzyme lysozyme and the protein histatin play an important role here. Peter Schleicher, a specialist in immunology, also found that extensive chewing leads to increased levels of lymphatic fluid in our saliva, which activates the immune cells of the gastrointestinal tract.
Well-chewed food needs less exposure to stomach acid, which allows for more nutrients to be retained. There will also be fewer large “chunks” of food, which often start to ferment before they can be fully digested.
You will feel full for longer periods of time after eating less food. This gives the body a rest, because the process of digesting food requires a lot of energy. No more fatigue and listlessness!
Some of these benefits have been shown in studies; the below list, however, is based on real-life experiences. Most effects become noticeable within days or weeks.
In his book "Chew yourself healthy", Jürgen Schilling describes how he was able to reduce his body weight from a whopping 200kg (!) to a normal level of 75kg within 9 years, through the practice of thorough chewing. Likewise, Horace Fletcher himself reports in his book a weight loss of 27 kg within 5 months. Thorough chewing seems to be a very effective method to reduce and maintain a healthy body weight. But why is that?
If you thoroughly chew every bite, you automatically eat less. This has been shown in a study by Dr Stephen R. Bloom Amongst slow eaters, levels of the peptide hormones PYY and GLP-1 were found to be much higher as compared to the control group. The GLP-1 hormone controls insulin secretion, which, for slow eaters, leads to feeling full much more quickly.
Within the oral cavity, complex carbohydrates are split up into sugars by an enzyme called amylase; these sugars are then absorbed into the blood stream via the mucous membranes of the mouth. This process largely eliminates the craving for sweet foods. Furthermore, insulin secretion is at much lower levels when food is chewed slowly - insulin contributes to an increase in body fat, which is why it is often referred to as a masthormone.
"Gobblers" are able to extract only a very few trace elements, vitamins and minerals from their food. The result is a lack of nutrients, and thus they feel hungry again soon after eating. When food is chewed more thoroughly, feelings of constant hunger and cravings for sweets decrease significantly.
Now you know the benefits of thorough chewing, but how do you actually do it? How do you chew 10x, 20x, 50x, 200x or 2000x? And how do you habituate yourself to it?
You can begin this new routine right now. To start off, I recommend the simple practice of counting how often you chew every bite of food. In my opinion 100 times is the minimum, but 200 times is better. This will feel strange in the beginning, but you will get used to it quickly. Within just a few weeks, you won’t be able to imagine doing it any other way ever again! At that point you can drop the practice of counting, but it is important that you employ the technique when you first start off, as otherwise you will unconsciously fall back into old habits of swallowing too soon.
Don’t get distracted
Turn off your TV and smartphone. Focus only on the taste of your food, and fully enjoy the hidden nuances that your palate missed out on before.
Let your head hang
Let your head hang slightly forward, so that the action of gravity keeps food clear of your throat. Over time, a tongue reflex will develop that transports only liquefied food, keeping solid parts in the mouth until they are fully chewed.
Do not stuff too much food into your mouth, and turn the center of your body away from the plate after each bite. Also, put down your cutlery after each bite, which will encourage you to chew your food for a longer period of time.
Wait until you are hungry
Always wait for a “real” feeling of hunger before eating. Real hunger means that you are craving for food items other than just sweets. As soon as a slight feeling of being full sets in, stop eating.
Liquids need to be properly savoured also. To do this, use your tongue to swish them around in your mouth, like a connoisseur of fine wine. Particularly for sugary drinks, it is important that they are mixed with sufficient amounts of saliva. In the beginning, it will be difficult for you to properly savour soups and yogurts, so you should avoid these foods at first.
You will notice distinct signs of progress after 1-3 weeks, and your newly acquired chewing habits will become established more firmly.
In the beginning, you will find yourself unconsciously falling back into old habits of gobbling things down. Don’t give up at this point, but keep practicing thorough chewing over and over again.
Over time, the swallowing reflex will get accustomed to the new routine, and you will no longer swallow down big chunks of food. Every 1-2 weeks you should do a recount of how often you chew each bite, and readjust the number back up to 200, if necessary.
Keep in mind the benefits of this practice, and remember that they become noticeable only after continually keeping at it for some time.
A few external distractions should be fine now, but keep them to a minimum. Once the swallowing reflex is sufficiently developed, you can begin to do some reading or watching TV during your meal. Anything that can be done sitting down and without speaking should be fine.
Savour your food deeply. Just counting mechanically is not really a solution, it is much more transformative to explore and enjoy a new world of tastes and flavours!
There will always be situations in your life when you feel that you have no choice but to gobble down your food at speed. The following tips may prove helpful.
Restaurant portions are generally too big, and there often is a long waiting period between placing your order, and receiving your food. The solution is to take away your leftovers.
We recommend that you only order food that is easily transported. Pizza, rolls, vegetables, pasta etc. Soups are rather less suitable.
Parents, grandparents or relatives may not understand your very slow eating habits. Here is when you need to be persistent, or, if all else fails, eat later.
Since thorough chewing is old folk wisdom, it may help if you simply explain your reasons for doing this. You could also print out this article and present it as “evidence”.
Pushed for time
Today’s society seems to be subject to constant time pressures, which oftentimes only exist in peoples’ heads. If you think you have too little time for this practice, you are mistaken. A well-chewed meal will not take longer, and you will also be more efficient and need less sleep afterwards. The feeling of being full sets in after roughly the same amount of time. So in effect you chew longer, but you need less food.
Food is not to be wasted!
In the beginning, it is normal to misjudge your hunger and put more on your plate than you actually need. Few manage to send back or throw out the leftovers. Again, this is a mistake! If you really think about it, there is no difference between whether you throw it out, or whether you eat it despite being full already. In the former case, you at least safeguard your health, and develop a better intuition for how much food you actually need. Next time you will be able to arrive at a better estimate, and you will usually also be able to save some food for later consumption. No matter how expensive the meal was, do not keep eating when you are full! It is not worth the consequences.
Unfortunately, fast eating has become a bad habit of ours. To tackle this, keep count of how often you chew, and minimize any distractions.
Wrong food / sugary drinks
Drinks, too, must be thoroughly savoured, like a good wine. If you chew your food thoroughly, but just pour down sugary drinks (including natural juices), the benefits of this practice will be noticeably diminished.
Everything that contains sugar, salt or alcohol, should definitely be savoured! Water and tea are of lesser importance here.
Afraid of being hungry
"If I do not eat now, I'm definitely going to be hungry later." Since in the Western world we are flooded with food, we are no longer used to a feeling of genuine hunger. If you have been hiking all day in the mountains, or have fasted for 3-4 days, then you know the difference between real hunger and just pure lust for food. Therefore, do not fear the feeling of hunger, in all likelihood you are not going to starve. In any case, “eating ahead”, so that you won’t feel hungry later, does not make sense.
Boredom, procrastination and frustration
If there is nothing else to do, or if we are engaged in procrastination, we are only too happy to compensate for this with food or "snacking". That's exactly what you should avoid, because thorough chewing is also a good way to tackle procrastination ('cuffing'), as well as all kinds of listlessness. To escape this vicious cycle, don’t snack out of boredom or frustration, or at the very least chew your snacks thoroughly!
This section is only for people who want to maximise the positive health effects of this method – the below will not be sustainable for most! But do not worry. You will also reap benefits if you do not follow these tips, but simply stick to what has been said already.
Start off with fasting
If you want quick results, start off by fasting for 3 - 7 days before you take on the thorough chewing method. The great thing is that you won’t feel nauseous at your first meal after the fast, so long as you chew it thoroughly.
A major part of the health benefits is that you reduce your food intake, which puts less strain on your digestive system. This causes you to feel more energised. If you want to maximize this effect, experiment and find the minimum amount of food you actually need. With more thorough and slow chewing, you will need less and less food without starving yourself!
Limit your diet to herbs, vegetables, wholegrain bread, eggs and just a few fruits. Avoid processed or unclean foods and pay attention to high quality ingredients, particularly for wholemeal bread and cheese, etc. Fast foods, soft drinks and sweets are to be avoided.
Water / fluids are no exception
Whether soup, tea or water - even liquids should be well mixed with saliva and savoured like a good wine.
Horace Fletcher was an old man at the age of 40. He was plagued by white hair, severe digestive problems, regular bouts of influenca, a body weight of 217 pounds (98 kg) and constant fatigue.
When he was refused a life insurance policy because the medical doctor in charge determined that he was not going to live a long life, Horace Fletcher began to try all the available healing methods, and engaged deeply with the subject of nutrition. He soon found that opinions of doctors, experts and authors on this subject varied greatly, so Horace Fletcher came to the conclusion that there was simply no accepted consensus available.
Thus he began experimenting with his own dietary approaches, and with the method of thorough chewing in particular.
Within 5 months he lost 27 kg of body fat, his fitness and energy levels were greatly increased, he found better mental clarity, and was no longer plagued by constant fatigue.
In an endurance test at Yale University, at the age of 58, not only did he brake the record of 175 repetitions set by a group of exclusively young athletes, but he succeeded in doubling this record to 350 repetitions. The medical officer in charge, Prof Anderson, could hardly believe this astonishing result, particularly as Horace Fletcher finished this performance without any obvious signs of exhaustion.
I can only recommend his book 'Fletcherism' to everyone! The book is public domain, and available as a Kindle version from openlibrary.org.