Eating, only eating, and nothing but the eating

Recently, there was a discussion in the office about which TV news channel would be aired in the cafeteria. Multiple people chimed in about different channels, some even said that they wouldn’t mind not having the TV on so that people could talk to colleagues. The TV-on brigade won out, so we now get to watch politicians and their rhetoric, which does wonders for my blood pressure.

This got me thinking, however, about how eating is now a multi-task activity. People watch TV, talk, read, or watch stuff on the phone, read something, etc. when they are eating. You hardly ever see someone doing nothing else but eating. I get that eating is a social activity and it is nice to eat with friends and family and I think that this is one thing that is okay to do because you can’t talk with your mouth full; not most people anyway.

But, the next time you’re eating alone, just watch what you do when you are eating.I’ll bet you do something other than eating most of the time. I do this pretty much all the time when I eat alone. The problem with eating and doing something else is that the ‘something else’ takes you away from the act of eating. This really is a shame because eating is one of life’s great pleasures, something that we do at least once a day, and that a lot of us do thrice a day.

When I was a child, I remember people telling me that Gandhiji used to say that we should chew our food 32 times or some number like that. I remember trying it and finding that it was difficult and giving up and then forgetting about it. I recently read something about chewing your food properly and started concentrating on chewing my food and realized that for solid food, you end up chewing anywhere between 20 to 30 times (or more) if you  chew your food to a pulp like you’re supposed to.The thing is that chewing your food like this actually makes the food taste better. This is best illustrated with something that’s not cooked, like a vegetable (cucumber, carrot, tomato), or a fruit (orange or sweet lime, grapes, watermelon, pretty much every fruit).

Since it’s orange season, let’s talk about this wonderful fruit. Take an orange, peel off the skin, take a wedge out, take out the white “hairs”, optionally take the seed out, and pop the wedge in your mouth. Close your eyes and concentrate on the chewing. The first time the juice squirts into your mouth and hits your tongue and the insides of both cheeks, you get that mixture of tartness and sweetness and an explosion of freshness that is delightful. [1] This continues but diminishes, as per law of diminishing marginal returns [2], as you chew the wedge into a pulp.

Don’t take my word for this; try it with any fruit or vegetable and you’ll really appreciate the different tastes and textures that you can sense in your mouth as you chew. And, the food tastes appreciably better. After you’ve done this with uncooked food, try it with cooked food. You’ll notice a similar effect.There’s nothing earth shattering or new in what I’m suggesting. It’s what we are supposed to do when we eat because it aids digestion–our salivary glands kick off the whole digestion extravaganza. You might have also heard about eating like this in articles on mindfulness or mindful eating.

We can eat mindlessly or mindfully but I think most of us do a lot more of the former than the latter. I also think that it’s not necessary to be alone to eat mindfully; we can do it even if we are not alone because it’ll also help us listen more than we talk, which is not necessarily a bad thing. You don’t even have to try this for a full meal; try it when you’re eating part of your meal or a small snack and see how different the experience of eating is, how much better food tastes.

There are many benefits to eating in this way; you’ll probably eat less because you’ll eat slower, you’ll enjoy your food more because it will taste better, you’ll calm down because if you concentrate on chewing and tasting your food, your mind will stop behaving like a crazy monkey [3].

So, just try it and if you don’t like it, you can always go back to eating mindlessly.

This blog post was written without eating and in a mostly mindful fashion. The result is that I’m hungry. So, if you’ll excuse me, I can hear an orange whispering my name softly.

[1]: My mouth is watering as I write this.

[2]: Gratuitous economics mention in this age of demonetisation.

[3]: To be fair, this might just be me.