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The Psychobiology of Chewing

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A video and article: Psychobiology of Chewing

In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to find ourselves rushing through meals. In fact, we can be in such a hurry that we don’t even think to fully chew our food. And when we eat so quickly that we’re swallowing each bite without really chewing, we miss out on more than just the enjoyment of the flavors and textures of our meal. Chewing serves important biological and food psychology functions, and when we skip this necessary step, we can limit the nutritional value of our meal and create unwanted eating habits. Join Emily Rosen, Director of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, as she breaks down the fascinating and complex evolutionary purpose behind our need to “crunch” in this new video from IPEtv. We guarantee it’ll give you something to chew on.

Here is a transcript of this week’s video:

Have you ever wondered why crunchy foods are so popular, why advertisers promote products on the basis of crunchiness – “super crunchy,” “extra crunchy,” “stays crunchy even in milk”? What advertisers understand is that crunching and chewing are primal urges dating back to the first life-forms that ever “crunched” each other.

The Perfect Crunch!?

Many years ago, potato-chip companies developed a sophisticated apparatus to measure the perceived level of crunch that consumers hear in their heads. The most pleasurable decibel levels were identified, and potato chips have been manufactured ever since to produce the “perfect” crunch that would keep you reaching for the next chip, and the next.

From a psychophysiologic perspective, chewing and crunching are natural outlets for inborn aggression. In many body-oriented psychologies, the jaw is associated with anger and aggression. When these emotions are withheld, they may become “frozen” on the face as a clenched jaw or permanent scowl. From an evolutionary perspective, the process of biting and chewing allows for the release of what psychologists call dental aggressive urges.

Like Your Parents Said, “Chew Your Food!”

Today, however, many people habitually fail to chew, swallowing their food almost whole.
They tend to derive pleasure not so much from the taste and texture of the food as from the velocity at which it’s eaten. When we skip chewing, we deny an important natural outlet for tension. In an effort to free the unreleased tension, we may continue to eat past the point of satiation, turn to other oral based habits like gum chewing, or simply internalize the tension, allowing it to build until it explodes in emotional or biological symptoms.

Chewing and tasting are also basic to biological hunger satisfaction. When we skip over them, the brain screams for more food. Taste, texture, and satisfaction are literal nutritional requirements. Ironically, a side effect of the short-cut method of not chewing is more hunger, at our meals and in our lives.

Chewing is Key!

Chewing is a key nutritional act that deserves respect. It’s the first step in the digestive process. It’s where the chemical digestion of starches is initiated with amylase, an enzyme that breaks down the complex carbohydrate molecules in a well-salivated mouth. The mechanical digestion of food is also initiated in the mouth with the process of chewing. The surface area increases as the food is broken down into smaller and smaller pieces. When the food reaches the stomach, the number of molecules exposed to the stomach’s acids and enzymes is maximized.

But if we swallow something whole, an abnormal series of events occurs. First the stomach must churn the large piece of food with its own muscular movements to help break it down into smaller pieces. Next, because we started with one large bite, only the surface is exposed to the stomach’s digestive juices. In an attempt to digest the food, the stomach may produce more acid than normal. This irritates the stomach lining, which is the reason many fast eaters experience acid indigestion.

Mind Body Nutrition teaches us that chewing is a “pacesetter.” Whatever speed and number of times we chew sets in motion a rhythm that our entire body adopts. By chewing rapidly and insufficiently, we initiate an unsettled frame of mind that is reflected in the body as uncomfortable sensations in the digestive system. Chewing at a moderate to slow rate promotes a relaxed, grounded demeanor and for many, a noticeably stronger metabolism.

Chewing food fully does not need to be a tedious discipline, but can occur spontaneously simply by eating with relaxed awareness, and settling into an attitude of nourishment with our meals. Rather than concentrating on how many times you chew your food, focus instead on the pleasure you are receiving from each bite. Savor your food, delight in it, and let chewing be a natural part of the eating process.

I hope this was helpful.

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A video and article: Psychobiology of Chewing

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