Remember our parents or grandparents teaching us to have “good manners” at the table? It is likely they were teaching us those “good manners” in order to have civilized behavior. But, did you know that actually the way we eat is also important for our health? We may not be paying much attention to the way we eat, because most of the time we are on the run. Some people don’t even sit at the table because they eat in the car, in front of a computer, or on a couch while watching TV.
What has happened to our mealtimes? For many families in our culture, sitting at the table for a meal is only possible on special occasions. Each member of the family may have a different schedule of activities, and everyone ends up eating at a different time. Also, it is not rare to see that each member of the family gets something different to eat instead of a common meal for everyone.
The mission of the food industry is to make us think that cooking and eating at home is a waste of our time. The effect on our psyche is to think that food preparation and eating is not a priority in our lives, and that we need to get it over with as fast as we can. We could fall into grabbing something to eat instead of carefully selecting something to eat, and we may not pay much attention to what we are actually eating, and even less, to how we are eating. The food industry also wants us to believe that cooking is a very complex occult science, resulting in some people getting very anxious just thinking about the idea of cooking! Therefore, grocery stores are filled up with all types of processed foods, and we can find a fast food restaurant just around the next corner for our "convenience". The further effect of that fast food state of mind is that we also have the tendency to eat as fast as we can, in order to keep moving on to the next thing in our busy schedules. Very sadly, for some people, eating becomes just an act for refueling instead of an important part of their lives.
Eating involves the use of all of our senses. We can hear the sounds while food is been prepared and served, and we are attracted by the colors of food and the way food looks. We first smell the food, then we taste it, and we feel its texture in our mouths. When we pay attention to the way we eat, it allows us to detect and correct dysfunctional patterns that could result in dental misalignment, facial asymmetry and/or digestive problems. In particular, we recommend that parents observe their children while eating so that they can report their concerns to a health professional. Here are some recommendations for mindful eating for everyone:
- Eat a rainbow of whole foods - We all know that food is important to get all the essential nutrients that we need for growth, development, and optimal body function. The best way to ensure this is by including a wide variety of colorful vegetables and fruits every day in every meal.
- In addition to food content, texture is also very important - The variation of food textures help to stimulate chewing and enjoying food more. We mostly eat cooked food items that are already too soft, and therefore will not need much chewing. Chewing is important to stimulate the growth of jawbones and a better jaw function. The best way to get adequate food texture is to consume at least 50% of vegetables in their raw state or just slightly cooked. Another good option is to consume seeds and nuts. For infants, as soon as they have some teeth in the mouth, we should gradually introduce solid foods with different textures to stimulate chewing.
- Sit down at the table to eat - To really enjoy our food and to make sure that we will pay attention to the way we eat, it is best to be seated at a table with no other distractions.
- Eat a bite size amount of food that fits on the tongue - If we put too much food in the mouth when eating, it makes chewing very difficult, and provokes us to swallow prematurely and incorrectly.
- Close your mouth while chewing - Chronic mouth breathers will have difficulties keeping the mouth closed when eating. It is important to address mouth breathing to correct this issue.
- Chew until food is well dissolved - Food will be much easier to swallow when it is completely chewed. Chewing stimulates salivation, and the digestive enzymes present in the saliva are released to start digestion. After food is swallowed, there is no other way to completely break down the food fragments. Swallowing these larger fragments of food interferes with digestion. Thorough chewing of the food is extremely important for healthy digestion and proper absorption of nutrients.
- Swallow with the tongue on the correct resting position and the back teeth closed - The force that the tongue exerts is much greater than that needed to move the teeth. If we continuously move the tongue against the teeth every time we swallow, we will eventually alter the normal position of the teeth, particularly during the developmental and active eruption stages. The correct resting position of the tip of the tongue is on a spot of the roof of the mouth immediately behind the upper anterior teeth, without touching the teeth. When there is a dysfunctional swallowing pattern, it could be corrected with adequate learning and practice. However, sometimes, existing orthodontic problems like severe narrow dental arches and deep overbites, among others, interfere with the correct function of the tongue. It is recommended to address these problems first.