Chew, chew, chew…

Are you comfortable when you eat? Or do you often experience some discomfort, or even pain, when swallowing?

Are there are foods that you avoid because you have poorly tolerated them in the past?

It could be that when you tried this food you were eating too quickly, taking big bites, or not chewing enough. These are habits that many of us have and can get away with, but the negative impact of these habits becomes amplified following weight loss surgery.

After surgery, our eating technique plays a major role in the range of foods we are able to tolerate.

Have you ever reflected on your eating technique?

Take time to consider how long does it take you to eat a meal? Rather than estimating, actually time it and see. Make sure it is a main meal, consisting of some solid food, not soft or sloppy food.

When eating that meal, what size pieces are you cutting your food into? Fingernail size, top of your thumb size, larger?

How much do you you chew your food? Are you chewing until it is a puree in your mouth, or are you swallowing it with lumps?

Do you need to wash down food with a drink as you are eating?

This will give you some insight into your eating technique. Let’s look at how we can improve it.

Key Ingredients for a Good Eating Technique

Ingredient 1: Eat Slowly

Clients often tell us one of their biggest challenges after weight loss surgery is eating slowly. Eating too quickly means that you are unlikely to chew foods properly. This can cause discomfort, pain and in some cases, regurgitation. To be able to eat a variety of foods comfortably after weight loss surgery, you really need to concentrate while you are eating. The following tips may help you do this:

  • Set aside time for meals and avoid doing other things when eating.
  • Sit up straight and avoid slouching. Sit at the table rather than the couch.
  • Avoid eating whilst preparing food.
  • Move away from the television or computer. You cannot focus on what you are eating if you are immersed in something else.
  • Avoid playing with your mobile phone or other electronic devices.
  • Try not to get really hungry. The hungrier you are when you start a meal, the more likely you are to eat quickly, take big bites and not chew properly.
  • Avoid eating with your hands as you will tend to take bigger bites. Use cutlery to cut food into small pieces. The more pieces you need to cut, the longer it will take to eat.
  • Avoid eating on the run, or in the car.
  • Put your cutlery down between mouthfuls. Wait until you have swallowed your food before cutting the next piece. Avoid having that next mouthful loaded on your fork ready to go.
  • If you really struggle to slow down, use your cutlery in the opposite hand until the pace of eating feels more natural.
  • Choose a relaxing environment to eat. If the staff room at work is too distracting, head outside to a nearby park. Opt for a quiet café rather than a noisy food court, where you may be tempted to rush.
  • Be especially careful when eating socially, as during conversation it is very easy to become distracted. Eat during a break in conversation.
  • Avoid the tendency to want to keep pace when eating with others.

Get in the habit of eating slowly. It could take up to 20 minutes to eat a small meal – between 10 and 20 minutes is a good goal. If there is food left on your plate after this time, discard it. If you continue eating for much longer than this it can turn a meal into grazing, which defeats the purpose of weight loss surgery.

Ingredient 2: Chew Properly

When food is not chewed properly before swallowing it may cause discomfort and/or blockages.

  1. Helen Bauzon, a consultant bariatric dietitian describes a method of chewing that has helped her patients improve their chewing technique. It includes the following steps:
  2. Don’t push food straight to the side of your mouth to begin chewing as soon as it enters your mouth. Place the food on your tongue and move it around to experience the textures and flavours.
  3. When saliva starts to flow and lubricate the food, move it to the side of your mouth and begin chewing.
  4. Bring the food back to your tongue and experience the change in taste and texture.

Helen has found this technique extremely successful in helping her patients tolerate a variety of foods. If you are unable to chew food to a smooth texture in the mouth, avoid eating it. For example, avoid tough, chewy or doughy food.

Always keep an open mind about trying new foods. Just because one person has difficulty eating a particular food after weight loss surgery does not mean you will. Also, having difficulty eating a food once does not mean you will always have difficulty eating that food. Sometimes you may have tried it at the wrong stage of your journey. Or you may just need to try a different variety of that food, or prepare it in a slightly different way. Or you may need to eat it more carefully, or slowly. 

If you implement the key ingredients of eating slowly chewing well slowly, you will improve the chances of enjoying a varied, interesting and more satisfying range of foods.

If you have food and nutrition related questions, we are just a keystroke away. If you need answers to your questions outside of the 9-5 workday, we can help. Find out more here.