Chew, chew, chew…

Are you comfortable when you eat? By comfortable, we mean free of any pain or discomfort.

Most people will need to alter how they eat to eat all foods comfortably after surgery. Most of us eat too quickly, take big bites, don’t chew enough – the list goes on. If you continue to eat this way, you may have trouble tolerating a full range of foods. This is even more so for those with a gastric band. (If you have a gastric band there is an extra note for you at the end of this article.)

Regardless of your surgery type, there are some foods that many people have trouble eating. However, some people may avoid foods that they could eat comfortably if they worked on their eating technique. (We know, even the words ‘eating technique’ sound REALLY boring, but trust us, it really is important.)

Do you need to work on your eating technique?

Consider the following questions:

  • How long does it take you to eat a meal? Rather than estimate, actually time it.
  • Make sure it is a main meal, consisting of some solid food.
  • What size pieces do you cut your food into when you are eating? Fingernail size, top of your thumb size, larger?
  • Do you chew your food until it is a puree in your mouth or do you swallow 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.

Homework: Test Your Chewing

Choose a food that you have had some difficulty eating. Try using Helen’s technique when chewing it. Did it feel different eating it with Helen’s eating technique?

Using Helen’s eating technique is a good exercise to help you learn to chew properly which may help you increase the variety of foods you are able to tolerate.

As we said, 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.

A note for those with a gastric band

Unfortunately we hear a lot of negative talk around gastric bands – they really get a bad wrap! Unfortunately there are a lot of people who have not had good guidance with their gastric bands and believe poor food tolerance, or regular regurgitation is normal. It is not normal and is either the result of:

  • poor eating technique
  • the gastric band being too tight
  • a possible complication.

A tight gastric band or assessment of a potential complication needs to addressed by your surgeon, bariatric GP or bariatric physician. If you are have trouble communicating your needs with your surgeon or would like a second opinion, there are many surgeons available and you can see a list of these on the OSSANZ website. Look for a surgeon with a multidisciplinary team that can guide you in all areas of living with weight loss surgery.

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

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