By Marianne Green, RD, Functional Nutritionist

Eating Hygiene. Have you heard this term? Most people think of the definition in terms of the conditions and measures to ensure the safety of food from production to consumption. Here at FMI, the term eating hygiene is used in terms of  “the method of how you eat”.

Do you eat on the go and shovel food down your throat? Do you eat dinner quickly and can hardly breath between bites? Do you eat while watching TV and forget you’re even eating? Eating hygiene is one of my favorite topics to explore with clients, and you’ll find out why at the end! Patients love hearing nutrition education, but they always gain so much insight into their digestion when we discuss their eating hygiene.

I’m a Registered Dietitian at FMI and during appointments I help my patients discover things that may be inhibiting their digestion. This topic is for everybody: children, teenagers, athletes, older adults, etc.

Digestion begins in the mouth with an enzyme called salivary amylase. The enzyme is embedded in our saliva and when food enters the mouth it signals the release of amylase. To aid in optimal digestion, it is important to chew food 20-30X. Typically, people chew 6X before swallowing their food. If food isn’t fully broken down in the chewing process, the other parts of our digestive tract have to work harder.

By not completely chewing our food, we are missing the first enzyme intended to break down food. This causes large, undigested food to enter the lower GI tract and can cause bloating, flatulence, and distention. 

It takes about 20 minutes for your gut to signal to your brain that you’re full and reduce your sense of hunger. Set a timer next time you sit down for a meal, you might be surprised by how short of time you eat. An easy tip I give to clients and I practice myself is putting my fork/spoon down in between bites. Your body needs oxygen to function and believe it or not oxygen is needed to properly digest food, so taking time to breath in between bites is a great idea!

“Finish your plate” is a saying many of us heard growing up. I would love to see people change their mindset and see this concept replaced with “eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full”. Your body has a voice and it tells you what it needs, you just need to slow down and be quiet enough to hear it. We live jam packed and stressful lives, and often lose track of our hunger and fullness cues.. Let’s SLOW down and prioritize eating by cooking our food and sitting around a table to enjoy it. 

This is my favorite topic because… it’s free! It doesn’t cost anything to chew your food longer, put your utensil down, or breath between bites. It’s completely free. When we take care of our gut we take care of all parts of our body because our gut is connected to brain health, organ health, hormone health, tissue health, energy levels, skin, etc.