My favorite mindful eating exercise is One Bite at a Time. Why do I like it? It helps me slow down, take one bite, close my eyes and carefully investigate what is happening in my mouth.
This week I’m taking a deeper dive into the investigation of two aspects of what we call Mouth Hunger, chewing and swallowing. This morning I noticed that my mouth reacted differently to strawberries and blueberries. My tongue was surprised and delighted by the burst of sweet flavor at the first bite of the strawberry. As I continued chewing, the intensity of the flavor faded. There was a subtle urge to “get rid of it” by swallowing and put another berry quickly in.
I resisted that urge in order to investigate swallowing. I was asking the question, “What parts of my mouth and throat make the decision to swallow and what are their criteria for going ahead with a swallow?” As I kept chewing, the urge to swallow increased. I noticed that some of the liquid in the bite —and maybe even some of the smaller particles — seemed to slip down my throat without my actively swallowing. How does that happen without choking?
When I put a few blueberries in my mouth and took a first chew, I noticed that the flavor of the blueberries was not as intense or sweet as the strawberries. There seemed to be more “urgency” in the mouth to hurry up, chew and swallow them. I resisted this in order to investigate further. I noticed that what was left after a few chews was the skins of the blueberries, which the teeth were not able to further break up. The mouth seemed to grow tired of trying to process the blueberry skins and swallowed them almost whole.
A bite of raw pineapple was very sweet and strong. But as the teeth chewed, the flavorful parts disappeared and the teeth and tongue were left with a bunch of tasteless fibers that resisted being broken down. Again, I noticed the same impatience to swallow, get rid of them, and take some more sweetness and strong flavor into the mouth. And the pineapple was so sweet that when I took another strawberry, it tasted surprisingly sour!
I also noticed that after I swallowed everything, my tongue cleaned up all the little leftover bits, like seeds, and instead of swallowing them, brought them up for the front teeth to bite a few times. I can’t figure out yet why it treats those bits differently than the large bites.
My mouth is like an ever-present laboratory where I can make new discoveries with every meal . . . if I take the time to eat in silence, slow down, shift from thinking to focusing my attention on everything that is happening, in detail and with curiosity.
I invite you to join in the fun of this Mouth Hunger investigation, in your own mouth. Here are the questions I’m investigating.
What triggers the urge to swallow? Change in taste? Texture? Boredom? Distractions? Impatience?
Who in my mouth decides when to swallow? My tongue? My throat? My teeth? What are the criteria they use?
What happens if I resist the urge to swallow and keep on chewing?
Are there times when I don’t chew well and swallow food almost whole? What’s going on then?
Jan Chozen Bays, USA