As important as quality food is to proper nourishment, the way we eat it may deserve equal consideration

            As important as quality food is to proper nourishment, the way we eat it may deserve equal consideration.  The where, how, and when of eating can determine whether or not food consumed is actually assimilated in such as way as to produce health.

            One of the secrets of nutritional health is eating slowly and chewing thoroughly.  Horace Fletcher actually became famous when he made a big thing of the important of chewing.  Fletcher lived around the turn of the century, was a physical wreck, and he was more than 50 pounds overweight.  He had about given up on himself and life but, being a college professor, I guess he was a thinker.

            He wondered if the way he was eating (hurriedly) had anything to do with the sicknesses he was experiencing.  He set up a discipline for himself, which consisted of:  1. Never eat until hungry.   2. Never eat when tired, disturbed or angry. 3. While eating, keep unpleasant thoughts out of his mind.  4. Chew food to a pulp or to a near liquid state so that it readily goes down the gullet.

            Fletcher’s eating program worked so well that he not only overcame his own health problems and obesity but the attracted quite a following.  His ideas became known as “Fletcherism” and influenced the thinking of many early leaders in the field of nutrition.  Fletcher became a weightlifter and somewhat of a he-man but chewing is what made him famous.

            Horace Fletcher’s tenants of eating would probably go far in solving, or preventing many of our most serious modern day health challenges.

            When is the last time you were truly hungry?  We are more likely to eat because it is “time” to eat or because it’s the social thing to do.  We may eat because something looks tasty or even because we are bored.

            It seems our favorite pastime is eating.  Eating without first experiencing real hungry puts food into a stomach that is not prepared for digestion.  When the stomach is empty and actual hunger is experienced, digestive juices flow freely and food is broken down in a way that provides nourishment.  Before you eat, put your awareness into your body.  Is your stomach rumbling with hunger or is it just your head that says you want to eat?

Eating when tired, disturbed or angry causes poor digestion because the stomach tends to be “tied up in knots”.  Digestive fluids don’t flow well under such conditions and foods can act as toxins rather than nourishment. 

Unfortunately, we Americans are too often conditioned that food can solve any problem.  When the child cries, we figure a cookie quiets the tears.  When the doctor gives him/her a shot, a sucker dulls the pain.  The teen or adult who is lonely can fill the hours with chocolates; and a true way for a mother to show love for her kids is with Jell-O pudding or a Hostess Twinkie.  We need to become conscious of the messages sent by these behaviors.  Food, especially unhealthy food becomes the comforter that soothes our pain.  Like Edith Bunker in All in the Family, when in distress, let’s eat!  How often do we forget that the primary purpose of food is to nourish the body? 

Food is often used for everything except nourishment.  How many events take place without food?  If you want to attract a crowd, you provide food, whether it is a church or school function or even a political gathering.  I have heard churches justify constant eating with the last supper; Jesus ate with groups of people.  I seriously doubt that he provided a table full of desserts and unhealthy substitutes for food.   A friend once told me the reason churches eat at most every gathering is that they consider drinking, smoking, etc a sin but gluttony is seldom mentioned.  In fact, it is encouraged.

It may well be that one of the best ways to improve digestion is to turn off the television while eating.  Can you imagine what the digestive juices must be doing when a diner is watching an emotionally charged program or the evening news?  Not only is s/he likely to forget to chew properly and eat slowly, but the disturbing thoughts created inhibit the flow of digestive enzymes.  If we are going to watch TV perhaps a comedy would be a better choice.  Laughter is good medicine.

In our fast-paced life we tend to eat on the run and gobble our food.  By taking time to eat and chew properly, we combine food with saliva in the mouth making it ready for those acids and enzymes in the stomach.  If time is really limited, the best plan is to eat less but eat it slowly rather than wolfing down large quantities of food that only cause digestive disturbances. 

As one grandmother put it, “Chew, you don’t have teeth in your stomach!”


(Janice Norris lives in Heber Springs, has a B.S. in home economics from Murray State University, owned and operated health food stores in Illinois and Heber Springs, and wrote a weekly column in Illinois for 15 years. She can be reached at