How to Eat Food

"When you know you have eaten enough, stop and then just watch the mind go crazy. That’s probably the most important thing to know about eating.  It’s just being a passive observer of the mind acting out. In time the mind will cooperate.” -SH

About Eating Food

These ideas are a result of curiosity, speculation, clinical work, Feldenkrais thinking, and experience (including suffering – learning the hard way). You may see things here you have never seen before, and probably you’ll find at least one really useful idea.

Eat Reversibly. Good movement, as Moshe Feldenkrais often said, is “reversible”.  That means at any moment we can reverse what we are doing, at once and with no fuss. All good martial artists have this quality of movement as they perform. It is quality we need to cultivate in order to meet every situation in life with suppleness and skill; to stop, reverse direction, when appropriate, is an act of wisdom if going ahead would be foolish.

  • How to apply the idea of “reversibility” to eating?  We only need to see what a baby does. He will spit out food. He will play with food with his tongue, never swallowing, as if the food was a piece of cardboard. The baby has not 100% committed to swallow each bit of food just because the food is in his or her mouth. There is a playful aspect in this. In Feldenkrais workshops on eating, we actually practice doing this “strange” but very primal and wise, “thing”. It means taking a moment, becoming indifferent to what is in your mouth, and being equally willing to spit it out, or swallow it. This can be done with each mouthful, or with just a few mouthfuls each meal.  I have found this actually will strengthen my will power, or self-control, when it comes to “eating enough, but not too much”. I have found that doing this gives an instant and powerful boost to my will power, to be able stop eating when I have had enough.

Reduce pain and quell inflammation by cutting back on foods that “burn” and that means starches, bread, sugar, cereal grains, etc. Go more with greens in any way you can get them. Use non-starchy vegetables as in Bhieler Broth  (Google this) for soup and snacks. The four main non-starch vegetables that should be our staples are greens, celery, string beans, and light squash (like zucchini). These will not feed inflammation.

A special trick about chewing food: It is obvious that as we chew, it is like clenching the teeth. We clench, release, then clench, release, over and over as we chew. The problem here is that the clenching is deliberate and strong, and the release is passive and pretty much unconscious and also a very small movement; it just happens. I would guess that the opening of the teeth after each bite would become progressively smaller as a person ages, but I have not studied this point.  The opening of the teeth is a passive recoil to the clenching.

But actually, there are muscles that can and should be recruited to perform that “teeth opening” movement after each bite. Of course, it is the same muscles that we use to open our mouth wide deliberately. But we don’t use them that much! Therefore, one might expect, over many decades, that the “clenching muscles” would become over-overwhelmingly strong, compared to the “release muscles”. That could mean bruxism at night – unconscious teeth clenching. While treating other causes of bruxism (including stress, cranial issues, anxiety, shock and trauma, toxic body tissues, parasites, etc.) we might do well for ourselves to consider at least beginning to moderate this huge muscular imbalance between the “chewing down or clenching” muscles as opposed to the “release and relax muscles” as the teeth come apart.

How to do this? Keeping lips sealed, as if glued together, after each bite down, then  open mouth fairly wide, keeping the lips sealed. You do not have to make a huge movement, just a little more than usual. It should feel really pleasant and healing even.  This may feel like a gentle stretch for the lips, which is a good thing. So as you chew, you deliberately open the mouth a little wider than usual, after each bite with teeth coming together. Cows chew their cud like this, there is an obvious “wide-opening” action after each bite down, but the lips remain sealed. I remember my grandfather, who died at age 96 in about 1975. He chewed exactly like this, every time you saw him eating. And I remember thinking ‘he chews his food just like cows chew their food”. It makes me wonder if most of our ancestors were also doing like this, and why this good habit has been lost in this modern culture. But perhaps it was only my grandfather; he was very strong-minded, and once he decided a thing was right, he would not swerve from that course.  


Chewing keeps the teeth and jawbones healthy, and that is because all bones mineralize and strengthen only when given the incentive of applied force or pressure. We   need to eat more food that makes us chew harder, like carrots and cabbage and salads of all kinds. On the release of pressure on a bone, there is a measurable electric current that drives the healing and strengthening of the bone. This has been measured. Astronauts out of gravity will lose lots of bone mass unless they systematically exercise.

One problem with green smoothies and liquid diets, including the standard processed/cooked food of most ethnic diets, is that we don’t chew very much nor very strongly and this degrades not only the health or bone quality of our oral cavity and mandible, but the skull as well.

Chewing with firmly applied pressure (even soft cooked food can be deliberately chewed with a little pressure, also may help keep the skull from progressively elongating as we age, due to the weight of the mandible and too much mouth-open for no reason. The word “Chewing” means the mandible and lower teeth are lifting up, pressing on the bottom of the skull (upper teeth). Pressure or force, when applied continuously for a long time (as in wearing braces) can shape or re-shape bones – just ask any Orthodontist. Braces use very little force. So certainly chewing will have a large effect, over time, and it is obviously something Nature intended that we do.


About Swallowing. It can be done correctly or incorrectly. If we had breast-fed long enough, our tongue would all-the-time rest on the roof of the mouth, and our tongue would describe a movement, as we swallow, identical to saying the word “butterfly”.  The tip of the tongue stays up, not down (as is commonly seen) and the back of the tongue goes up and back to push the food down (not the middle of the tongue as is commonly seen). Pressure on the roof of the mouth helps to make eating a satisfying experience, as well; there are many endorphin-producing nerve endings there. We eat less and are more nourished when we chew with the proper tongue movement. Even thinking about the roof of the mouth, as I eat, will encourage me to keep “connected” with that area as I eat.


Breathe through the nose as you chew and eat; otherwise we gulp air down the food pipe as we swallow. This gives us burps and gas and abdominal bloating. We should not gulp air with our food, as is commonly done. It is a major cause of burping! Instead, try to be mindful of breathing through the nose as you chew and swallow, except of course at the exact moment of swallow when the air passage is closed. If you have trouble with belching and burping, before getting any expensive medical testing, first try eating while breathing through the nose!


The lips should be independent of the swallow. Many of us were commanded, as children, to keep our lips sealed while eating. That is because we did not breast feed much, we had a forward and down tongue thrust while swallowing, and food spills out. Mommy or daddy sees this, and gives us the quick fix, as in keep your lips closed as you eat. Tight lips while eating can be part of that problematic incorrect swallow pattern. Babies breast-feeding have their mouths open fairly wide even as they suck and swallow. Can you open your mouth wide, and swallow? Any baby can do it. Can you do it 10 times in a row, in quick succession? If not, like many of us, you’d benefit from myo-functional therapy. Just Google this, and your city, and find a practitioner.


Eating on the floor or cross-legged on a chair will give many benefits. You digest food better, since there is more blood available (not so much pooling in the legs as in chair sitting). You will feel full, or well nourished sooner sitting on the floor, than in a chair. I have noticed this, but don’t quite know the reason. Probably it has to do with better blood supply and nourishment to the appetite center in the brain. You will be able to concentrate on eating your food more mindfully, than chair sitting. That’s because chairs are unnatural, balance is unstable, the low brain is always working to keep us erect in a chair, and chairs are “forward oriented” meaning you see, think and get up and walk away, in forward direction. Floor sitting is not that way; the movement and awareness is more global. Appreciation of food, and the act of eating, is influenced by this consideration.


Grains are the basis of all eating disorders. Grain products increase inflammation and pain. It is the first thing to cut from your diet when you are injured and healing, and dealing with pain.  Ancient and tribal cultures are often seed based, not corn or grain based, as people used to think (new research has confirmed this). Wheat is the first grain to eliminate, including the other gluten containing grains: rye, oats and barley.


Chew slowly and deliberately. Be the last person to finish your meal at your table. Chew slowly, not “many times”; you cannot do both, it would take two hours to eat one meal if you chewed slowly many times. You have to choose one or the other. Chew your liquids.


When you know you have eaten enough, stop and then just watch the mind go crazy. That’s probably the most important thing to know about eating.  It’s just being a passive observer of the mind acting out. In time the mind will cooperate. Tom Brown, of once said in a workshop I attended, “Folks, I am thinking of writing a 1000 page cookbook.” Everyone was all excited, asking him for details – Tom would know many good Native American recipes and herbal secrets. Tom then said: “Each page would have just two sentences, the same thing on all 1000 pages: “Eat according to your true cravings. Then before you eat again, burn it off.”  I think Tom had seen many of us at his workshop eating too much food and being too sedentary. 

© Copyright 2015 Steve Hamlin