The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, March 9, 2003
Lead Article

Chew your anger and anxiety away
Amar Chandel

STRESS is one of the unavoidable consequences of todayís busy life. In the fast-paced, pressure-cooker situations that confront us almost daily, anger and anxiety become our constant companions, so much so that some even stop noticing that these are wrecking their lives. They feel that it is perfectly natural and normal for them to sulk or blow their top every day. Then there are others who acknowledge that these are having a ruinous effect on them, but do not know how to get rid of them.

Perhaps you are already trying out meditation, counselling or mood-elevating medicines. To derive full benefits from any of these remedies, it is necessary to carry out a simple lifestyle change, which enhances their efficacy manifold and helps you win your battle against stress hands down. Yet, it is ignored by almost everybody, not because it is very difficult, but because it happens to be so easy that very few fully appreciate its significance or realise that it can revolutionise their life.

Believe it or not, but it works like a charm. All that you have to do is to give it a fair trial for 21 days. That is the minimum period required for the positive results to start flowing. Since the benefits are guaranteed to be beyond your expectations, chances are that you will become a convert for life after that.

Let me emphasise yet again that you should not be misled by the simplicity of this technique. Just follow it religiously and see the magic unfold. There are two other reasons to give it a try. One, it costs nothing and, two, it provides many other benefits.


Set aside half an hour for each of your meals. This period must not be encroached upon unless the "pressing task" that you have at hand happens to be a matter of life and death. Decide first hand how small you can make each of your morsels. Once you have put that chunk in the mouth, make sure that you donít swallow it till you have chewed it 32 times. (Yes, this is exactly what you were taught in the kindergarten, but you soon became such a busy person that you never bothered to practice it. But if you are really determined to change your outlook towards life, just give it a re-trial for three weeks.)

Whether you keep count by mentally saying one to 32 or by chanting a mantra of suitable duration is entirely your choice. Just ensure that the food is masticated so thoroughly that it turns into a liquid.

This will seem to be quite an ordeal when you start. Things will become a lot easier after a week or so. At times you will forget all about chewing and swallow the food quickly, as you used to do earlier, but donít feel disheartened; every good habit takes time and sincere efforts to stabilise.

In just three short weeks you will find to your surprise that your anger and anxiety are giving way to peace and tranquillity. It will no longer be a question of persuading yourself not to give in to the earlier destructive traits. These will just not arise from within as often as they used to.

The extent of stress reduction will depend on the intensity of your initial problem. Someone who was prone to extreme temper tantrums to begin with would not become as level headed as another person who started off as fairly even-tempered. After all, there are many other factors at play. But the results will be dramatic in each and every case.

Please also continue your meditation or whatever other technique that you are currently employing. Just supplement it with this simple food habit and you will be pleasantly surprised to find that your efforts are yielding far better results.

I, for one, am not concerned about the intricacies of "how" this happens. After all, I donít go to a laboratory to find out which "chemical reaction" helps me get rid of my lethargy when I splash water on my face. So why should I bother how chewing controls my temper as long as I can see the results? But I know some readers are not going to be convinced about the merit of this simple technique till they analyse the reasons behind it. I request them to refresh their knowledge about the basic human digestive system. That will make the linkage between the proper chewing of food and the feeling of well-being crystal clear.

We donít eat food only to tickle our taste buds, but also to get nutrients for running our body, making it grow and repair the inevitable wear and tear. The food that we eat contains these nutrients, but these have to be extracted by the digestive system through a complex biochemical process. Unless it is properly digested, the food that you eat is no good for you. For instance, milk may be excellent for your health, but if it is given to you through an injection, it can kill you.

All food must be suitably broken down before it can be absorbed into the blood stream. Contrary to popular belief, digestion does not start in the stomach but in the mouth itself. The elaborate process is carried out by the amazing system that the human body is by mixing nearly eight litres of various chemicals and enzymes in your food. These include two daily litres of saliva, three litres of gastric juice - mainly hydrochloric acid - secreted by some 35 million glands in the lining of the stomach (which destroys bacteria in the food, clots milk and splits protein), bile from the liver (which breaks big globules of fat into minuscule ones that can be processed by pancreatic enzymes) and more than two litres of intestinal juices from innumerable glands.

Enzymes in the saliva, including ptyalin, or amylase, which converts cooked starches into sugars, and lipase, which digests fats, cannot be produced anywhere else. So if you swallow your food without proper chewing, it will remain undigested, come what may. The result? You will be deprived of essential nutrients even if you are over-eating. It is this deficiency which makes you feel melancholic and despondent.

Ironically, wrongly eaten food first causes stress and then this stress further hampers the digestive process. Thus a vicious cycle starts with one problem aggravating the other. How our stomach and intestines behave is beyond our control. But we can certainly control what happens in our mouth.

The old adage, "Drink your food and eat your water", must be treated as a mandatory instruction because the body makes only limited amounts of digestive acids and juices. For these to digest your food properly, the stuff that reaches your intestines should be of the consistency of cream soup. The stomach can only churn the food, not grind it, which is the job of your teeth. If there are lumps in the food which goes from your mouth down your gullet, the digestive system, instead of putting them to good use, becomes overburdened, leading to constipation. This further enhances the sensation of lethargy and sluggishness.

Saliva also contains bicarbonate of soda and other salts that buffer the acids and alkalis found in some foods and drinks. Inadequately chewed food does not get this essential ingredient. The soda bicarb that you have on your kitchen shelf is a very poor and inadequate substitute for it. Excessive eating of soda bicarb puts a fearful burden on the kidneys and can lead to alkalosis - which is far worse than acidosis.

Proper chewing provides a special bonus to weight watchers. By doing so, you get the feeling of fullness much before you are through with your meal. A once-voracious eater can only consume about one-third if he chews every bite to a liquid. In other words, it you have been eating six chapattis so far, you will get the same satiation after eating only two. Donít have any fear about eating too little. The actual requirement of human body is so frugal that there is no chance whatsoever of you keeping yourself famished. On the contrary, you kill yourself by eating too much hurriedly and not allowing the system the privilege of benefiting from it.

The undigested excess food accumulates in the system, leading to weight gain and a heightened sense of helplessness and wretchedness. Proper chewing protects you from both these problems.

Did you notice that all food items made by nature are pretty hard so that you just have to chew them well? But we circumvent this marvellous mechanism due to our ignorance. For instance, we smear ghee on chapattis or dip every morsel in gravy before putting it in the mouth. This discourages the chewing process. Try to change the habit. Put your chapatti in the mouth separately and eat the dal or sabzi with a spoon later. I know this will appear odd to those who have been eating the traditional way all their life. But soon it will become such a pleasant routine that you will find it impossible to eat a morsel after dipping it in dal or sabzi.

Then there are items like halwa, pastry and ice cream which are so soft that they melt in your mouth and go down the gullet double-quick. Be very wary of them.

Proper mastication is also wonderful for your teeth and facial muscles. The exercise will do them a lot of good and they will bless you for this kindness.

An added bonus is that there is tremendous improvement in the flavour and taste of food if it is chewed properly. To experience that for yourself, make chapattis by adding a little salt to the flour. Eat these raw ówithout using ghee or dipping them in gravy ó and you will be surprised to notice that on chewing them well they will start tasting sweet. This happens because starch gets converted into sugar.

If you eat quickly or speak while doing so, you swallow a lot of air, which causes bloatedness and the common problem of gas formation. This too can be avoided to a great extent by proper chewing.

Just recount the benefits that you get derive by just moving your jaw and give chewing a chance. Only your mouth has teeth, not your stomach! Make your 32 servants óor as many as you are left with ó do their job diligently because no other body part can do it.