If you are trying to change your diet to be more healthful and whole, here’s a suggestion: Eat with your fingers. Seriously, I mean it.
I don’t mean eat more ‘finger foods’. Finger foods are often appetizers that are fried. Fried mushrooms, fried cheese, fried pickle chips… the list goes on. What I mean are eat foods that you CAN eat with your fingers. You can make a meal out of finger-able foods like olives, nuts, cheese, carrots, meats… this list goes on and on, also. Anything that can be cut into small portions can be eaten with the fingers. You can even make sandwiches into smaller portions and eat the single, bite-sized piece.
Here’s one reason I say to eat with your fingers: It’s rewarding emotionally.
While I’m NOT saying to eat junk food, it is a fact that most junk food is eaten fingers to mouth. Chips, candies, even the Hershey bar has smaller pieces scored into the bigger bar for breaking off into perfect bite sized pieces. And we love to eat these foods. Sure, the fat/salt/sweet ratio is scientifically studied and perfected, but that’s not the only reason we love them.
Have you ever eaten a meal where so many things tasted so good that you plan which one is going to be the last bite? The last bite of a meal is the finale, the great send off, the moment of culmination of a meal. We eat because we have to, but what we eat is because we want to. How we eat should encourage eating nutrient dense foods with enjoyment.
We’ve forgotten to enjoy the act of eating. We stuff our faces on the run, we eat to make our stomachs full and our brains focus, we eat quickly and often alone. We microwave pre-cooked meals and boil in bag rice so we don’t have to measure the water. We’ve taken one of the great physical joys of life and reduced it to time saving measures.
Digestion doesn’t like this, by the way. Food digests better when it is eaten slower, when it appeals to our emotional enjoyment, when we are relaxed and our body is in a state of receiving food. Eating should be the safe time in our days.
Digestions starts before we ever take a bite. Not everyone knows this. The chemical processes that break food down start well before food is in our stomach. It can start from the smell or the visuals of the food we are going to eat, and it starts from the anticipation of eating. There is speculation about how much of the Mediterranean diet and its effects on health have to do with the atmosphere of the culture. They eat in larger groups where the meal can take longer because they are talking, relaxing and sharing company while they eat. As a result of taking more time to eat a meal, less calories are consumed overall because you give your body time to reach a feeling of fullness. Digestion is more complete when the food is eaten in a relaxed state because the body process, the actual chemical process of digesting and absorbing food, is able to happen fully without cortisol and other stress hormones disturbing the process.
If we were to take more time to eat, eating would be better for us. So how does this relate to eating with your fingers? After all, a burger from your local fast food place is eaten with out utensils, right? Think of that burger as eating with a fist. Your hand is curled into a fist-like shape to hold the burger, you are using two hands, not one, and you are taking larger bites than you should most likely. When we have bite sized foods that can be brought to our mouth with only two fingers it allows room in the mouth for chewing and for the saliva to begin the digestive process. We can fully enjoy the flavor while we chew it more thoroughly and swallow a portion that is comfortable.
I also think that eating with our hands is rewarding to our oldest senses. When you hold a piece of fried chicken in two hands and bite into the meat it simply feels good and relaxing. This is the same for corn on the cob. It genuinely feels good emotionally to eat with our hands. Both of those foods are typical picnic foods, which are times when we are with other people, socializing and relaxing.
Okay, you say, I’ll eat with my fingers, but I can’t eat everything with my fingers. A chicken breast is not particularly pleasant to eat by holding it and truly any time a sauce is involved it can get messy. And you’re right, not everything we eat can be eaten with just our fingers. However, steamed asparagus is fun to eat with our fingers. So is broccoli. Eating with our fingers more often will help us to know when our vegetables are overcooked and mushy. Dipping a spear of broccoli into a sauce will generally result in less butter or cheese sauce actually being consumed which cuts calories with just that one act of dipping.
The real secret to eating with out fingers, though, is that we’ll remember that eating can simply be rewarding and enjoyable. Our relationship with food has changed in less than 100 years from and this might be on of your steps to reestablishing a healthier relationship with one of most necessary parters in life.