The Astonishing Benefits of Chewing

In an age when we’re all looking for ways to improve our health and most of us are wanting to slim down, simple strategies to help with either are extremely welcome.  One of the most exciting, for its simplicity and dramatic health claims is what was known 100 years ago as “Fletcherising”.

Never heard of it?

Horace Fletcher became a celebrity of his time, advising American Presidents, British Prime Ministers and some of the big movers and shakers of his age including J. H. Kellogg of the famous cereal company.  Even King Edward VII reportedly took up Fletcherising.

Fletcher’s fame came from his detailed observations on what happens when we really chew our food.  He added theories about digestion and appetite including the idea that until food is tasteless (all the taste has been chewed out of it), it is not ready for the stomach, and what remains after the taste has gone is not fit for the stomach.  His fame spread not because he had a wacky idea to promote but because of the astonishing health benefits he, and many of his followers achieved.  Just through changing how they chewed.

What Horace Fletcher recommended

In short Horace Fletcher passionately argued that we should:

  • Chew food until it tastes of nothing, however long that takes
  • Swallow only liquid whilst chewing your food – do not swallow anything solid
  • Whatever solid residue is left in your mouth when there is no taste left should be spat out, never swallowed

And how he countered his critics

I imagine you’re already coming up with objections.  But Horace saw this coming and has a section “Objections Considered” in which he argues that:

  • The idea that spitting out foods at the table being disgusting is “merely a bugbear prejudice… do you not remove cherry pits, grape skins, the shell of lobster, bone etc when you encounter them?”
  • The idea that thorough mastication will interfere with the sociability of a meal is again a “senseless bugbear”. His solution is small mouthfuls which make it easy to carry on conversation.
  • And the objection that all this chewing will take too much time is answered by arguing that whereas he took 20 minutes to eat a ham sandwich and glass of milk, “If I had crammed the sandwich and milk into my stomach in 7 or 8 minutes which is the gluttonous rate of despatching a meal, I would have lost two thirds of nutriment, more than one half of taste and would have perhaps taken on 24 hours of discomfort, possibly inviting a cold…. Even if time is limited, there is nothing gained by bolting food.”

To our 21st century lifestyles, 20 minutes to eat a sandwich, swallowing only liquid and spitting out any final residue, seems a bit OTT.  But if we dismiss Horace Fletcher we may be missing out on one of the simplest and cheapest ways of reducing how much we eat.

Dr Kellogg, who dedicated a “Chewing Song” to Fletcher, wrote in 1903

“I think your chewing reform is of more importance to the world than you realise. You must have a great fund of good cheer with you; doubtless because you chew!  I told our patients here that I had heard from you that King Edward was chewing.  It interested and amused them very greatly.  The idea of ‘munching parties’ is a good one.”

Thanks to the internet it is easy to get hold of his previously out-of-print books. Some of his writing is (presumably unintentionally) hilarious.  The first book of his I read was “The New Glutton or Epicure”.  It was bewildering and rambling.  A self-help book with no structure.  But utterly inspirational.  Published in 1906 it set out the principles of Fletcherising and the phenomenal health and fitness gains people reported. It concludes, “Just eat slowly, deliberately, small morsels… and observe what happens… try Nature’s way for a week and you will never have a desire to be even mildly gluttonous again”.

Some modern scientific studies back him up

Fast forward to 2015 where the journal “Physiology and Behaviour” printed a systematic review of the effects of chewing and appetite*.  The conclusions bear out Fletcher’s position on the importance of chewing, although none of the studies included in the article involved chewing quite as much as Fletcher recommended.

The authors of the paper conclude that prolonged chewing reduced feelings of hunger in a third of the studies and reduced food intake in half of the studies (either in the meal being chewed, or at a later meal).  It seems that increasing the number of chews per bite increases the gut hormones that are involved in registering fullness. The authors recommend further research into the area.

So modern science is perhaps catching up with the eccentric champion of chewing and starting to explain why he may have had a really important point.  For Fletcher himself it wasn’t just his weight that changed, as the title of his 1913 book “Fletcherism: What It Is or How I Became Young at Sixty” declares.  His fitness was measured in laboratory experiments at Yale University and reportedly increased dramatically.

“Two years after I began my experiments my strength and endurance had increased beyond my wildest expectation. On my fiftieth birthday I rode nearly two hundred miles on my bicycle over French roads, and came home feeling fine. Was I stiff the next day? Not at all, and I rode fifty miles the next morning before breakfast in order to test the effect of my severe stunt.

When I was fifty-eight years of age, at the Yale University Gymnasium, under the observation of Dr. Anderson, I lifted three hundred pounds dead weight three hundred and fifty times with the muscles of my right leg below the knee. The record of the best athlete then was one hundred and seventy-five lifts, so I doubled the world’s record of that style of tests of endurance.”**

How you can use Horace Fletcher’s observations to help you

Fletcherising is so staggeringly simple that you could try going the whole hog, swallowing only liquid as you chew your solid food, and chewing until each mouthful has no remaining taste, then spitting out any solid residue.  Or you could start by simply chewing each mouthful for longer and only swallowing liquid, until you are ready to swallow the solid food remaining.  You could perhaps just use the extra chewing on particular treats, to get the most possible flavour from them, rather than eating them hastily, and see what you learn.

Whatever you do, remember that you’re an individual, different from everyone else, so how you lose weight will be unique to you.  And by trying things out on yourself, like Horace Fletcher did on himself, you can discover what works for you, and what doesn’t.

*Miquel-Kergoat, S. et al (2015) Effects of chewing on appetite, food intake and gut hormones: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Physiology & Behaviour, 151: 88-96

**Fletcher, H (1913) Fletcherism: What it is or How I became young at Sixty. Frederick   Stokes publishers New York.  Available at https://www.gutenberg.org/files/47026/47026-h/47026-h.htm

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