Training the Treacherous Mouth

In an essay on mindful eating, Cheryl Harris, MPH, R.D., gives detailed instructions on how to experience food with expanded consciousness:

Observe the appearance and texture. Is there an aroma? What kind of changes do you notice in your body as you observe this food? (Answers may include salivation, impatience, anticipation, and nothing.)

Place a small amount of the food in your mouth, and do not chew it. After 30 seconds (wait 1 minute for chocolate), start chewing.

This is the kind of thing that psychedelic adventurers would do. For a baby, it’s like that all the time. Everything hits with seismic impact. It’s no wonder they make faces.

A dangerous proclivity

Childhood Obesity News has mentioned the branch of science devoted to the promotion of eating addiction; a mission accomplished through the manufacture and promotion of junk food. Legions of dedicated scientists perform meticulous research on big topics like flavor and satiety, and more specific traits like mouth feel, dryness, gumminess, and moisture release.

In Overweight: What Kids Say, Dr. Pretlow wrote about general principles and about chocolate, the most craved food, specifically:

Sensory-specific satiety also became a guiding principle for the processed-food industry. The biggest hits […] owe their success to complex formulas that pique the taste buds enough to be alluring but don’t have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells the brain to stop eating.

Chocolate may be licked, sucked, or chewed with a great deal of tongue and jaw action, in other words displacement activity, which relieves stress, even more so if crunchy nuts are present. In addition, chocolate is sweet, creamy, and soothing — hence comfort food.

Tame the mouth

Melissa Santos, Clinical Director of the Obesity Center at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, suggests a trick to subdue the mouth’s power in children:

Set up times during the day they go to brush their teeth. Nothing tastes good with a minty fresh mouth. So the best way to not give into snacking is doing something like brushing your teeth often throughout the day.

If the mouth can be tamed, there is still plenty of potential for overeating inspired by other factors: for example, the colonies of tiny organisms that we host. For Scientific American, Claudia Wallis wrote:

Rapid gene-sequencing techniques have revealed that the biggest and most diverse metropolises of “microbiota” reside in the large intestine and mouth, although impressive communities also flourish in the genital tract and on our skin.

Apparently, percentage-wise, they are slightly more populous in the digestive system than in the mouth, with the other named areas having not nearly so many.

The brain is in on it, too. A brain region called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), along with some others, exerts inhibitory control — or is supposed to, anyway. But if this brain area is under-active, which it is in many obese people, the inhibitory signaling might be muffled or missing. The result will be more like the brains of our distant ancestors, who directly equated eating with raw, basic survival.

In an article titled, “I Didn’t Sin — It Was My Brain,” Christopher Buzelli and Kat McGowan disclosed that in obese individuals’ brains, “the regions that regulate sensory information from the mouth and tongue are more active, suggesting that they may experience the sensations of eating differently.” The trouble is, while their sensory processing is at a high pitch, research has shown their reward sensitivity to be lower.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “COVID-19 and childhood obesity: When two pandemics collide,”, 02/10/21
Source: “How Gut Bacteria Help Make Us Fat and Thin,”, 06/01/14
Source: “I Didn’t Sin — It Was My Brain,”, 10/05/09
Image by Brewbooks/CC BY-SA 2.0

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Profiles: Kids Struggling with Weight

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The Book

OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say explores the obesity problem from the often-overlooked perspective of children struggling with being overweight.

About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

Food & Health Resources