Eating is one of our most basic functions. We eat to survive, but also to thrive. In order to thrive, the energy we create around the process of eating is as vital as what we actually eat. In our go-go-go society, we often don’t take the setting we create around food consumption into consideration at all. We tend to think let’s just get the food into our mouths and move onto something more interesting or productive. This is a relatively new way of approaching eating. Our ancestors didn’t just see food as fuel. In the past, a lot of significance was placed around mealtimes and people intuitively understood the value of how we eat and with whom we eat.
So, why does the social setting in which you eat matter? Here are five important reasons why:
Opportunity to Slow Down
A good bit of wisdom from writer Michael Pollan is to, “spend as much time enjoying the meal as it took to prepare it.” Dining with others gives us that needed pause in our busy lives where we can just sit, relax, and enjoy the food and company. By sitting down to a meal, we can also cultivate a mindful way of eating. Slowing down allows us to pay attention to the whole process of eating - chewing, tasting, and swallowing the food, which leads to better digestion and assimilation. Mindless eating is more likely to happen if we eat on the go, at our desk while working, driving, watching TV, etc.
Rushing through eating also creates a hectic atmosphere, which leads to stress, and stress causes poor digestion. Another benefit to eating slowly is that it allows the satiety signals from your stomach to your brain to kick in (this takes about 20 minutes). Thus, it’s an effective way to avoid overeating.
Reduces Likelihood of Overeating
Aside from slowing down to prevent overeating, communal meals can help those prone to overeating in breaking this pattern mostly because we’re less likely to overindulge if we know someone else is watching. As we all know, portion control is a sure way to better weight management.
Offers Occasion to Socialize
It’s about breaking bread together – a ritual of bonding with family and community. Dining with others affords us time for communication and “table conversation”, where we can strengthen our relationships and help each other through rough times when needed. Narrative conversations (i.e. telling stories), in particular, can be a great way to express your thoughts and feelings to your family, friends, and peers. Telling jokes is another way to create a joyful experience. Sometimes even just being next to someone and eating quietly acts as quality bonding. Keep in mind though, it’s important to develop the right attitudes during mealtimes. Set the intention to connect, discuss, and share the day’s experiences, not to argue. If we do get into upsetting conversations, digestion and metabolism will be negatively impacted.
Personally, I’ve come to consider mealtimes as one of the highlights of my day. It’s a moment of fun and connection with those near and dear to me.
Influences Better Food Choices & Eating Patterns
Think of dining with friends and family as your own built-in support group for making wholesome choices and adopting healthy eating behaviours. You can work toward becoming positive influences on one another (just don’t berate or criticize others’ choices – leading by example is best). The family meal is a great tool for creating positive associations with healthy food, and to lessen the influence of food industry marketing and the media (take back your power!). It’s especially true that parents act as role models for their kids, so by prioritizing sit-down meals and focusing on nutritious food, parents will be setting their kids up for a lifetime of eating well.
Develop Regular Mealtime Schedule
When we eat with a group, we tend to stick a routine dining schedule, and this means we’re less likely to snack throughout the day – another way to prevent overeating and avoiding processed snack food. Establishing set mealtimes helps keep your blood sugar levels in balance (especially since you’re not skipping meals), and assists in better digestive function (periods of rest in between meals). This will also benefit other members of the household because dining expectations are clear, so they’ll be less likely to graze if they know the next meal is coming soon.
Another bonus to eating regular meals is that if you institute a pattern of feeling satiated, you reduce the risk of falling into emotional eating (i.e. eating for comfort, as a reward, or when you’re bored).
Lastly, when you adopt a mealtime routine where you feel satisfied, you can avoid eating late at night, which is vital for a balanced digestive system.
For your overall well-being, make it a priority to dine around a table with your friends and loved ones as much as possible. Set aside time in your schedule to celebrate the day’s achievements together surrounding a delicious meal. As 17th-century writer François de La Rochefoucauld memorably put it, “To eat is a necessity, to eat intelligently is an art.”
Le Billon, Karen. Getting to Yum. Toronto: HaperCollins Publishers, 2014. 123-131. Print.
Pollan, Michael. Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. New York: Penguin Books, 2009. 113, 129. Print.
Radcliff, Nina, Dr. "Benefits of Breaking Bread Together – At a Table." The Washington Times. 14 Apr. 2017. Web. Retrieved May 1, 2017, from <http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/apr/14/health-benefits-eating-together/>.