Growing up, many of us were constantly reminded by our mothers to come downstairs and eat dinner as a family. When we were 8 or 9, that might have made us roll our eyes, but it turns out, mom was onto something. The scientific benefits of sitting down for family dinner are numerous, including stronger family bonds, better nutrition for kids, and improved performance in school. Despite these benefits, only about 30% of American families regularly sit down for dinner together.
But it’s not just family dinnertime we’re missing out on. In our fast-paced world, we’re eating breakfast in the car, lunch at the desk, and after a long day, dinner on the couch in front of the TV. It can be hard to resist the speed of the day, or even feel like you have time to sit down to enjoy a meal. But by not sitting down at a table to eat, we’re cultivating unhealthy relationships with food. Here are some of the reasons why slowing down and eating at a table is more important than you might think, and some good habits for a healthier relationship with eating.
Eating at a Table Reduces Overeating
When you eat meals, you should keep them as distraction-free as possible. That means put the phone down, turn off the TV, and close the laptop while you eat. When you eat at table, distraction free, you’re more in tune with your body. You can listen to your body and feel when you’re actually full, so you can stop. On the other hand, if you’re wolfing down lunch as you type up expense reports or eating dinner with Netflix on, your mind is distracted and you’re much more likely to keep eating after you’re full.
Eating at a Table Improves Digestion
When we eat in a hurried state as we do other things, we’re actually eating under stress. If you’re eating as you merge onto the freeway or send an email, your body and brain are distracted by other stimuli, which can impair proper digestion and even disrupt how your body metabolizes nutrients in food. That poor digestion can lead to things like heartburn, bloating, or feeling like food is sitting in your stomach. The body wants to eat in a calm, mindful state where it can harness all of its power to process and digest food. So, slow down, eat your meals at a table, and let your body do what’s it’s designed to do.
Eating at a Table Builds Gratitude and Reduces Stress
Food is a gift that too many of us take for granted. All around the world, there are millions of people who don’t have enough to eat. So, if you have a meal to sit down to, that’s a big reason to be grateful. Take pleasure in your meal, slow down and enjoy the flavors and the textures, allow yourself a respite from the daily stresses and get lost in whatever you’re eating. Don’t eat while you work, set a boundary between work and leisure. Remember that the second part of the term “lunch break” is the word break.
Eating at a Table Builds Community and Improves Mental Health
We are a social species. Humans evolved over thousands of years hunting, foraging, and preparing food together before sitting down for communal meals among the village or tribe. Although we’re more evolved now, we still have a primal need for interhuman connection, especially around mealtime. Whether it’s your family, your friends, or your co-workers, sitting down and sharing a meal together creates stronger bonds, which can help everyone lead happier, healthier, more productive lives. So, get out of the car, get up off the couch, get away from your desk, and go eat at the dinner table, in the break room, or wherever the people are.
-Jared Kent, Chef Zero Doubt Club