What we choose to eat is a universally accepted foundation of well being. However, who shares our meals is an overlooked ingredient in happiness and healthiness. In the North American rush to achieve an ‘ideal’ body weight, communal eating has largely fallen by the wayside. In comparison with the reams of material written on nutrition and exercise, we rarely hear about the fact that the company we keep influences absolutely everything about wellness.
Don’t get me wrong; the importance of whole foods and a daily burst of exercise-induced endorphins can’t be overstated. But keep in mind that human beings are social creatures, and a growing body of research suggests that a strong sense of community trumps just about everything else we may do to stay healthy.
A key aspect of community, of course, occurs around the sharing of food, which is why Canada’s new and vastly improved Food Guide suggests we turn back the clock and make sharing meals a priority again.
Consider these facts:
a 2017 Dalhousie University study found that binge eating and overeating are often triggered by loneliness. Without the social cues of conversation, we tend to get sidetracked and continue eating after feeling full.
a 2015 Brigham Young University study found that being lonely is comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is worse for your health than the risks arising from alcohol consumption, poor eating habits, and physical inactivity.
children who grow up with family dinners have better food habits, are less likely to skip school, and are less likely to use illicit drugs.
research on the world’s longest living peoples revealed a surprising conclusion: every single centenarian practiced shared mealtimes.
These are simply a reminder of what we inherently know. Eating a meal solo in front of the TV may be great on occasion, but as a habit, it’s not ideal. As it turns out, nourishing conversation goes hand in hand with nourishing food. This truism is as old as time, and probably goes back to our days of sitting together around a fire roasting woolly mammoth.
Placing a premium on sit down dinners is an easy enough fix for a couple or a family, but what about singles? And what about seniors? Awareness that’s it’s even an issue is the first step.
Possible solutions include arranging a breakfast, lunch, or dinner date with friends, kickstarting a community potluck, taking a cooking class, or keeping an eye out for community events in your neighbourhood. For seniors at risk, Meals on Wheels remains an amazing organization that encourages volunteers to engage in chit chat along with food delivery.
Our culture has veered away from shared mealtimes in the past few decades. A growing awareness is emerging that we may be missing a major piece of the wellness puzzle. The shared bonds of humanity are deepened by seasoning our food with that most basic of human instincts, community.
If conversation and conviviality are the missing ingredient in your best recipes, try these tips to bring family and friendship back to your table.
strive to eat one shared meal a day
prioritize family dinners
if you eat solo, take time for yourself to eat mindfully and appreciate your food
keep electronics away from the table
reach out to family and friends to establish weekly or monthly gatherings
give thanks that you’re able to share food with those you love