Connecting At The Dinner Table Is The Best Thing You Can Do For Your Health

Unsplash/Stefan Johnson

Mindful eating is having a moment right now, teaching people a natural, intuition-based way to structure their mealtimes and ultimately avoid overeating from stress, boredom, uncomfortable emotions or a combination thereof. But there’s more to being present at the dinner table that makes this meal such a healing part of the day.

At its roots, dinner is a ritual. And regardless of whether you dine with your family, friends, roommates or significant other, there are mental, physical and emotional forces at play during this time.

As children, we actually learn far more words from dinner table conversation than we do from reading books aloud, according to research. And throughout our lives, participating in a structured mealtime like dinner helps us internalize important nutritional principles, both consciously and subconsciously, that lead to healthier eating habits down the road. But what’s even more impactful is the fact that dinnertime guarantees everyone at the table the attention and compassion they crave — especially when all phones, televisions and tablets are turned off.

Unfortunately, this time for connectivity is getting the boot in a lot of American households. If both parents work (sometimes more than one job) and every kid is involved in a different activity after school, picking a single time that works for everyone’s schedules is an absolute nightmare. And once you factor in how we can’t seem to look away from our phones — kids, millennials and full-fledged adults alike — it’s easy to see how people would end up lacking a major connective force in their lives.

Unsplash/Dan Gold

Swirled recently had the chance to connect with Newport Academy, a teen treatment center for trauma, mental health issues, eating disorders and substance abuse, and this dinner ritual is a critical component of its “meal as medicine” concept. The idea is that by connecting with your food from its very beginnings to its consumption alongside your community, you foster not only a healthy relationship with this source of nutrition but also the people you enjoy it with.

It starts with growing the foods yourself and then harvesting them, preparing them and presenting them to your community. Everyone involved then takes a moment to meditate before eating, bringing intention to both the acts of nourishing themselves and connecting with others at the table. And finally, there is an act of service element here as well, seeing as they only serve food to one another as opposed to filling their own plates.

Science is supportive of this method when it comes to rerouting harmful behaviors. Studies have found a clear inverse relationship between strong family dinner rituals and destructive adolescent behaviors, and a big part of that comes down to this consistent open communication window. As one of the folks at Newport Academy told us over lunch, “If you can’t talk with your kids about day-to-day stuff, just imagine what happens when it comes time to have the more difficult conversations.”

While Newport Academy and these examples focus on folks under the age of 20, it’s easy to see how the mental, physical and emotional components of sharing a meal impact you throughout every stage of your adult life as well. It matters when it comes to forging strong bonds between friends, communicating effectively with a romantic partner and even networking on a deeper level within your own career space. It’s about the connectivity every human shares. After all, man is, by nature, a social being — even the most introverted of the bunch. And if we don’t nurture that innate necessity to feel love and compassion, we’re doing ourselves a real disservice.