If you have found yourself over the past year increasingly eating dinner in front of the TV, or scrolling endlessly through your phone over breakfast, you certainly are not alone.
“Quarantine permissiveness” is what Susan Albers, a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and a bestselling author who focuses on mindful eating, calls the nearly universal phenomenon of allowing yourself bad habits during the pandemic.
But it may be time to consider a return to the table.
It doesn’t have to be fancy or elaborate, but setting a nice table can encourage you to sit down and eat with your family, roommates or even solo.
“Eating should be an experience and something you enjoy,” Albers said. “You don’t have to take a lot of time to eat, but when you do it, give it your full attention.” That means putting your phone away and sitting at the table.
“Your phone should not be your dining companion,” said Albers, who calls that familiar habit of eating with one hand and scrolling with the other “zombie eating.” But she acknowledges that sitting at the table instead of in front of the TV, or eating without scrolling on your phone can feel like daunting tasks, because “it’s hard to unlink those two behaviors when you’ve done them day after day.”
This can be especially difficult if you’re working from home during the pandemic, or if you feel that eating on the sofa while binge-watching a show is a sort of reward for making it through another hard day.
The good news is that sitting down and eating meals at the table doesn’t have to be a chore. When you reframe mealtimes as special parts of the day, a time to connect with loved ones or to unwind alone, they become something to look forward to.
Fallon Carter, an event planner based in New York City, recently bought a new dining table. She has found that sitting down to proper meals during the pandemic has been a great way to connect with herself. “When you set the space and set the zone,” she said, “you can turn any place into something special.”
Nothing about dining at a table has to be fussy, but a little effort can go a long way toward making the experience enjoyable. Carter added a floral arrangement to her dining table, with flowers she bought at Trader Joe’s. “It wasn’t a big lift,” she said, laughing, but it made the space feel more inviting. She also suggests using cloth napkins and proper glassware, and acquiring a set of dishes that you really love.
Many people have leaned into cooking during the pandemic, and setting the table is a great way to honor the work that goes into preparing a meal. Even if you prefer takeout or microwave dinners, the advantages of setting a table still apply. No matter how you get your meal, you can always transfer it to proper dishes.
There are lots of good reasons to sit at the table for meals, but don’t stress yourself out. Meals are meant to be enjoyed. Fallon suggests even getting a little fancy with your table if you want: “Don’t save the good stuff! You deserve the good stuff. We’ve been in a pandemic!”
5 easy steps to make mealtimes special:
• Set the table with cloth napkins, flatware, glassware and dishes that you love.
• Add candles, flowers or something decorative.
• Keep the TV off and your phone and laptop in another room.
• Sit with your feet on the floor and your back against the chair (as you would in a restaurant).
• Relax and enjoy your food!