It’s one of my utmost pleasures in life to lay a beautiful table. The dining table in many cultures is not only central to the home, but central to the day. It acts as an anchoring, a place of recharge and a source of tremendous pleasure. If I go into a cluttered dining room, I can almost feel the room’s despair at not being able to function properly. Forgotten, underused dining rooms for me are always tinged with the sadness of joy not expressed. Recently, on a trip to the Bahamas, I stayed in India Hicks’ hotel The Landing. Although the majority of guests were dining on the terrace, I noticed that in the inside dining room all the tables were set, all candles were lit in what, I would love to think, was a nod to the room’s inclusion in the evening. It seemed to send the message to the room – ‘we know no one is dining in here, but you matter too’. It also truly enhanced the experience outside as there was no lonely, forgotten energy nearby. That feeling is real. We have all been in houses with rooms that the owners did not use and they always have a different feel to them.
You are not what you eat, you are what you digest. Taking time to lay the table is part of the process of creating a calm, eating environment. “A body where the stress response has been triggered has diverted blood away from digestion to muscles and the heart in preparation to flee,” says Marc David of thepsychologyofeating.com. “You could have the most nutritious meal in the universe, but you need to send the body a signal that it’s safe to eat.”
You do this by creating a relaxed environment. Lay the table and eliminate all potentially stressful inputs at mealtimes. Strictly no news, no email, no phones, no TV, no tech and no ‘big’ conversations about finances, having another baby or moving your mother-in-law to the spare room. Enough already, it’s time to eat. “Eating in a state of anxiety puts us into the physiologic stress response which leads to some degree of digestive shut down. For optimum digestive metabolism, relax while eating. It’s as simple as that,” explains David. It also prevents overeating. “Eating with little awareness of the meal and failing to satisfy the metabolic requirement of taste, pleasure and emotional satisfaction will result in a continued hunger for food. Awareness naturally regulates appetite.”
DINING DISASTERS What to avoid
Eating from Plastic Trays
Never eat from a plastic tray. Ever. Even if you live by yourself. Even if you are a bloke. Does this look like a successful person’s dinner? It’s too depressing. It would bring anyone out in a rash even before they tuck into the additives.
Remind yourself, as you stare at that sad, lonely slop that there are swarthy types in expensive trousers drinking Martinis and dancing with dolly birds in the tropics, at this very moment. It’s hard to be one of them running this vibe, which is disastrous for both body and soul.
This tray (above) is the ultimate ‘we’ve totally given up’ accessory. Why broadcast such an unsuccessful message?
Watching TV while eating
Disconnected? Us? A textbook example of how not to eat.
If you don’t sit at your table you risk eating in front of your computer, your phone or your TV which disconnects you from your food and encourages overeating. Your body will be left with the effects of mindless eating for a long time after. Researchers at Birmingham University found that not paying attention to a meal tended to make people eat more both at the immediate meal and later on.
Kitchen Supper Upgrade
I like to elevate my everyday and so kitchen suppers for me need to be beautiful, intimate and relaxing. You are in the heart of the home, which, providing it’s not chaotic or dirty, can add to the nourishment. One upside of using your dining room is that you don’t have to either clear up everything before you eat, or eat amongst the used pots and prep dishes. For summer weekday kitchen suppers, I tend to keep them low laundry or laundry free by using a clear, bare table, the prettiest paper napkins I can find (though I love linen), stylish wipe clean or raffia placemats, sparkling cutlery and glassware, a bunch of fresh flowers from the garden and church candles in hurricanes. I keep everything in drawers and open shelving nearby and it usually takes me around three to four minutes to set up. I get so much in return for so little time spent.
This is an excerpt from Issue 2 of Amanda Magazine. Read the full article by ordering your copy now.