Gina Cousineau and Sam Blankenship

By Gina Cousineau and Samantha Blankenburg

It is clearly agreed upon across the world, both scientifically and anecdotally, that the Mediterranean diet is among the most healthful food patterns.

While one might assume it is simply the wholesome food components that promote longevity in this region, it really is the complete lifestyle driving both health and happiness. This is where we can’t deny how conviviality fits into our fast-paced, hectic lives or, dare I say, lack thereof.

According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition for “conviviality” is relating to, occupied with, or fond of feasting, drinking, and good company.

When was the last time you took joy in planning and preparing a meal for your family? And when it came time to eat that meal, did you and your people sit down together, distractions silenced, to enjoy that meal and the fellowship that naturally occurs when doing so?

In my world of integrative and functional nutrition and medicine, the fear mongering from both practitioners and social media influencers alike is rampant. The deliberate use of scare tactics with a doomsday mentality regarding toxic exposures, use of questionable (non-scientific) methods to eliminate them from our bodies, and the overuse of tests, supplements and procedures to prevent/fix these issues make my blood boil.

Add in the fact that the cost for these pills, potions, fads, and such are often prohibitive to the general public. No better is traditional medicine and its top-down approach of prescribing medications to cover the symptoms of the very diseases that are killing us.

These traditional health care professionals went into medicine with the goal of helping, and doing no harm, but limitations with the system are preventing the care you deserve.

All of that being said, food is life, and food should be the first line of defense against all that potentially ails us, but too many people live to eat instead of eating to live.

The experience of enjoying your food—conviviality—is potentially the missing antidote to the obesity epidemic, which can be due to time constraints, lack of nutritional knowledge and the inability to plan, prepare and cook meals.

A few tips to initiate conviviality into your holiday party:

Whether you have a formal sit-down meal or serve buffet-style, consider taking a moment with the group to say a prayer or thought in thanksgiving for having the ability to spend time together.

While it is not always possible to have everyone sit at the same table, do provide seating areas where groups can congregate to share their food and conversation.

Consider asking everyone to stack their phones face down—after they take pictures of their plates, of course—so that no one is tempted to use them during the meal.

While holidays bring much joy, there is also concern for relationships that have gone awry and what those interactions might look like. This does not mean that you have to avoid those encounters entirely. There are many ways to inspire dialogue in small increments.

Choose to sit with family or friends you don’t see on a regular basis during the meal. This time can be short-lived if you choose, so if things are uncomfortable, you can easily excuse yourself to get seconds or clear your plate from the table. Bring a plate of appetizers or desserts to share with an individual or small group, and lead the conversation with something positive happening in your life, then genuinely inquiring into theirs.

In all cases, instilling a little conviviality into this holiday season might just revive lost relationships and build new ones, all while role-modeling healthy behaviors for those you love.

Gina Cousineau, a culinary nutritionist, is the co-owner of the San Clemente-based Mama G’s Lifestyle with Samantha Blankenburg, offering in-person and virtual nutrition, fitness and lifestyle consulting. Follow her on Instagram @mamagslifestyle and Facebook at mamagskitchen.

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