Spartan Habit #3: Eat Dinner with Your Family

Is this really something that Spartans made a habit of?

OK,OK, I use the term family loosely, especially since Spartans weren't even able to get married until after the age of 20 , and they couldn't live with their wives until the age of 30.

So, when I say family, for them I mean their warrior brothers. Anyone who has ever been in the military speaks of this sort of camaraderie that is developed. The guys that you work with, eat with, train with, and sleep with, end up becoming your family.

How do I know that they ate the same meals together, everyday?

Well, I asked the man who knows everything there is to know about being a spartan. Professor Paul Cartledge.

360MP:  What were some of the Daily Habits of Spartans, aside from physical exercise, and weapons training or combat training?

Professor Cartledge: "The one thing we do know for sure that all full Spartan citizens were required to do daily was attend the daily evening meal in barracks (the only valid excuses for absence were a family funeral or that one was away from Sparta on a hunting expedition). Unmarried men and married men under the age of 30 were also required to spend all their time, including overnight, in their barracks. Only after they were 30 and if they were married could they retire in the evening to their houses."

Intermittent Fasting

Spartan's often went without food for hours at a time. Nowadays we call it intermittent fasting, and everyone thinks that it is the newest craze. The reality though is that it started in Sparta, and probably even before that when our ancestors had to hunt and scavenge for food. Sometimes food sources were scarce and they were left to eat only fruits or nothing at all. 

It's kind of funny that if we look far enough back we start to get to our roots, the first man. The closer we get to that original man, the more natural it feels. Spartan races, cross-fit style workouts, ultra-marathons, those are all things that our first humans did everyday without even knowing it.

We have become so accustomed to convenience. We wake up, go to work for 8-12 hours a day, sometimes more, and then we go home, click on the TV, play video games and barely have enough energy to take care of ourselves. Convenience has killed us.

In Spartan culture, taking care of the body was paramount. The Spartan's knew that missing a meal only made them stronger, more resilient, and able to think clearly when most other men would crumble because they needed a snack. Heaven forbid we skip a meal today...we might actually have to deal with a little discomfort.

The Spartans did what we call Intermittent Fasting. What that means is that there is a cycle where there are times that they ate, and times that they didn't. A common practice is to have an 8 hour period of when you can eat, and then a 16 hour period when you fast, or you can fast for 24 hours twice a week.

Remember, they didn't have supermarkets, TV dinners, or Marco's pizza down the street. They ate when food was available, and when they couldn't eat, they scavenged.

However, as we know from Professor Cartledge, they did eat in the mess hall or communal barracks every single night.

If you want to read more about intermittent fasting, this is probably the best article I have read about it.

Benefits of Eating Dinner with your family

I have friends and know many other people that eat dinner and other meals separate from their families. I don't understand this practice, unless of course they are traveling or at work.

If you have the option or the benefit of eating with your family, then you should do it. There has been a lot of research on this subject.

In fact, most kids that regularly eat dinner with their families are less likely to have anxiety and instead have boosted self esteem. When you have good self-esteem you tend do do better in school which is another side-effect.

Another reason to eat dinner together is that you are teaching your children how important it is, and in the process they are becoming more self-sufficient.

Besides, you get to spend time with your family. Our days are jam packed full of other responsibilities, it's a great opportunity to stop, shut off the outside influences, and enjoy each others company. I'm not talking about dinner in a restaurant either, I'm talking about a home-cooked meal. Where everyone eats the same thing. 

My kids love to help set the table, or make dinner, it helps them feel a sense of accomplishment and boosts their confidence. I love to see them grow. They also get healthier food options at home. Anyone can order a pizza, but there is definitely something to have everyone working together and then sitting down and enjoying the fruits of their labor.

Sometimes you don't even have to say anything at dinner, just being with your family and enjoying them is enough. However if you do struggle with what to talk about here is a great list of conversation starters.

What the Spartans Knew

Spartans understood Camaraderie. When soldiers worked close together, slept together, and ate together they became a more cohesive unit. Individualism was accepted in the confines of a "TEAM" mentality.

Most people have a me, me, me mindset. They only look out for themselves. What the Spartans knew was that they needed to watch out for the man next to them. They were able to put aside their own "crap" and instead help their fellow soldier. The Navy SEAL's are taught to do the same thing. They have a TEAM mindset.

Having a family meal together is an expression of this. We are telling our families that they are important, respected, and appreciated. It is a way to create a TEAM, and build each other up. When tough times come along, because they will, they won't be as bad because everyone will know what needs to be done.

I am talking about dinner here, but you can choose any meal, it can be breakfast, lunch, whatever. Just find one, and stick to it.

What I do, and What I have learned

My family and I eat dinner around 5 pm every night and then we don't eat again until after my workouts in the morning which is around 6:30 am. These workouts consist of anything from a 20 mile run, 1 mile swim to a Strength/Cross-fit style workout, or a combination of all three.

I occasionally have a snack in between my fasting periods, but for the most part I'm pretty disciplined. I have a eating cycle of 10-11 hours and a fasting cycle of 13-14 hours. It is slightly unconventional, but it works for me.

I try my best to eat all of my meals with my family. It seems like a stretch sometimes, but we have all worked very hard to build this into our life.

What I have noticed is that I get to have a lot of input into my families lives. There are a million other distractions all wanting their attention, and mine. This is our special time to pray, eat and fellowship. It helps us to remember why we are here and who it is that allows us to enjoy what we have.


- Stephen

P.S. In case you missed the Spartan Habits Series you can read them all by clicking the links below.

photo credit: DocChewbacca "Boba, meet your cousins..." via photopin (license)