Eating alone is becoming more common and it no longer has the stigma attached like it used to. That idea that if you eat by yourself you must be a desperately lonely, single person grimacing over a microwave dinner and finishing it with a single serve trifle for dessert, doesn’t reflect reality. A new study shows that more and more of people’s food is eaten alone. So can eating alone impact your diet?
A recent study from the USA found that over half of people’s food and drinks were consumed when they were on their own. This has increased as a result of more single person households across the country (hopefully more bachelorette pads rather than divorcees) and more eating on-the-go! Dinner is the meal that people were least likely to eat on their own, with families with children in particular, eating together five days a week. People eat breakfast alone about 53 percent of the time and 45 percent of lunches are eaten alone. But it’s not necessarily a sad affair if you’re on your own. Early mornings at the gym before work or school can mean drinking a smoothie on the way to class or at your desk, not to mention times when you’re under pressure at work so you may choose to eat lunch at your desk. What this says is that not only are we alone, we’re mutli-tasking at meal times.
“I’ll have what they’re having”
It’s suggested that eating with others encourages eating more calorific meals. Research also found that the weight of our friends may impact your choices and found that people tend to eat more when dining with or near to people who weigh more than they do. One ‘tip’ I’ve seen encouraged to help you “stay on track with a diet while dining out with friends” is to place your order with the waiter first before anyone else. This is because you have a stronger mindfulness for making a healthy choice. Diners who place their order last, tend to order the least healthy thing on the menu. We’ve all been there, once you hear that everyone else is ordering the specialty burger topped with onion rings and extra cheese, you go from opting for a salad to, “I’ll have the same as them and a side of fries”. Because why not really enjoy yourself. If you’re having the burger, you may as well go all out, right? These social occasions are something that we blame our over indulgences on. But before you go turning down all of your social invitations this is specific to eating in restaurants.
Cereal? For dinner?
A meal made with friends could be more nutritious than if you were going to eat alone, even if the food you’re preparing doesn’t scream ‘clean eating’. As when people are alone and deciding what to eat, it is more common to choose a less nutritious option, almost always choosing less or no vegetables! Yup we’ve been there, with no motivation to cook for yourself you choose a bowl of pasta or a even bowl of cereal for dinner. Eating with others is also positive as it is a social occasion when you’re forced to acknowledge what and how much you are eating. That’s not say embarrassment from others thinking you’re being greedy should stop you from having a second helping, but it will make you more aware if you really want it because you’re still hungry or you’re already full and you just want it anyway. Alone, you might not ask yourself this and just consume all that is in front you. When no one else around you could also be tempted to make unhealthier choices just because you feel as though you can do so, without any insecurity about what those around you might think.
Multi tasking mindlessness
Another problem of eating on your own is that you’re likely to be multi tasking; watching television, checking your emails or even on social media. All of these things take your attention away from the moment of here and now which can impact how much food you eat. It’s possible that you’re so distracted that you eat beyond how hungry you were and are left too full yet unsatisfied from your meal.
Applying a mindful awareness of sitting down to eat a meal, whether alone or with friends can help to control your consumption. Registered dietitian nutritionist Beth Warren says that the moments before you dive into your meal are crucial to your experience of it and how much you might eat. Taking a second to look at the food in front of you before tasting it, engages your mind with what you are about to eat and encourages you to recognize when you are full, resulting in more satisfaction from the meal.
No choice but to eat alone?
If you fall into the trap of thinking that cooking for one is too much hassle which leads you to opt for unhealthy food, then simply make meals as you would for two or four people and freeze the rest. This way, you will have your own ready meals the next time that you’re unprepared for dinner mid week. Or if you do have a full household but they just aren’t there to eat with you then cook for them anyway. You won’t be tempted to go back for more if you know that you have made it for someone else. You couldn’t promise to make dinner for someone else for them to come home to the dirty dishes!
The next time someone offers to cook with you or invites you out for dinner, don’t be tempted to turn it down because you think that it will derail your healthy diet. It won’t. Try planning to make something nutritious together or simply relax and don’t think about the food, just enjoy the company!
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