How to Make Dining Solo Better for Your Health
Eating alone doesn't have to feel lonely.
If you often feel lonely, you might want to know this: Loneliness is connected with a 40 percent greater risk of dementia, per a recent study of middle-aged adults in the Journal of Gerontology. And eating alone may play a big part of this.
“Solo dining has been linked with obesity and cardiovascular risk factors that in turn can increase your risk for dementia,” says Kim Yawitz, MA, RD, a private practice dietitian in St. Louis, MO. “People who eat alone sometimes rely on convenience foods, many of which are high in sodium, fat and calories. There’s also a tendency to eat in front of the television or other screens, which makes it more difficult to eat mindfully.”
But have no fear for your future mental health. There are several ways to make eating alone an incredibly enjoyable experience — as well as to seek out mealtime companions if you’re craving company.
Try a few of these suggestions, and see what feels good to you.
Prepare nourishing meals. “Often, people living alone don't want to bother preparing a meal,” says Lisa Young, PhD, RDN, author of Finally Full, Finally Slim. Here’s a way to make it worth it. “Rather than make one chicken breast, cook an entire chicken and freeze the other pieces in individual portions,” she suggests.
That said, go for variety. “Put some thought into your meals,” says Rebecca Clyde, MS, RDN, a private practice dietitian in Salt Lake City, UT, who works with many single clients. “Eating a bowl of cereal or buttered noodles night after night can make you feel sad. There's nothing wrong with either dinner, but having something exciting and flavorful to look forward to goes a long way.” One way to try out new dishes? Host a potluck, prepare a recipe you’ve never made before, then swap leftovers with friends. You can even toss some of the extras into the freezer so you have meals that are ready to eat. Cooking does more than nourish your body. “You will continually learn new things by trying new recipes, flavors, and foods,” notes Vicki Shanta Retelny, RDN, author of Total Body Diet for Dummies. “There’s never a dull moment in the kitchen if you connect with the foods you are eating.”
Whip up a family recipe. “Think about foods that evoke fond memories of your loved ones,” says Yawitz. “I can’t eat chicken and dumplings without smiling and thinking of my grandma, who made them for me when I was a child. Foods can be a powerful way to connect with your family, even when family members aren’t with you.”
Snag some virtual company. If you want loved ones with you, they’re only a call or video chat away. “In this age of technology, you can dial up, Skype or FaceTime a friend or family member and dine together long distance,” says Joan Salge Blake, EdD, RDN, a clinical associate professor of nutrition at Boston University. “Synchronize your mealtimes, and chat and chew together. Even if this can only occur on the weekend, it will be a meal look forward to.”
Set a mindful table. Taking the time to show yourself kindness can be the first step to enjoying your own company. “You are important,” says Young. “Eat off real dishes, skip plastic silverware and cups, and treat yourself as you would your guests. You are worth it!” Make the ambiance even more inviting by lighting a candle and playing your favorite tunes.
Sit with new friends. “If you plan to dine out, look for restaurants with healthy food choices and community seating,” says Yawitz. “I’ve had amazing conversations with strangers at community tables or bars in restaurants and have even become friendly with some of the regulars and staff at my go-to dining spots.”
Bag up a meal. Who says you have to buy restaurant food to eat out? “I love packing a homemade meal and taking it to a park or, when it’s cold, to a mall food court,” says Yawitz. “At the very least, people watching is great entertainment. You may also find that you feel less lonely when you’re surrounded by other people.”
Register for local events. Many community gatherings feature opportunities to dine with — and meet — other locals. “Churches, community centers, bookstore events and universities have events — which are often free for all,” says Young.
Set a standing date. If you don’t ask, you don’t know. See which friends, family, and neighbors are also looking for dining companions. “Set a recurring lunch date, or reach out to a different person each month,” Yawitz suggests. “This could be the start of great friendships!”
Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area. She’s a regular contributor to many publications, including EverydayHealth.com, NBCNews.com, Runner’s World, and more. She also pens a recipe-focused blog, Amy’s Eat List.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.