One is the Lonliest Number: The Consequences of Eating Alone

Why Eating Alone could be Bad for Nutrition

There are a few nutrition guidelines that we hear quite often. Whether we are looking at the latest scientific article while eating alone or we are learning about nutrition in school, we remember a few things. Eat more vegetables, look for lean meats over fatty, limit sweets, etc. However, there are some basic nutrition rules or cultural phenomenon that would put most European or Asian countries leagues ahead of the U.S.

For example, it is par for the course for my friends in Italy for them to have supper around 7 PM, which sounds a little odd on paper, but they eat that late and snack during midday. This midday snacking and late meal prevents the regular occurrence of midnight snacks. The purpose of all of this is to decrease the chances of excess weight gain overnight.

Another thing they told me that piqued my interest was the discouragement of eating supper, or dinner, alone. In fact, when I asked them in a conversation about why they didn’t just pack a sandwich to prevent conflicting schedules, they immediately chewed me out. “You never eat dinner alone, you will eat more junk food than when you eat with your family.”

This piqued my interest. Is there any information that backs up this claim? How does it work on a scientific level? And what can we do with that information?

eating alone

Eating Alone Does Affect your Health

So, is there any scientific studies on the whole about the subject matter? Surprisingly, yes. According to South Korean scientists, who conducted a study, both men and women who ate two meals a day alone ran a higher risk of metabolic diseases and obesity. And not just by a slim margin. Men who regularly ate alone had a 45% greater risk of becoming obese. And this wasn’t a study that was several years old or outdated by a few decades, this was discovered as recent as 2017.

What is the reason for this statistical uptick? And more importantly, what does eating alone have to do with your eating habits? How do people who eat in groups fare better with nutrition than people who eat alone?

 

Psychological Reasons

One of the more interesting possible factors that could contribute to the increased risk of health problems from eating alone is loneliness. According to psychologist, Andrew Aybeta, “We rely on relationships for emotional support and stress management. Lonely people lack a strong social support system and are therefore more vulnerable to physical wear and tear of stress and anxiety. In turn, they’re at higher risk for developing stress-related diseases or conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.”

Human beings are social creatures. Human interaction is as much as a need as eating, sleeping or exercise. Without it, our minds and bodies will be more likely to give way to deterioration. That is why solitary confinement, a punishment of literally depriving a person of any human contact will drive anyone insane.
So, if this is all accurate, it is reasonable to assume that feelings of isolation can increase your health risk.
socializing while eating

Behavioral Reasons

However, it is not just a psychological reason. It also has to do with our behavior in public vs our behavior in private. For starters, “People who eat alone are more likely to eat unhealthy fast food or foods that, like frozen or boxed foods, that are quick to prepare. Who wants to cook a meal for one?”

Not only that, but people who eat alone are more likely to eat while standing up, eat junk food, and eat while distracted.  This can be a huge blow for people who not only had little nutrition education, but also are less likely to bother cooking for themselves.

And it makes sense. You are less likely to tailor your behavior and choices when you are by yourself. If you have no one to offer support in making positive food choices, what is reinforcing your good behavior? Alternatively, what is the point of eating slow and being mindful of your manners or portion size if you don’t have to share with anyone?

Conclusion

If you think you need help with nutrition, and your current habit of eating alone isn’t working for you, maybe you should consider eating more with your family, coworkers, or friends? There is nothing wrong with both getting the nutritional and emotional support you need so you can thrive. So, don’t eat alone if you don’t have to.