The many benefits of eating family meals are well known, but what if you live alone? Now more than ever, many people find themselves living and eating alone. If you lived alone prior to COVID-19 you might have enjoyed coffee with friends or a lunch break with co-workers, or maybe you went to your sister’s house every Wednesday for dinner. Unfortunately, due to certain circumstances this may no longer be possible and you may find yourself eating most of your meals alone.
Evolutionarily speaking, eating meals together made sense. Meals were a way to maintain connection but also provided increased protection from potential predators that could have wanted to eat you as a meal and gave more hands to help with gathering and preparation. Although the latter two might not be as applicable now, social connection is still extremely important.
Eating alone isn’t all bad, and you might even find it relaxing. However, there are some potential outcomes that may occur when eating alone. First, those who eat alone often choose less healthy options than those cooking or eating with others, and their diet is often less varied. There could be many reasons for this including lack of time, lack of motivation to cook for one, limited resources, or lack of confidence in the kitchen.
If you identify with the statements above, all hope is not lost! There are plenty of ways that you can improve your health, including your immunity and digestion, while eating alone.
Practice eating mindfully
Mindful eating might feel like a trendy term, but it really works! Mindfulness is the act of paying attention to the here and now, of being aware of your current environment, thoughts, and experiences. Mindful eating begins even before you take your first bite and continues after the meal has finished. Start by focusing on the food in front of you. What does it smell like? What does it look like? Notice the colors, the shape, the details. What did it feel like to prepare it? How does it taste and feel in your mouth? Acknowledge your hunger signals and whether you are choosing foods based on what your body is asking for. Mindful eating is a skill that takes constant practice and fine tuning, but can be one of the easiest to master while eating alone, without distractions.
Chew your food fully
Our digestive system is directly involved in regulating our immune system and as a result what and how we eat impacts our overall health. Making sure that you are fully chewing your food is important for many reasons. For starters, digestion starts in the brain (hey, remember mindful eating?) and then moves to the mouth. Thinking about food starts the process of salvation and the act of chewing our food releases even more digestive enzymes in the mouth like salivary amylase which helps break down our food, especially carbohydrates. Fully chewing your food also ensures that when the food moves into your stomach and intestines, it will be small enough that the rest of the digestive system will be able to further break it down and absorb the nutrients present. Your food should be baby food texture by the time you swallow it. Poorly chewed and undigested food can increase inflammation and damage the intestinal lining, increasing your risk for developing increased intestinal permeability or “leaky gut.” When this occurs, your body signals an immune system response which increases the risk of autoimmune conditions, depleted immune stores and chronic inflammation.
Put the phone down, listen to a podcast, or read a book
Just because you’re eating mindfully and chewing your food fully doesn’t mean you need to sit in silence. Rather than scrolling on Instagram or watching tv (both of which can stimulate your stress response and negatively impact your digestion), consider listening to a podcast or reading a new favorite book. Use this alone time as a way to relax, learn new things, and of course, enjoy your food.
While eating alone can feel lonely and unappealing, there are many different strategies for making your experience just as impactful as eating with others. By practicing mindful eating, chewing your food fully, and avoiding technology while eating you can optimize your health and digestion with ease.
Overwhelmed and confused about all of the contradicting nutrition and supplement advice out there? Our experienced Nutritional Therapy Practitioners will work with you to determine the right nutrition, lifestyle practices and supplements to support your personal health goals.
About the Author
Emily Alexander, M.Ed, FNTP—Emily is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner with Curated Wellness. She is passionate about supporting others in their journey to improve their relationship with food and their body through gentle nutrition, and is a firm believer that understanding the bio-individual components of nutrition is one of the best ways to do so. Emily completed her Master’s of education in health education and promotion with a concentration in eating disorders, and draws from both her educational background and life experience to help her clients improve their energy, understand their bodies, boost their athletic potential, and break down diet myths one at a time. Read more about Emily.
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