Typically, when we talk about trying to eat more healthily, we focus on what we eat, taking into account taste, nutrition and cost; however, many of us don’t realize that there’s a missing piece to that equation: research shows that our health isn’t just affected by the nutritional value of our food, but also by the environment we’re consuming it in.
It turns out that eating alone isn’t always the best for our health. A long-term British study* led by a Canadian researcher found that participants aged 50+ who lived and dined alone ate a smaller variety of fruits and vegetables (i.e., a less healthy diet) than those who lived with a partner. Those who didn’t enjoy a fulsome social life and had little contact with friends also suffered from a poorer diet than their more socially-engaged counterparts.
It’s not just older adults whose health is affected by dining solo. A study* of 7725 adults 19 years and older reported that for men in particular, eating alone more than twice a day was associated with higher rates of Metabolic Syndrome.*
So why is it that dining alone contributes to a less healthy diet, and potentially poorer physical and emotional health? Some older adults who regularly eat alone may point to the fact that they no longer drive, and therefore have a harder time getting to a grocery store. Others mention not having the motivation to cook nutritious meals, especially if a spouse has passed and they are cooking for one, and thus they rely on frozen or microwavable meals.
If you often eat alone, the good news is Dieticians of Canada* offers some suggestions on how to maintain a healthy diet—and enjoy some company, too.
- Start with keeping your cupboards well stocked with nutritious foods that you enjoy. If you’re dining alone, make it pleasurable by treating yourself to a nice place setting, candles and music.
- Share a potluck dinner with a friend or form a regular lunch group. Or, start an eating club, where the host makes soup and others bring bread, salad or fruit.
- Join a collective kitchen or share cooking with friends. Find a place where a few of you can meet to plan, shop and prepare several meals together. Take those meals home, freeze them and pull them out when you don’t feel like shopping or cooking.
- Teach your grandchildren how to cook or bake.
- Check your local senior or community centres; many serve weekly meals.
The only thing better than being served appetizing, healthy meals you don’t have to prepare yourself is enjoying them alongside friends. Chartwell Retirement Residences offer daily dining experiences that make you feel right at home. For more information on Chartwell’s dining experience, click here.