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Hate to eat alone? Or love it?

Posted May 27 2010 12:00am
A friend recently told me she always eats more healthfully when she’s with other people. When she eats alone, she says, there’s no real starting point or ending point to the meal, so she tends to overeat. Also, she doesn’t make as much of an effort to make something nutritious when she’s by herself. “If no one’s around,” she confesses, “I might just nuke a bag of popcorn and call that dinner.”

Does this sound familiar to you? When no one’s looking, are you more likely to overeat or to choose junk instead of real food?

I started thinking about this subject when another friend (and fellow foodie), Ian, posted this fascinating video blog about how much he dislikes eating alone. Ian believes the experience of eating is one we are meant to share. He hates the fact that his busy schedule forces him to eat in solitude at his desk.

That’s one perspective. Another way to look at it, though, is that eating alone gives you a chance to eat exactly what you want, at a time that works best for you. You can focus on how the food tastes and how your body is feeling, without the distraction of other stuff going on, like emotionally laden conversations or bickering kids.

Unfortunately, the reality is that when we eat alone, we often grab whatever food is handy and distract ourselves by surfing the web or watching TV.

So which is better? Eating by yourself, or eating with others? The answer depends on you.

Ian is a warm, gregarious kind of guy, and to him, eating by himself means a missed opportunity to connect with others. I’m more of an introvert, and I find a solitary meal often “sits” better in my stomach because I’m listening to what my body wants, not going along with the crowd.

I usually eat more healthfully when I’m by myself, not less. I'm more likely to choose real food, rather than settling for processed junk. And I try not to engage in any activity that diverts my attention from the meal (though I admit to sometimes reading the newspaper over breakfast).

There’s no right or wrong on this - only what works best for you. This week, eat in both kinds of situations, with others and by yourself. Notice which feels more comfortable. Notice when you tend to choose better quality food. Do you eat more when you’re with others, or when you’re by yourself? Does it make a difference if it’s just one other person, or a group?

Let me know how your experiment turns out!
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