Dining solo can be fun (hello, TV dinners!) but a new study shows doing it too often can take a toll on your health. A recent Korean study, published in Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, revealed men who eat by themselves at least twice per day are more prone to develop metabolic syndrome, a triple-whammy of risk factors for prediabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, than people who always eat with others.
This link between loneliness and ill health makes perfect sense to Andrew Abeyta, assistant professor of the department of psychology at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, Camden, because loneliness has always been a risk factor for chronic disease and premature death.
Loneliness has always been a risk factor for chronic disease and premature death.
“We rely on relationships for emotional support and stress management,” Abeyta explains. “Lonely people lack a strong social support systems and are therefore more vulnerable to the physical wears and tears 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.”
A lack of social support can also make it tough for people who feel less motivated to set and pursue goals, like healthy eating. “A lack of motivation can lead to poor food choices, settling for what is easiest and for what is comforting,” says Abeyta.
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.
So what can you do to lessen your risk of developing metabolic syndrome if you tend to eat on your own a lot? It all starts with making healthier food choices. “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,” Abeyta says. “Who wants to cook a whole meal for one? A key factor in making healthy food choices is to make a conscious effort to plan ahead and set manageable goals for healthy eating.”
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No Dinner Companion? 3 Ways to Make Solo Dining Healthier
- Subscribe to a meal service. One easy and convenient way to plan solo meals ahead is to subscribe to those ingredient-recipe meal kits services because they’re less intimidating for beginner cooks. If cooking is fast and easy, you might do it more often. “Psychologists call these early successes ‘mastery experiences’ because they build confidence and give people the sense that healthy eating is something they can stick to,” says Abeyta.
- Make mealtimes a selfish act. Abeyta says another thing that can help is to tweak your outlook. “Try to look at cooking not as something you do for others, but something you do for yourself,” he says. “On the surface this might seem selfish, but it is psychologically important for use to view our actions as having a purpose or importance.”
Try to look at cooking not as something you do for others, but something you do for yourself.
- Fall back on family favorites. Miss the dish your mom or dad used to make? Preparing a meal you have fond memories of can actually make you feel less lonely, says Abeyta. “My research has found that reminiscing about cherished social memories makes people feel supported and in turn gives them the confidence to put themselves out their socially, pursue new relationships and deepen existing ones,” says Abeyta.
Who knows? You might start needing a table for two.
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