“I always bring a book when I eat out alone.”
“I always eat in front of the television.”
“I often don’t bother to eat a real meal because it is just me.”
“I never cook because it is just for me.”
Just for me.
As if I am not enough, as if I am not worthy of the effort.
Eating in our culture has become an exercise in extremes. We are either feasting on fabulous food with family and friends or restricting by ourselves. (And some of us gorge by ourselves for the same reason others restrict).
The Mediterranean diet, the gold standard for healthy eating, is about not only what we eat, but also about how we eat. In traditional Mediterranean cultures, food is about family. Eating is a leisurely activity where the food and the company are enjoyed equally. We often don’t take the time for this here, even when we are with those whose company we enjoy.
In our culture, we also often find ourselves eating alone. And when we eat alone, we graze, we nibble some crackers and cheese, we microwave Lean Cuisines, we eat almonds and clementines. It’s not that we always eat poor quality food; it is that we often do not take the time to nourish ourselves. And we do not give ourselves time to digest.
Do you grab a smoothie to drink in the car, an egg sandwich to eat in the car, or even something to eat at your desk when you get to work? Is lunch a can of soup, a microwaved frozen meal or a sandwich you grabbed to eat while catching up on your emails?
And dinner. Do you take yourself out for dinner? Order a nice dinner to take home? Prepare a nice meal and serve it on a nice plate? Dinner is often the worst meal to be faced with eating by yourself. It is the meal that makes us feel most isolated if we eat it alone and to avoid that feeling, we often simply avoid it. So, we either do not adequately nourish ourselves, or we binge, we put whatever we can find into our mouths as quickly as possible so we do not feel “hungry,” either physically or psychically.
What are the consequences of not taking the time to feed yourself well?
- The first consequence is that you rarely eat enough vegetables and your mother was right, you need to eat your vegetables. Vegetables are not an easy snack food – we rarely get beyond carrots and celery and maybe sliced peppers. Vegetables are chock full of fiber and phytonutrients that keep your body humming along well. They can be eaten raw or cooked, but should be eaten often.
- The second consequence is that you don’t really pay attention. This lack of attention often has a negative impact on the quality of food you eat but also is not helpful in modulating the quantity of food you eat. Our sense of satiety, of being satisfied by the food we eat, comes from our mouth, from our taste buds. By the time we feel it in our stomach, we have generally overeaten. If you are putting food into your mouth without paying attention to what it tastes and feels like, you can eat too little or too much and have no idea you are doing it. You are also more likely to not chew it well which starts digestion out on the wrong foot and is more likely to cause digestive upset.
- The third consequence is that you are missing out on one of life’s pleasures. Food is rich and varied and provides pleasure. If you are not getting pleasure from your food, you are more likely to overeat and you are more likely to not be satisfied, without really knowing why.
There is value in taking the time to feed yourself. There is value in eating silently, in being with yourself. Don’t let anyone convince you that is selfish to take the time to take good care of you.
So here is your celebration of cooking for one and eating alone. Before you start, take a few deep breaths and remember why you are doing this. For you. Just for you. Because you are worth it.
Here are a number of efficient and tasty ways to cook for one:
- The simple meal; place 4 chicken thighs, sweet potato cubes and asparagus (tossed in olive oil) in a baking pan. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes. This will give you dinner and lunch for the next day, or a second dinner.
- The crockpot; take a pound of stew beef, cup up potatoes, cauliflower, green beans, onions, celery, carrots and put in the crock with ½-1 cup of liquid and put in the refrigerator over night. Put in the crockpot in the AM and when you come home 8-10 hours later, your house smells good and you have dinner for 4 nights. You can refrigerate, or freeze in single serving Pyrex containers to have for lunches or dinners later.
- The salad. Bake a pound of salmon while you’ve got the chicken in the oven (above). Put it in the refrigerator and serve it on top of prewashed salad greens for lunch or dinner during the week.
- The fix ahead; make a pot of rice and a pot of beans (soak, rinse, cook in a crockpot for 8-12 hours or in a pressure cooker according to the directions). You can add different fresh or frozen vegetables, seasonings, sauces, meats as desired each day.
- Or buy some good grassfed ground beef and make it into a couple of burgers – cook one now and freeze the other for another night. If you’re vegetarian, make it a veggie burger! You can top with cheese, avocado, salsa, lactofermented sauerkraut or kimchi. Make a large salad (enough for dinner and for lunch the next day) and you are all set.
Tools to make eating alone more of a pleasure:
- Be mindful – take a few deep breaths and decide that you will nourish yourself.
- Put on quiet background music if silence is intimidating.
- eat where you can look out the window – at scenery of activity; this gives you something to focus on.
- Taste and feel your food and enjoy it; get some salt or salsa or other condiment if it will increase your pleasure.
- Take a moment for gratitude.
Eat in good health.