Sunday, November 1, 2009

Is it healthier to dine alone or dine with someone you don’t really have a lot to talk with?

This was the question of my blog’s very first reader poll. It basically came about because of 2 things. Firstly, this has been a little personal “struggle” I had since as long as I can remember. Till this day, I some times still spend a good amount of time deciding whether or not to spend a particular evening dining out alone or call someone whom I aren’t really enthusiastic about spending time with (for whatever reasons). I especially hate it when that happens on a weekend night. Even when I was doing the whole online dating thing, I still contemplate whether or not to spend my precious weekend night potentially on a bad date! Plus, do you consider it dining alone if you are eating at home but chatting over the internet with your friends? *wink*

Then there was one night I was so bored at home that I decided to Google and see if there are other people facing the same issue as me. So I found this article in the Colorado Springs Gazette titled “Dining alone isn’t always a healthy choice”. Nice. Apparently, dining alone is a growing trend and 10% of Americans eat alone every night. Gosh…that’s not good. Is this the result of the internet tsunami? Or is this the result of the influx of store-box dinners that come in single servings. (By the way, I hate store-box dinners. No matter what they claim on the box…low fat, low cholesterol etc., they are bad because they contain preservatives and ingredients that I can’t really pronounce).

Could this be just something that happens as you grow older? Do you sometimes notice how the number of people you go out with actually decreases as you age? I do. That’s exactly my situation but it’s not because I have become less friendly of a person but more because (1) I have moved around too much from continent to continent and now my friends are scattered all over the world that I can’t just call them and say “let’s go for dinner” and (2) as I age, I have become more picky as to who I spend my precious remaining time with. So there…

Dining alone is not healthy
Well…back to something a little more “scientific”. The article wrote that there have been several studies done that showed that the diets of people (both seniors and children alike) who regularly dine alone come up short on important nutrients. Maybe the peer pressure to eat well is just not there when you dine alone. You know how sometimes, you lock yourself up in your room and munch on that secret stash of chocolates or potato chips? Hahaha…Or does the loneliness somehow make us make bad food choices and/or inhibit our body’s absorption of nutrients?

Dining alone is healthy as long as you consciously choose healthy stuff to eat
But remember how when you were little, your mum will always tell you not to talk while you are eating especially when your mouth is full? I wonder how much truth there is to that. Did mum say that to make sure you finish your food without messing up the dining table? Or did mum really mean well that having a focused mind will help you listen better to your body’s “I am full” signals and digest better?

I think the latter is quite true. In my life as a consultant, I lost count of the number of meals I ate in front of my computer, chewing and trying to type and read at the same time. And I tend to end up eating more than I usually do because my mind was not focused on my stomach at all.

Food for thought
An overwhelming majority (> 90%) of the people who voted prefer dining alone than dining with someone they don’t really have much to chat with. And I can totally understand why because I am one of them. I mean when I dine with someone whom I enjoy hanging out with, it takes no effort at all to have things to talk about and enjoy moments of silence to savor my food. But if I am with someone whom I don’t really have a lot to talk about with, I have to spend extra effort (i.e. “lose focus”) trying to come up with interesting topics to talk about.

I think the bottomline is, life is short. Do only the things that make you happy. If that means dining alone, so be it. Health wise, it’s more academic than emotional. You know what you need to stay well, so do it. Make the right choices. Don’t let social excuses get in the way.

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