Paul has been passionate about preparing, cooking, and eating healthy food for over 30 years. Born in the UK, he now lives in Florida.
Dining solo has become more and more common in recent times and is no longer as stigmatized as it once was. Having written about the positives of individual eating, I thought it would be also useful to list and look at the negatives.
I have a great deal of personal experience with both eating socially and eating solo over the course of my life, and there are a number of definite contrasts that are worth noting. While eating alone does often get attacked unfairly, it is still useful to list the potential downsides.
10 Negatives of Eating Solo
Here are 10 disadvantages of eating alone.
- Humans are social, and sharing is caring
- You can fall into a rut
- It's less healthy
- It's hard to avoid excessive portion sizes
- It can be socially intimidating
- You can't sample a friend's food
- Celebration meals just aren't the same
- You can't build social networks
- It's more expensive
- Not all restaurants are appropriate
I will explore each negative in more detail below.
1. Humans Are Social, and Sharing Is Caring
Instinctively, human beings are generally social animals. There is nothing to stop us eating alone, but instinctively, it can feel more natural and nurturing to share our meals with others. We can exchange our stories, emotions, and experiences, as well as our food with each other. By contrast, there are a number of studies that show that eating solo may have negative effects on our physical and mental health.
2. You Can Fall Into a Rut
Left to our own devices, the sad truth is that it is easy for many of us to fall into a pattern of eating the same foods over and over again. Over time, this can make the process of eating boring and more like a chore than a pleasure. It may also have nutritional implications, as a balanced diet generally involves variety. Eating with others can provide us with the thrill of going to a new restaurant, tasting a food we've never experienced before, or being more experimental in the food we order, as we can experience a positive influence from others.
3. It's Less Healthy
Eating alone for many can unfortunately mean unhealthy fast food, such as heavily processed foods with low nutritional value, or food that is high in fat and sugar. These foods may be considered "comfort" foods, but they have negative effects in the long run. At the other end of the scale, there can also be a danger for some people to under-eat by skipping meals and becoming malnourished.
4. It's Hard to Avoid Excessive Portion Sizes
Many foods come in sizes that are really too big for an individual and it can be easy to either over eat, or be forced to buy food that can eventually go to waste. For example, when ordering food to be delivered, there is often a minimum charge for delivery, so you buy more than you really want. Likewise, when shopping in the grocery store, some foods are not packaged with individuals in mind.
5. It Can Be Socially Intimidating
Eating on your own in a public situation, such as a restaurant or bar can be intimidating, particularly for women. There may be places that you have to rule out because they don't seem suited to solo diners. Alternatively, you can end up eating at the bar more often when you eat individually, where random drinkers and strangers feel entitled to talk to you, whether you like it or not. Even if you don't see eating alone as sad, or socially taboo, others may have different opinions.
6. You Can't Sample a Friend's Food
One of the fun ways to explore new food when socially eating is for people to order a variety of meals and then sample each other's food. It's a great way to expand your palate, but just isn't possible for a person to do alone. A group also has wider options when it comes to ordering larger set item, such as a variety platter of food from the menu.
7. Celebration Meals Just Aren't the Same
One role that meals can play is as a reward or celebration. This might be in relation to a birthday, or getting a new job, or a work promotion, passing an exam, completing a difficult project, or just for surviving a particularly challenging day. While eating a special meal alone can be fun and relaxing, it typically lacks the buzz of a social meal.
8. You Can't Build Social Networks
Eating with others can be a great way to get to know people and build social networks. This can be particularly useful in a work context, where networking can be vital to success. Eating alone means that you can miss out on opportunities to expand your social circle, find out inside information and gossip, or improve your chances of promotion through forming social bonds with managers.
9. It's More Expensive
Individual eating can cost more in all sorts of ways. Stores often package food in sizes that are too big for one person and therefore cost more. Minimum charges often exist for restaurant food that is delivered to homes. There is no option to share meals when eating out.
10. Not All Restaurants Are Appropriate
Some restaurants just aren't suited to solo diners. You feel unwelcome, or it's just a bit weird being there on your own. If you eat there, you can easily end up sat at a small table in a dark corner, or perched at the bar amongst the drinkers. When I eat individually, I usually take something to do, a book to read or a laptop, and some eateries just aren't really suited to that. It can feel odd when you are surrounded by lively groups and families and you are sitting quietly alone.
Sources and Further Reading
- Eating alone and metabolic syndrome: A population-based Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2013–2014 | ScienceDirect
- The Importance of Eating Together | The Atlantic
- Eating Alone May Be Bad for Your Health — Here's How to Fix It | NBC
- Eating Alone Could Be Making You Unhappy, Finds Study | The Independent
© 2021 Paul Goodman