Do you find yourself eating for one? It can be tough to figure out what to eat when you live alone or diet alone.
With a few insights, you can make eating simple and give your body the nutrients it needs to stay thin and healthy.
Steve is a 49-year-old man that recently got divorced. He’s cooking for himself for the first time in 21 years. Weight loss doesn’t seem to be his issue – the emotional stress of his life’s events killed his appetite. He does want to be healthy, but what does healthy eating look like when you eat alone?
Carol is in her early 60’s. She lives alone. She’s been trying to lose the same 25 pounds for the past two years and is tired of not making progress. Cooking for one means she ends up eating the same meal four nights in a row. Many nights she abandons cooking and just snacks throughout the evening.
Can you relate?
These stories come from clients I’ve worked with. Each one faced unique challenges.
Maybe you don’t live alone 24/7, but you have a spouse who travels a lot. Maybe you are the only one in the household who is determined to stick to her diet.
Regardless of your situation, when you eat or diet alone, filling your body with the right foods can be a challenge.
Living Alone Does Make A Difference In What You Eat
Research published in the Journal of Nutrition Reviews set out to determine whether there was a difference in food and nutrient intake between adults living alone and those living with others.
Long story short – Yes.
To paraphrase the findings, people who live alone tend to eat the same thing over and over again (e.g. pasta followed by pasta), eat fewer nutritional foods (fruits, vegetables, and fish), and have unhealthy eating patterns (i.e. a bag of microwave popcorn will do for tonight).
While living and dieting alone present some challenges, eating a healthy diet for one is definitely doable. And, it doesn’t have to be boring, repetitive or depressing.
How & What to Eat When You Live Alone or Diet Alone
1. Eat This, Not That.
Steve was on his own for the first time in over 20 years. His past meal preparation experience was limited to calling Papa John’s on Friday night for his family’s dinner.
Now, he was faced with food prep on a nightly basis. Pizza alone was not going to cut it.
His first task was understanding the difference between healthy food and non-healthy food. This can be surprisingly tricky. Foods can be marketed to seem healthy when in reality they’re not.
We had Steve focus on foods with a high nutrient to calorie ratio. Below you’ll find a list of the best foods to the worst.
Make your food selections from the top of the list.
- Non-starchy vegetables (Here’s a list of non-starchy veggies.)
- Nuts and Seeds
- Meat, Fish, Eggs
- Starchy Vegetables (Here’s a list of starchy vegetables.)
- Whole Grains
Limit or Avoid foods from the list below
- Dairy products
- Cereal with less than 3 grams of fiber per serving
- Pasta and White Foods
- Fried Foods and Fast Foods
- Processed Foods (i.e. meal-in-a-box)
2. Establish A Simple Healthy Eating Framework
Steve had never really thought about what eating healthy looks like. Having a general idea of what a full day of healthy eating looks like, helps you set yourself up for success.
Here are two sample meal plans that promote health and weight loss.
Sample Menu #1
Breakfast: Fruit with nuts or grains (try my oatmeal recipe)
Lunch: Salad with protein
Dinner: Vegetable and Bean Soup
Sample Menu #2
Breakfast: Eggs with sprouted grain toast
Lunch: Salad with beans; a piece of fruit
Dinner: Lean meat & steamed veggies
3. Rethink What a Meal Looks Like
Carol had enjoyed cooking when her husband was alive. Now that she’s alone, cooking feels depressing and wasteful.
It can feel comforting to curl up on the couch with a bowl of Ramen noodles or pasta, but these foods expand your waistline and provide your body with very few nutrients.
A meal that consists of a protein and non-starchy vegetable is a better option.
- Rotisserie chicken and a bag of frozen vegetables can be whipped into a meal in less than 10 minutes.
- Homemade soup is a great option. There are some canned soups that are fairly healthy options that will meet your one meal nutritional needs.
- Salad greens topped with taco meat, tomatoes and onions can serve as a satisfying and healthy way to serve Mexican food. Leftover taco meat can be frozen or combined with the veggies and eggs for tomorrow’s breakfast.
4. Rethink What A Snack Looks Like
Steve’s thought his snack choices were on track, he was eating whole wheat crackers, pretzels, microwave popcorn, energy bars, and granola bars.
Snacks are the most confusing foods. Steve was eating snacks that were grain-based.
Grains of any type are not great to snack on unless you are extremely active. By the time they make it to your grocer’s shelf, the grains have been refined, which makes them fat-storing machines.
Energy bars and granola bars can also contain high fructose corn syrup and trans fats.
Microwave popcorn seems like a decent snack. I used to eat it. But, after reading a few research reports, I now look at it as chemicals in a bag.
There’s an easier and cheaper way to make microwave popcorn using nothing more than a ¼ cup of popcorn kernels and a paper bag. This post explains the Healthy Microwave Popcorn Trick.
Here are healthy snacks that help you control your weight:
Chopped up vegetables are always your best bet for a snack, but plain veggies can be boring. A healthy dip helps. Try different brands of hummus, almond butter or a low-sugar salad dressing.
Fruit contains natural sugars, which makes some dieters question if they should eat it. Don’t question it…eat it. The fiber and nutrients are handled well by your body, which slows the absorption of the sugar. Two pieces of any variety of fruit is a good addition to your daily diet.
Nuts and Seeds are high in calories, but also high in nutrients. The fats they contain are very satisfying, which has been shown to reduce your overall daily calorie intake.
If you choose to eat them as a snack, be aware of your portion size. Stick with about two tablespoons per day, which is about one ounce. According to Popsugar, “One ounce of almonds is equal to about 20 to 24 whole nuts.”
Homemade Dehydrated Snacks. For Christmas, we got our daughter a food dehydrator. We found it on Amazon.
It’s a great way to make snacks that don’t contain added sugars. You can dry just about any fruit or veggie. If you are a meat lover, beef jerky can be made for a quick protein snack.
5. Keep Your Hands Busy
Idle hands eat. Carol found that after-dinner boredom was a problem for her. Sitting in front of the TV invited snacking.
She was into photography, so she started using her evenings to upload her photos and work on them.
When you keep your hands busy, you can’t lift food up to your mouth. A few suggestions include doing a jigsaw puzzle, painting, sewing, working on a crossword puzzle book, playing a computer game or crafts.
6. Cooking Buddy
For Carol, cooking had been a satisfying social activity, but now that she was on her own, she missed this social aspect.
There’s an enjoyment that comes from cooking for others.
If you live alone, you can regain enthusiasm for cooking by finding a cooking buddy.
Do you hate cooking a large meal and then eating it every day for a week?
Find a cooking buddy and share meals. Eat half and share half.
7. Keep Eating Sane and Simple.
Making sure you’re getting the nutrients your body needs does not have to involve an elaborate plan. You can keep it sane and simple by following a few healthy habits each day.
If you’re not motivated to cook, but still want to eat healthy and lose weight, then watch my free video series. It shows you what to eat when you live alone all boiled down to 4 daily habits.
About the Author
Dr. Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.