Why Living Alone Can Sabotage Your Diet — and How to Fix It

The good news: Cooking for one can be simpler — and less time consuming — than you thought.

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For some of us, this isn't so much bad news as it is a sad reminder: People who live by themselves are more likely to have poor eating habits, according to November 2015 research published in Nutrition Reviews.

Researchers from Queensland University of Technology in Australia analyzed 41 studies that looked at the link between living alone and nutrition intake and found that both men and women who lived alone were less likely to eat enough good-for-you foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and fish.

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Perhaps less surprising, the study authors also found that bachelors were more likely to have a poor diet compared to bachelorettes.

"The research suggests living alone may represent a barrier to healthy eating that is related to the cultural and social roles of food and cooking," said study co-author Katherine Hanna, PhD, in a press release. "For example, a person who is bereaved or divorced may have previously relied on their partner for food preparation and lack the sufficient cooking skills to make healthy meals."

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There are a few other possible reasons behind this trend, says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, author of Belly Fat Diet For Dummies. "I find that my single clients often dislike preparing large meals since they will be the only one eating them," she says. "That leads to an increased intake in prepared or processed foods or an increase in eating out."

Palinski-Wade adds that those without any housemates may eat less structured meals — a habit that lends itself to mindless eating.

"If you are coming home from work to a family of four, for example, you may all sit down together to eat dinner and discuss your day," she explains. But because a single person doesn't always have someone sitting across the table, he/she may instead "wish to grab a bite of food here and there versus sitting down to a balanced meal," she says. "The grab-and-go eating often leads to a higher intake of refined grains, as well as foods high in added sodium, sugar and unhealthy fats."

How to Cook for One and Still Eat Well

Palinski-Wade says there are a few simple strategies to keep from falling into this unhealthy trap.

  • Set up a meal plan. "Decide the timing of your daily meals and snacks, where you will be and what you will eat," Palinksi-Wade suggests. "This can cut down on mindless eating and help you to balance your meals throughout the day."
  • Make healthy food the easiest option. For example, she says, "Steel cut oats are perfect for cooking overnight in a slow cooker, leaving you a pre-made breakfast you can enjoy all week long."
  • Freeze dry fruits and veggies. "This is a terrific way to meet your produce goals without worry of wasted cost on food spoilage."
  • Cook and freeze homemade meals. "Take one day to cook up large batches of lean proteins such as chicken, fish, or lean beef," Palinski-Wade says. "Add some steamed vegetables and seasonings, and freeze in individual containers for cost-effective individual servings anytime you need them."
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