Party of one? (Photo: Getty Images)
Often eat your meals alone? You’re not the only one.
People now eat nearly half of all of their meals and snacks by themselves, according to a new report from the Food Marketing Institute.
But all meals aren’t created equal when it comes to dining solo, the report finds. People eat breakfast alone about 53 percent of the time (while on-the-go, at work, or in the car), and 45 percent of lunches are eaten alone.
We’re the least likely to eat dinner on our own: Nearly three-quarters of all dinners are eaten with other people.
Busy schedules, shrinking family sizes, and an increasing need to eat lunch at your desk are likely at play, but experts say the impact solo dining has on your health can vary.
“It can go both ways,” registered dietitian Keri Gans, author of The Small Change Diet, tells Yahoo Health: When we eat with a group, we’re heavily influenced by what others are eating, she explains. That can lead to eating foods that are higher in fat and calories, just because it’s what the group has chosen.
Surprisingly, the weight of your dining companions also factors in. Research conducted by Cornell University researcher Brian Wansick, PhD, author of Mindless Eating, found that people tend to eat more when dining with or near people who weigh more than they do.
But eating alone isn’t guaranteed to be healthier. Registered dietitian nutritionist Beth Warren, author of Living a Real Life with Real Food, tells Yahoo Health that people tend to go for what’s quick and easy (and not always healthy) when they’re preparing a meal for themselves. She regularly sees patients who usually opt for takeout or an easy bowl of cereal for dinner when it’s “just” them, simply because it’s easier.
Eating while working isn’t such a great idea either, says Gans, because you’re not focused on what you’re consuming. “Afterward, you can feel like you haven’t eaten and may still feel hungry,” she says. “That can lead to overeating.”
Know you’re going to be eating alone? There are a few things you can do to increase the odds your meal will be a healthy one.
Warren recommends taking a beat to focus on the plate in front of you before diving in. “Those crucial seconds before you taste your foods help you stay mindful in the moment,” she says, which can increase your feelings of satisfaction and fullness after you eat.
Another trick: Put your fork down between bites. It helps slow you down and pace yourself while eating alone.
As for what you’re eating, Gans says it’s important to treat those meals the same as you would if you were preparing a meal for more than one. “Your health matters, and you should be trying to make healthy choices, even if you’re eating alone,” she says.
Of course, cooking a full meal for one each time you eat can be a pain.
To minimize the hassle, Warren recommends cooking as you normally would for others and storing the leftovers in individual portion sizes in your fridge or freezer. That allows you to quickly and easily grab a healthy option the next time you dine alone — which probably isn’t that far off into the future.
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