Article by the Drummond Team

The popularity of dining alone is increasing – and could actually have some good health benefits for us too! According to booking site OpenTable, single restaurant reservations jumped 160 per cent between 2014 and 2018 in the UK – and similar boosts have been recorded in the US.  Not too long ago solo dining was synonymous with a greasy takeaway scoffed down in the car, or room service consumed in the sterile anonymity of your hotel room.

This was preferable to the thought of dining alone in a proper restaurant, and the associated stigma of being seen as a “friendless loser”. Some of that sense of unease surrounding booking a table for one no doubt dates back to our childhoods, when sitting alone in the high school cafeteria was tantamount to social suicide!

Now eating alone has become a normal part of modern life: the breakfasting commuter; the family members with hectic schedules, etc. Almost a third of British adults are eating alone “most or all of the time”, according to the latest Wellbeing Index, compiled with data from more than 8,000 people for Sainsbury’s by Oxford Economics and the National Centre for Social Research. Similarly, a Mintel survey of 2,000 UK consumers aged 16 and over has found that one in three are “regularly eating every meal alone”. In London, the figure rises to almost half. Much of this solitary munching takes place behind closed doors. Single-occupancy homes are the second-most-common household size in Britain and a record 35% of over-16s are single, according to the Office for National Statistics. This is why, in 2018, Tesco announced plans to stock more than 400 single-portion products including burgers, steaks and vegetables!

So, what are the health benefits?

We tend to be more in control of what we eat when we eat by ourselves. The US psychologist John de Castro led a series of studies which showed that eating in company makes you eat more. He found that the bigger the party, the more you eat. At a dinner for two, you will eat around 35% more than you would alone, rising to a 75% increase for a party of four, and nearly twice as much at a table of seven.

It follows, therefore, that for those actively trying to lose weight, diet lapse is more likely when eating in company, as has recently been shown by researchers at the University of Pittsburgh. Research presented to the American Heart Association suggests dieters have a 60% chance of lapsing when eating with others. “Nobody understands why this social facilitation of intake happens,” says Suzanne Higgs, professor of the psychobiology of appetite at the University of Birmingham. “The other thing we don’t know is whether therefore eating in groups may contribute to increases in overall calorie intake and gaining weight over time.” Her team is currently investigating whether we compensate elsewhere in our daily food intake for large communal meals.

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