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7 Tips for Folks Who Feed Themselves Alone

I’ve had a number of good friends, men and women, who got into a pattern of undereating, not because they wanted to lose weight, but because they were transitioning from living with a family to living alone and didn’t realize how much they needed to eat or how important it is to prioritize eating enough.

I’ve also had a few friends who were trying to lose weight and used the fact that they were living alone as a sort of excuse to skip meals, rely on meal replacement bars or protein shakes, and hide how little they were eating from others.

I count myself in the latter group. Although I seldom skipped meals when I was an undergraduate in college, but I was trying to control my weight and therefore eating far less than many people realized.

There are far more “innocent” motivations to undereat when we’re living alone, as well. Cooking real meals takes time and money. Most recipes make much more food than we would eat on our own.

Looking big picture, more people are living on their own further into adulthood, and we’re drifting away from nineteenth- and twentieth-century family structures in which one person (usually mom, historically) can stay at home and dedicate more time to shopping and preparing food. And, of course, we often read absurd underestimates of how much food people actually need. (1500 cals a day is semi-starvation, folks.)

With all this in mind, if you live alone and feed yourself, it is important to prioritize eating enough. This is a skill I’ve really only learned in the past couple of years, but I wish I’d learned it earlier. Here are the strategies I use to make sure I’m keeping my intake and energy up throughout the day.

And, because it’s Wednesday, I’ll share what I nommed on Tuesday, too!WHAT-I-ATE-WEDNESDAY-NEW-BUTTON-PEAS-AND-CRAYONS

  1. Love your leftovers. When you’re living with a family, a dozen muffins or a lasagna can be gone within 48 hours or less (especially if that family includes adolescents). Living by myself, I often nurse a batch of something several days, even up to a week. I’ve come to accept that a lot of times when I cook something, I’ll be eating it for a number of meals.

    dscn2009

    Breakfast: Vegan Blueberry Banana Breakfast Bake. Leftover from when I made it on Friday night. The recipe made six servings, so I’ll be working on it for the better part of this week. Oh, and Yorkshire Red tea with milk, of course!

  2. Use your freezer. Say you cook an entire lasagna and don’t want to be eating leftover lasagna for two weeks in a row (not even to mention the issue of how long it might keep.) Make it in two small dishes and freeze half, or cut into single-serve portions and freeze in a few microwave portions to reheat for later. You can also take advantage of your freezer by freezing uncooked ingredients. For instance, I often buy a pound of tofu, use half to make a batch of fried rice, and then freeze half for another batch in the future.

    dscn2010

    Midmorning snack: Mary’s Gone Crackers black pepper crackers, black grapes

  3. Halve the recipe. If the recipe makes a dozen muffins, cut it in half so you just have six. Make two servings of stir-fry instead of four.
  4. Stock up on ingredients you can keep in the pantry. Quinoa, oatmeal, cereal, canned goods, nut butter, rice. You can use part of a package and then use the rest months in the future, as opposed to say, milk, which goes bad if you don’t use it up within a few weeks. Supplement with perishable goods on a more as-needed basis.

    dscn2011

    Lunch: Unsexy picture of a cheese and tomato sandwich. I buy gluten-free bread rounds at the farmers’ market, which I freeze and use for sandwiches throughout the week.

  5. Snack. Studies have demonstrated that people eat less when we eat alone. This makes sense; not only do we socialize and take our time when we’re eating with family and friends, there are often several dishes prepared for a single meal. While that’s sometimes celebrated as a “trick” for weight loss, it can cause undereating if you’re only ever eating small meals, so supplement with snacks in between. I often eat just an entree at a meal but then eat a substantial snack with a few hours.

    dscn2013

    Afternoon snack: Banana and dark chocolate, consumed separately

  6. Find some favorite quick and easy staples. Things like sandwiches, salads, eggs, oatmeal, etc. A pb&j is a perfectly legitimate lunch. Absolutely no shame in take out or frozen meals, either. I’m a definite fan of Amy’s organic frozen mac & cheese, for instance. My only complaint is the extra packaging and its impact on the environment.

    dscn2014

    Supper: Experimenting with a new recipe for the blog: pesto spaghetti squash with chicken meatballs. Taste was good, but I’ll need to keep playing with the recipe I think a smidgen before I post it.

  7. That said, do cook a real meal for yourself now and again. You don’t have to do it every day. And it doesn’t by any means have to be elaborate. But I know I feel at my best if I eat a real, well-balanced, home-cooked meal at least a few times a week. It’s a time commitment, but it’s worth it for my sanity.

    dscn2016

    Bedtime snack: Out-of-focus picture of cornflakes on my lap

Do you live by yourself, or have you in the past? What were some strategies you used to make sure you were eating enough?

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19 comments

  1. Cora says:

    Such good points here. I’ve never really thought about it this way – in terms of the risks of losing weight and eating less when you are alone. When we are with others there is generally more elaborate foods and more to choose from, versus living on my own, I’m often just scrounging leftovers or having something simple. Also a huge factor when you get out on your own and don’t have a salary yet is budgeting. You can easily fall in to the trap of trying to eat less, less quality meals, or make your leftovers last for longer. I know thats a real danger for me and my parents have to continually try to get me to spend the money on food.
    My freezer is my best friend. I didn’t want to overload it like I did last year but things are already starting to fall out.

    1. Joyce says:

      I hear you, Cora. I remember I used to spend $20 or $30 on food when I was a freshman or sophomore in college. It crept up quite a bit when I started recovery, and then it increased a ton since I started the low-FODMAP diet. πŸ˜› I’m with your parents–being budget-conscious is great, but food is such an important investment in our health and well-being, both short term and long term.

  2. Emily says:

    These are really good tips; I love that you emphasized simple and snacking and leftovers, because that makes meals seem less daunting. Meals are always more daunting for me when I’m by myself, because I love to cook for others (the social aspect of eating was something I came to really love after years of being so secretive with ED tendencies). I love a HUGE bowl of cereal with nut butter and nuts and fruit. That always helps with the calories.

    1. Joyce says:

      Yum! Me too. Good, whole grain cereal with nuts and fruit is so satisfying and delicious!

  3. Those are some great ideas and things to keep in mind, Joyce. Though I wasn’t lucky enough to have a big enough freezer – it was shoebox-sized and shared with my roommate.
    Personally, I never struggled with eating too little in terms of lacking cooking skills, money [I think I budgeted okay] or these. When I first moved out I was still in the depth of my ED, hence more or less knowingly undereating. I’ve wished I could turn back time more than once … not a good memory.

    1. Joyce says:

      I can imagine it’s probably not a good memory. Glad you’re in a better place now.
      I’ve had small freezer before in my life–so inconvenient!

  4. Evangeline says:

    Is it just me or is unsexy food the yummiest. I have so many pictures of AMAZINGLY delicious food, but they look really ew…it’s a struggle. I’m still a wee youngin’ in high school, but next year I’ll be off to college. I won’t be living alone per se, but it will still be a change from eating with my family. I’m a little worried, just because adjusting to a new environment makes me anxious, which usually depresses my appetite, but hopefully I’ll be surrounded with some awesome new friends who will make sure I’m nourishing like a champ πŸ™‚

    1. Joyce says:

      It sounds like you’re already great at food prep and aware of some issues I never was when I was in high school, though. I didn’t learn, for instance, how problematic the notion of BMI is until fairly recently. If you know that you need to feed yourself enough, that’s really going to help.
      I totally know what you mean about unsexy food being delicious. I’ve definitely also had the opposite experience–dishes that turned out so gorgeous for the blog but weren’t actually all that yummy. πŸ˜› Oh, well.

  5. When I lived by myself, I found that I rarely actually cooked! I typically just had a smoothie or a frozen dinner. I wasn’t as motivated! Now that I’m married, we try to have a healthy dinner at home πŸ™‚

    1. Joyce says:

      Understandable–it’s hard to be motivated to make a meal when there’s no one to share the food with.

  6. Kat says:

    LOVE these tips! Though I dont live by myself I do cook for myself. My husband doesn’t like the snacks, desserts, ect that I make so he has his own, which means that I need to get creative when I make anything for myself! I freeze A LOT of stuff πŸ˜‰

    1. Joyce says:

      Hey, more snacks for you, right?
      I don’t have that particular problem. One time I told my boyfriend he could take “some of” the cake and he tried to make off with the whole thing! πŸ™‚ I was flattered.

  7. Snacking and leftovers, yes! Those are key for me. Last spring I just got off of my school’s meal plan and started cooking for myself, and it really is far too easy to undereat when you’re not around people.

    1. Joyce says:

      Definitely–although it can be nice to get away from the dining hall, too, especially for folks who have food intolerances and allergies.

  8. Mary says:

    This post came just in time. I am transitioning from living with my boyfriend of 7 years to living alone. I always kept healthy, and sometimes unhealthy, snack foods in the house. Now that I’m alone I don’t have much food to eat, so I ignore my growling stomach which I know is not healthy. Thanks for all the tips.

    1. Joyce says:

      Sounds like a tough transition. I do hope this helps you stay healthy and fueled!

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