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