Does the idea of eating out alone make you feel awkward? Heed this advice: Rather than be uncomfortable or feel compelled to rush through a meal because of a lack of companion, solo diners should embrace the concept that eating alone is an opportunity for nourishment on multiple levels.
Our culture too often mistakenly sees a person alone as lonely. We may even be guilty ourselves of projecting that definition onto others whom we observe throughout the day as they go about solitary errands or activities. Because the act of eating so often involves a social aspect—sharing meals with family, friends or colleagues; or eating in restaurants, at a social event or in other public settings—it can be easy to assume that someone sitting alone at a table is missing those connections.
“We aren’t taught in our culture to be alone,” explains Diane Israel, a psychotherapist and professor of psychology at Naropa University in Boulder, Colo. ”There’s a stigma fundamental in our culture that comes with a core message that there is something inherently wrong or shameful about eating alone.” Israel, who specializes in body image and eating struggles, is also the producer of the award-winning film Beauty Mark, which deals with these topics and how they relate to accepted standards of beauty.
Of course, a person eating alone may be enjoying a still moment in an otherwise hectic life, or simply savoring a favorite dish. Instead of being lonely, that person may be someone who has given themselves permission to experience the pleasure of fully engaging in the act of nourishing themselves, and who recognizes that food is more than just nutrition for the body—it also has the power to feed the soul.
“The truth is that not only do many people enjoy solitary activities, they may seek them out,” Israel notes.
“It’s important to recognize that in our culture, no one is truly alone—you’re strapped to someone else through technology, whether that’s your phone or computer. Eating alone is sacred. It allows you to slow down.”
This sentiment is reflected in the popular Slow Food movement, which recognizes the connection between food and well-being, Israel points out. “It is so important that we understand that everything is possible when we are aware, when we are alone: stillness, mindfulness, grace and gratitude.”
The art of letting go
One of the tenets of the ancient philosophy of Taoism is to practice non-attachment. By releasing any attachment you have to judging what it means to eat alone—whether for yourself or someone you encounter—you can free yourself to embrace the harmony that can be found in dining alone. Deliberate measures such as using intention, serving yourself food in a beautiful bowl or plate, and honoring mealtime with soothing music or intentional silence can aid digestion and leave you feeling more satisfied. Here are some ways to move toward that goal:
- Infuse mealtime with intention. Whether out loud for the world to hear or silently to yourself, convey an intention that the food you eat will nurture your body and your being.
- Practice awareness. Being mindful of where food came from—goat’s cheese from a local dairy, bright radishes from the farmer’s market in town, organic tea that grew on a faraway mountain slope—automatically places us in context within the greater world and all the sentient beings who dwell here.
- Express gratitude. This can be a completely non-religious personal blessing, or simply a thank-you to the universe for the food in front of you.
- Steep yourself in pleasure. Noticing the textures, colors, shapes and scent of food enhances our experience of its pleasure. Who could fail to be beguiled by the hue of a ripe slice of pink watermelon, or the luscious aroma of freshly baked cinnamon bread? Be present in the experience of eating.
- Craft a ritual. Think of the beautiful ceremonies that exist in many cultures to accompany the preparation and enjoyment of tea. Light a candle, or eat outside. Add music to your meal or to its preparation—Israel suggests viewing the cooking and preparation of food to music as a beautiful dance that can stimulate your senses and provide a context of profound joy.
- Create enchantment. Saving the silver and crystal for Aunt Rachel’s visit? Don’t. Shop for a plate, bowl, table linen and special glassware that make you swoon at its beauty, and use it for yourself. Celebrate yourself—right here, right now. Don’t wait for an audience.