Food Tastes Better With Friends!
Emerging research says who you do (or don’t) eat with can have a significant effect on your health. A recent study out of South Korea analyzed health data from over 7,000 adults and found that men and women who ate at least two meals per day alone were significantly more likely to have of high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol.
Even after controlling for factors such as education, age, exercise, smoking, alcohol consumption and marital status solo dining men and women showed 64% and 29% higher risks of being sick and overweight, respectively. That’s a big deal.
The study may have been conducted in Korea but solo eating is just as much at home in the US where, according to the Food Marketing Institute, nearly half of all meals and snacks are eaten in solitude. Where one in five meals are eaten in a car. Where one quarter of Americans eat fast food everyday.
But so what? People eat crappy food with their friends too…right? So what’s really going on here?
Well firstly, research shows that we eat unhealthier food and we eat it faster when we eat alone. But not only that, we actually enjoy our food less! You see the brain naturally releases dopamine, our reward hormone, when we smile and laugh with friends. Dopamine makes us feel satisfied and content. But solo eaters aren’t laughing at the table with just themselves and their smartphones, so their physiology looks for another way to get the dopamine it craves: comfort foods. Fatty, sugary, and salty foods also trigger the release of dopamine, so solo eaters will naturally tend to these unhealthy treats. But when you eat with friends you already get the dopamine so you feel more satisfied with your food and don’t need to reach for the junk. Food really does taste better with friends.
But the issue is more than just hormonal. There is also a social and psychology side to eating alone that is at play here. If you’re eating at least two meals per day alone, how are your stress levels? Your relationships? Your sleeping patterns? A person spending so much time eating alone probably doesn’t have the strong, healthy relationships that they need in their life. Relationships which have been proven to make you live longer.
Just look at the Mediterranean diet. Researchers continue to puzzle at the good health of the Mediterraneans despite how much wine they drink and fat they consume. By many measures these are cultures with “unhealthy” diets, yet they continue to outlive us! But when we look past the details and look at the communal and social aspects of their food culture it really isn’t that difficult to understand. Because it’s about who you eat with, not just what you eat. Even if a solo eater counts their calories (see my other article on why counting calories is a waste of time) he or she is still missing out on the positive mental, physical, and hormonal benefits of a social food culture where meals are long events and always with family and friends. And no one is stressing about their calories.
The takeaway here is that the human system is beautifully complex. Dietary health isn’t just about food in and stomach out. And true well being is much deeper and broader than simply the absence of disease. This article is a great reminder for us to look at health in terms of quality of life, in terms of relationships, and in terms of happiness and fulfillment. Not only are these more important than the objective measures of health but they actually have a direct impact on them. My goal is simply for this article to be a reminder to all of us in the Performance family to take a little more time out of our day for the friends and family around us. Improving your health can be as simple as sharing a meal with the people you care about. Because relationships are what are really important in life and in your health, on every level.
Yukako Tani, Naoki Kondo, Daisuke Takagi, Masashige Saito, Hiroyuki Hikichi, Toshiyuki Ojima, Katsunori Kondo,
Combined effects of eating alone and living alone on unhealthy dietary behaviors, obesity and underweight in older Japanese adults: Results of the JAGES,
A Rom Kwon, Yeong Sook Yoon, Kyong Pil Min, Yoon Kyung Lee, Ji Ho Jeon,
Eating alone and metabolic syndrome: A population-based Korean National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2013–2014,
Obesity Research & Clinical Practice,
Volume 12, Issue 2,
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