The Lonely Heart: Why Eating Alone May Be Bad For Your Health
It’s not just what you eat that may contribute to your heart disease risk. It’s also how you eat those meals. New research suggests that eating alone may contribute to the increased risk of heart disease in menopausal women.
In this blog, we’ll have a ‘heart-to-heart’ talk about how dining in isolation may affect your heart health and what steps to take to keep your heart healthy and happy.
Heart Disease in Women
According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, accounting for about 1 in every 5 female deaths.
Women typically develop coronary heart disease (CHD) several years later than men. After menopause, there is a notable increase in women’s risk for cardiovascular disease, in part, because women’s estrogen levels, which help regulate vascular function, decrease. However, the number of research studies including women during the menopause transition is remarkably limited, leaving women and their healthcare providers unsure about how to proceed with interventions such as lipid-lowering medications and hormone replacement. On the basis of the data collected to date, healthcare practitioners usually recommend a preventive approach, optimizing healthy eating and exercise, to decrease the probability of a future heart attack or stroke. It’s well established that a sedentary lifestyle, poor diet, and cigarette smoking increase CHD risk in women.
But, that’s not the whole story.
A new study reveals another risk factor for increasing heart trouble as women age — eating alone. According to researchers, eating in isolation contributes to both physical and mental risk factors for heart disease.
Society Has Changed
With the pace of modern life, people are eating fewer meals at the table with loved ones and more meals in the car, at their desks, and in front of the TV. There are more single-person households and women are multitasking more than ever. Home food delivery services have become increasingly popular and even younger people order out a lot. Social distancing in response to the COVID19 pandemic has further contributed to less social dining and gatherings.
The bottom line is that more and more people are eating alone. This has raised health concerns, especially for women at midlife and approaching the menopause transition when their risk of heart disease is known to accelerate.
Dining Alone and Heart Health
A new study looked at the relationship between eating alone and the prevalence of heart disease in 590 menopausal women. The researchers found that the women who ate more than two daily meals alone were 2.5 times more likely to have angina than those who ate two or more meals a day with others. Angina is a type of chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart and a symptom of coronary artery disease.
We Eat Differently When We’re Alone
When eating alone we are more likely to eat standing up, consume larger quantities, and grab junk food. Several studies have shown that the primary dietary pitfall of eating in isolation is a lower intake of vegetables.
Stress and binge eating patterns are also more common with isolated eating and less likely to occur with the positive social influence of dining with friends and family.
Eating with Others Improves Mental Health Too
Isolation, in general, including eating alone, can contribute to depression which is also associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Dining with others provides an opportunity for conversation, storytelling, and reconnection which activates neurochemicals in our brains that stimulate feelings of improved well-being and contentedness.
Why Eating Alone Can Be Bad For Your Health: Final Thoughts
With new research pointing to the heart-healthy benefits of eating with others, it seems the traditions of yesteryear are based on good scientific evidence!