— Deborah Kesten, VIP Contributor at Thrive Global

Do you see yourself in any of these dining scenarios?

Eating a sandwich, salad, or snack, perhaps while texting, working at your computer, or being otherwise distracted by the details of daily life.

o Driving home at night, munching a burger and fries from a favorite fast-food outlet.

o Having a secret, private “zone out” in front of the TV with, say, some pizza, a pint of your favorite ice cream, and perhaps a bag of chips. 

If these eat-alone scenes are familiar, you have lots of company. Today it’s typical for millions to eat meals by themselves. For instance, children may reach for a piece of packaged pizza that rests on the kitchen countertop, theneat it at the computer; many millennials may heat up their takeout meal in the microwave, then dine solo while watching TV; and traveling salespeople might be driven to ‘dashboard dining’ while en route to yet another meeting.

Eating alone more often than not means you practice Solo Dining—the overeating style behavioral scientist Larry Scherwitz, PhD, and I, discovered that increases odds of overeating and being overweight or obese.1

The ‘Solo Dining’ Overeating Style 

What is a Solo Dining overeating style? It is an interconnected family of eating behaviors that includes whether a person does—or doesn’t—eat mostly: (1) with family members, (2) with friends, (3) alone, (4) and/or at home at the dining table. 

Larry and I discovered the Solo Dining overeating style when we did research with 5,256 participants who filled out our 80-item overeating styles questionnaire before and after they completed my 18-lesson, online, Whole Person Integrative Eating (WPIE) e-course.4 When we looked closely at the results, not only did we discover Solo Dining andthat Social Nutrition is a viable element of nutritional health, we also discovered that Solo Dining is one of seven ‘new-normal’ overeating behaviors—Food Fretting, Task Snacking, Emotional Eating, Fast Foodism, Unappetizing Atmosphere, and Sensory Disregard are the other six—that are linked to overeating and being overweight and obese.1-3

The sobering takeaway about our discovery of Solo Dining is this: Chronic social isolation while eating increases oddsthat you’ll overeat and gain weight.1 And more and more studies, worldwide, are finding the same dynamic: those who eat by themselves—from children to adults—are at increased odds of being obese.5-8

Solo Dining and Obesity: It’s an International Trend

Global statistics on the Solo Dining overeating style are nothing less than daunting: As much as 10 years ago, surveys revealed that the eat-alone trend was escalating: 30 to 40 percent of American families were not eating together most of the time. Today, nearly half—46 percent of adults—eat by themselves. The escalating eat-alone trend is a growing concern, because more and more studies are supporting our discovery about the Solo Dining overeating style and its link to being overweight and obese.

Here, an around-the-world look at the daunting data on the new-normal Solo Dining trend and what it means to your weight and well-being. 

o Researchers in Japan found that eating alone, coupled with living alone, are jointly associated with higher risk of obesity and unhealthy eating behaviors (translation: consuming lots of fast, processed, junk food) in both men and in women.5

o In a U.S. study with 8,459 kindergarten children, those who watched TV during dinner—instead of eating family meals while having convivial conversation—were more likely to be overweight by the time they were in third grade.6 

o A two-year study out of Korea revealed that the obesity rate of those who ate all three meals—breakfast, lunch, and dinner—by themselves was 1.4 times higher than those who ate all meals with others.7 Yet another study from Korea showed a clear correlation between lone diners in their 20s and their being obese.8

The message is clear: More and more studies are revealing that if you practice the new-normal Solo Dining overeating style—as millions do globally—you increase the odds of overeating and becoming overweight or obese. 

Recipes for Social Nourishment

Here’s the good news: You can interpret the discovery about solitary eating and increased risk for piling on pounds as an opportunity, a chance to make small social changes while eating that have the potential to lead to big mind-body health and weight benefits. 

Here are some suggestions for turning Solo Dining into an eating experience filled with social delight, pleasure, and nourishment. Some are quick and easy; others take more time. The choice is yours.

Note. In this time of Covid, with so many working at home, consider implementing some—or all—of these ‘social nourishment’ suggestions—virtually.

Invite a person to share fare with you. Take a break. When working, ask a coworker to join you for a cup of coffee or a snack. Or eat with one or more coworkers when it’s lunch time. 

Host a pot-luck dinner at your place. Invite some favorite people in your life to bring a pot-luck dish to your home. For instance, ask one to bring a salad, while others complete the meal with a main dish, sides, and dessert.

Create a cooking club “family.” Invite coworkers, friends, and nearby neighbors to be part of your cooking club “family.” Rotate meals at the homes of members. Share meal memories and favorite-food stories as you dine.

Start multigenerational meal memories. Begin a family tradition by inviting one or more family members over to enjoy a meal made using a recipe from an older member of your family—perhaps a grandparent, parent, or aunt.Launch each meal by setting a glowing table with special ware. 

Dine with your pet. If you have a dog or cat or bird or other pet that you love, consider enjoying a beverage or eating a meal at the same time that your pet eats. 

And then there’s this: There may be times when you simply need some solitude while eating and you intentionallywant to choose Solo Dining. During these times, consider mindfulness eating: Begin by relaxing. Close your eyes and then inhale and exhale slowly. Throughout the meal, savor flavors, colors, texture, and more. Another eat-alone option: Just prior to eating, think of people you care about, then eat your meal while “holding’ them in your heart.

The takeaway: Consider ways you can integrate eating with others into your food-related experiences each day, so that ‘social nourishment’ becomes an everyday part of your life. 

Eat Less, Weigh Less. With ‘Social Nourishment.’

Here is the Whole Person Integrative Eating® (WPIE) antidote to the Solo Dining overeating style:

Enjoy food-related experiences with others—as often as possible.

As simple as the solution to the Solo Dining overeating style may seem, I know it can be a challenge to implement, given the demands of busy schedules, deadlines, cell phones, pagers, and e-mail that can keep us on call twenty-four hours a day. Still, perhaps the ancient social message in food writer Marion Cunningham’s wisdom that “we’re fed more than food when we eat with others” is worth considering: “It is one thing to eat,” she told me during an interview,“it is another to dine on lovingly prepared food with good friends.”9

I agree. The WPIE facet of Social Nutrition, and its guideline for ‘social nourishment’ as often as possible, is indeed one of life’s greatest pleasures. A pleasure that, we now know, increases odds of eating less and weighing less. One meal at a time.


  1. Larry Scherwitz and Deborah Kesten, “Seven Eating Styles Linked to Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity,” Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing 1, no. 5 (2005): 342–59.
  2. Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz, “Whole Person Integrative Eating: A Program for Treating Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity,” Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal 14, no. 5 (October/November 2015): 42–50. 
  3. Deborah Kesten and Larry Scherwitz, Whole Person Integrative Eating: A Breakthrough Dietary Lifestyle to Treat the Root Causes of Overeating, Overweight, and Obesity (Amherst, MA: White River Press, 2020). 
  4. Deborah Kesten, “The enlightened diet integrative eating e-course.” New York: Spirituality & Health (December 16, 2002–January 24, 2003). 
  5. Tani Y., Kondo N., et al, “Combined effects of eating alone and living alone on unhealthy dietary behaviors, obesity and underweight in older Japanese adults: results of the JAGES,” Appetite 95 (December 2015): 1-8.
  6. Gable S, et al, “Television Watching and Frequency of Family Meals Are Predictive of Overweight Onset and Persistence in a National Sample of School-Aged Children,” Journal of the Association of Nutrition and Dietetics, 1:107 (January 2007): 53-61.
  7. Won-woo C, Ki-hun L, “People Who Eat Alone More Vulnerable to Obesity,” Chosunilbo & Chosun.com, February 15, 2018, http://english.chosun.com/site/data/html_dir/2018/02/15/2018021500536.html (accessed December 25, 2018).
  8. Lim Jeong-Yeo, “Dining alone leads to obesity for Korean millennials: Study,” The Korea Herald/Asia News Network, November 14, 2018, https://www.thejakartapost.com/life/2018/11/13/dining-alone-leads-to-obesity-for-korean-millennials-study.html, (accessed December 25, 2018).
  9. Marion Cunningham, conversation with Deborah Kesten, April 2003.


  • Deborah Kesten


    Whole Person Integrative Eating

    Deborah Kesten is an international nutrition researcher and award-winning author, specializing in preventing and reversing obesity and heart disease. Her research career began as Nutritionist on Dean Ornish, M.D.’s first clinical trial for reversing heart disease, and as Director of Nutrition on similar "reversal" research at cardiovascular clinics in Europe. Deborah is Founder of Whole Person Integrative Eating (WPIE), her evidence-based model and program for treating the root causes of overeating, overweight, and obesity. Her research on WPIE has been published in peer-reviewed medical journals, and her WPIE training-and-certification course for certified health professionals may be accessed at  www.IntegrativeEating.com/training/ and at www.WPIE.org. Deborah's latest award-winning book is Whole Person Integrative Eating: A Breakthrough Dietary Lifestyle for Treating Overeating, Overweight, and ObesityTo learn more, please visit https://integrativeeating.com/iesection/