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Something for Single People to Chew On . . . : Food: When you live alone, it's easy to disregard a healthy diet. But a little control and some work can make good nutrition a part of your daily life.

October 23, 1994|CAROLE SUGARMAN | THE WASHINGTON POST

You eat a light lunch and get home late from work. You're tired and famished, so you grab dinner--cheese, crackers and a couple of glasses of wine. And since you live alone and nobody's looking . . . well, what the heck, why not polish off the pint of Cherry Garcia?

Many people who live by themselves find it difficult to shop, cook and pay attention to good nutrition.

As a result, single people sometimes have the tendency to overeat, says Melanie Polk, nutritionist with the American Institute for Cancer Research. "Nobody's watching. The only person they have to account for is themselves, which for some people is a real problem."

Others eat while reading or watching television--good for keeping you company but bad for mindless bingeing. "If you're not paying attention, you could down 500 to 1,000 calories without tasting a bite," says Katherine Tallmadge, a Washington, D.C. dietitian. "You also don't get the psychological satisfaction of eating a meal."

As a result, Tallmadge encourages her single clients to turn off the TV and put down the paper when they eat dinner. "When you eat, sit down, take a few deep breaths and relax."

What's more, some go-it-aloners eat out of loneliness. Food is comfort, company and a reward. Tallmadge advises her clients to seek out non-food rewards every day. It could be any activity that makes you feel good, even if it lasts only a few minutes, says Tallmadge. Watch a sunset, take a bath, talk to a friend, flip through a favorite magazine.

But when the going gets tough, just remember that living alone has many dietary advantages. "If you think living alone is hard," says Polk, "just think about how hard it would be if you had a saboteur offering you the choice of going out for a hot fudge sundae."

Single people also have more control over their schedules and mealtimes. "You don't have a husband who's going out for a business meeting or a kid with emergency band practice," she says.

So take advantage of it, stresses Polk. Plan ahead. Do a weekly shopping trip. Make healthful selections. "Otherwise, eating becomes haphazard, and when that happens, it's an invitation to disaster."

Here are some quick tips from Polk and others for avoiding disaster:

* Have a snack late in the afternoon.

If you eat lunch between noon and 1:30, no wonder you're starving by dinner time. Buy a piece of fruit from a street vendor and eat it at 4 or 5 or just before you leave work. Then you won't walk in the house hungry enough to eat the rugs.

* Control portions of carryout and delivery food.

Out of sight, out of mind. Before you eat the whole pizza, freeze half of it. "Manage what you're eating, rather than let the food manage you," says Polk.

* Explore foods that are perfect for one serving.

Microwave a giant sweet potato. Top a salmon steak with lemon pepper. Combine tortellini with frozen vegetables (keep a big bag of vegetables in the freezer, and take out just what you need); boil together and serve with a little marinara sauce or grated Parmesan. Make a French bread pizza: Split a baguette and spread with sauce, low-fat cheese and sliced mushrooms; cook in the toaster oven. Use the salad bar for making stir-fries, or add a small can of tuna to the bean or pasta salads.

* Eat breakfast for dinner.

There's nothing wrong with having cereal and fruit for dinner, says Rosemary Clifford, wellness coordinator of International Telecommunications Satellite Consortium's health promotion program. And don't forget about pancakes. Serve them with sliced bananas and blueberry syrup, or plain with a side dish of apples, sauteed in a non-stick pan with a dash of vanilla and cinnamon.

For more ideas and recipes, there's "Cooking Solo," a 35-page brochure available from the American Institute for Cancer Research. For a free copy, call (202) 328-7744, Ext. 16.

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