Filipino culture does not encourage people to spend time by themselves. Day in and day out, from home to work and back home again, we are encouraged to spend as much time as we can with other people. The media constantly emphasizes this, whether it’s with family, with your friends, or with the significant other.
This is especially true when it comes to food and dining. Food is the centerpiece of Filipino social gatherings, from the informal meet-up to the larger, family-centric holiday meals like the Christmas Noche Buena. This means that, when someone is seen eating alone, that person is considered a figure of pity: After all, something bad must be going on in their life if they’re sitting all by their lonesome.
But for a lot of people, dining alone isn’t a bad thing. It’s not even a matter of grudging necessity, as it can sometimes be for others. For those who like dining alone, asking for “a table for one” at a restaurant isn’t something to be embarrassed about; it’s something to celebrate.
Why, though? What are the advantages of eating out on your own? There are many reasons people enjoy eating out on their own, but here are five reasons that might inspire you to try dining solo.
In a world where social media is the norm, and in a culture where being on your own is somewhat frowned upon, moments of solitude are especially important. Psychologists agree that spending time by oneself is key to mental health, helping improve concentration, productivity, and strengthening relationships with others. However, solitude can be hard to find, especially in today’s corporate working environment.
This is where dining alone can be a good thing. Having lunch by yourself can give you some mental breathing space away from your colleagues, your bosses, and heck even your phone, letting you think about what happened in the morning, and plan out how to deal with the rest of the afternoon. Have a big meeting or important presentation in the afternoon? Having a nice meal by yourself can not only prepare you physically for the task, but help you mentally too.
Since we’re just a few months into the new year, most people are still trying to stick as best as they can to their new year’s resolutions, which often includes “Eat more healthily.” However, what constitutes “eating healthily” can vary from person to person, and when you’re dining out in a group, these ideas can clash and make choosing a restaurant difficult. But even if you get past that hurdle and agree on a place to eat, actually placing your orders can be hard, because if everyone in your barkada is ordering bagnet, you might feel pressured into ordering the same thing, even if what you really want to eat is salmon sinigang.
Dining alone completely eliminates this problem. Managing your diet becomes infinitely easier when you don’t have to contend with social pressure on top of your own self-discipline, and you can be as strict or as lax with yourself as you want. If you think you should eat quinoa and grilled fish, you can do precisely that. And if you feel like taking your cheat day a little early and going for the sticky pork ribs instead, well, no one will be there to stop―or judge―you.
Speaking of eating healthy, it turns out that being an adventurous eater might actually be a lot healthier for you than you might think. By trying something new every so often, you’re being more conscious and therefore, more thoughtful about the food you’re putting into your body. You don’t have to be Andrew Zimmern or Anthony Bourdain work. Just trying something new once or twice a month, whether it’s an unusual ingredient you’ve never had before, or an entirely new cuisine, can actually keep you healthier than expected.
However, trying to be an adventurous eater when you’re with other people can be difficult. Some prejudices against certain cuisines are culturally ingrained. For example, a lot of Filipinos aren’t interested in trying Indian food because they fear it will make them stink. In other cases, it’s more personal―some people are just not adventurous, or are very picky.
Whatever the case may be, dining alone takes care of all these problems by not forcing you to deal with them in the first place. Whether you feel like trying out that new Middle-Eastern restaurant that’s just a walking distance from your office building, or the sketchy-looking but delicious-smelling barbecue stand down the street from your condo. There is absolutely nothing and no one stopping you from opening yourself up to a new gustatory experience.
Nowadays, it seems like there’s so much that needs to get done, and not nearly enough time to do it. In such moments, taking the time to sit down and eat a proper meal can feel like wasted time, and it becomes so much easier and (deleted words) more convenient to just bolt down a fast-food meal combo and get right back to tackling your massive To-Do list. While tackling meal times this way can be okay in the short term, in the long term it does far more harm than good. Research shows that eating food quickly can actually cause you to gain weight, because you consume more food when you eat quickly than when you eat slowly.
Being forced to eat at a faster-than-normal pace can happen when you eat with other people, especially in an office environment. In the same way that you can subconsciously conform to your companions’ food choices when eating in a group, so you too can be affected by their eating pace. If your colleague is under a deadline and is practically inhaling her meal so she can get right back to work, you might subconsciously follow suit, even if you don’t need to.
If you dine alone, however, this does not become an issue because you can determine how much time you take for your meal. If you really need to eat quickly, you can do just that and not have to worry about slowing your pace for someone else’s sake. And if you feel like taking your sweet time, you can do exactly that too, without having to guilt-trip yourself into eating more quickly because someone in your group needs to dash off somewhere else.
Everyone has their own go-to “treat yo’self” experience, something to reward themselves for a job well done, or just to help cheer themselves up when they are feeling down. It also helps that the “treat yo’self” approach to life has some important mental health benefits, ranging from reinforcing positive behavior to improved productivity. These treats don’t need to be extravagant or expensive; they just need to be special enough to actually feel like a reward.
Dining alone can definitely be a “treat yo’self” experience, one that can be as luxurious or as simple as you want it to be. When you have no one and nothing else to think about except yourself, any meal can become a treat, whether it’s a fancy three-course meal at a fine-dining establishment, or even a pizza at home while binge-watching that new series you’ve been dying to catch up on. Remember, it’s not about the money you spend on the treat, it’s about the pleasure you derive from it.
Art by Dorothy Guya