In a recent study, Dr. Julie L. Locher, professor in the departments of medicine and health care organization and policy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in collaboration with Dr. Elisabeth Vesnaver, research associate at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada, observed that eating alone leaves widows, especially in later life, vulnerable to insufficient nutritional intake. Other co-investigators from Ontario are Dr. Heather H. Keller, professor at the University of Waterloo; and Dr. Olga Sutherland, assistant professor, and Dr. Scott B. Maitland, associate professor, at the University of Guelph.
To explore older widowed women’s food behavior, the researchers used qualitative methods based on constructivist grounded theory. After conducting interviews with 15 women, ages 71 to 86, who lived alone after their spouses had died between six months to 15 years previously, Drs. Vesnaver and Locher and their colleagues discovered that the widows attributed changes in their eating habits to no longer eating with a companion, which created less interest in having regular meals and reduced effort in meal preparation.
“Eating alone symbolized loss and was less enjoyable, yet the pleasure experienced with food was intact. Focusing on the pleasure of eating may help support women when they lose regular commensality late in life. Free from the commitment of commensality, some shifted away from regular meals and simplified their meal preparation strategies. This has implications for clinical and research endeavors,” noted the investigators.
“Alone at the Table: Food Behavior and the Loss of Commensality in Widowhood” was published online in November in the Journals of Gerontology, Series B, Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.