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Sitting at the table alone is often experienced as an ordeal. What if, single or not, we decide on the contrary to see it as a privileged experience, giving meaning to what we live?

Take out a plate for her, just for her, and sit down to lunch… At 24, Coralie, single, doesn’t even think about it, even though she works at home. “At the head of my own business, I take advantage of this time to answer e-mails, draw up quotes… I often swallow a sandwich quickly, in front of the computer, without much awareness of what I’m doing”, summarizes- she. With regret ? The young decorator notices above all that she has no choice. Profitability is a requirement… So eating properly is when she thinks about it, when she has the time. Or if it is of interest, commercial, for example.

This is why, eighteen months ago, the young woman joined the community of “colunchers” who, via the Net, regularly meet at restaurants for lunch, to meet, to discuss, to help each other… At the beginning, I didn’t go there to break with loneliness and my bad habits. Rather, I saw it as an excellent way to “network” for my business, she explains. Then, I met people, established ties… And now, when I join them at lunchtime, I know it’s also to offer me a break, a moment of conviviality that delights my palate and does me good by putting me back in a certain normality. »

Because, it must be admitted, eating alone is still not a settled question, even if the times invite us to do so via its “individual portions” to defrost. No matter how much we get used to it, or suffer it, the same question often comes up: why is it so difficult to eat when there is no one to watch?

“I suffer from no longer having to say ‘bon appetit'”

Louise, 43, does not like to eat alone, it makes her “sad”, she admits. Sad, as her fridge is every other week when she doesn’t have custody of her children. “Since my divorce, I eat anything: dried fruit, bread, chocolate… It’s totally depressing, but I can’t help it,” she confides. I, who took so much pleasure in cooking healthily for my family, can barely cook pasta. What caused his discomfort with the plate? “Guilt,” she replies. Even if the routine of meals tended to annoy me when we all lived together, it is now the suffering of no longer having to set the table, of no longer preparing anything, and even of no longer wishing “bon appetit” that regularly attacks me… Even though I made the decision to free myself from the family shackles, I feel that I miss him in that aspect. So, to forget what I’ve sacrificed, I turn on the TV and I snack… Until I don’t think about it anymore. »

A resistance to doing oneself good, or rather a desire to do oneself harm, which she is obviously not the only one to experience. On the couch, Sarah Chiche, a psychoanalyst, even often hears about it. According to her, many single parents would also be confronted with it. “After their separation, they find it complicated to grant themselves the right to have fun, she observes. Deprived of their role as spouse and that of full-time parent, they find themselves faced with themselves as subjects and wonder how to cope with this regained freedom. Not easy to do with this enjoyment that we could finally agree, but that we would find almost unworthy of allowing ourselves. »

Stop blaming yourself, and even reconnect with the desire to indulge yourself, this is precisely what Catherine Grangeard, also a psychoanalyst and author of Understanding Obesity (Albin Michel), invites her patients when they talk about this type of difficulties. “What hurts them the most? The assumption that eating together is the only valid norm. But stop telling us everywhere that the meal together is the sacred model! she protests. We must stop with this pressure which weakens so many of us, the psychological consequences can be very serious. The idea that eating together is essential to our balance is false, and the image of the family table with its warm atmosphere is a fantasy, a purely idyllic vision. In reality, the common meal is much more often the occasion for reproaches and remarks than a moment of pure harmony…” Hence his insistence: to relieve guilt and eat “alone and well”, it is therefore necessary first to get out of the illusion of an indispensable “other”.

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“No, in 2014, the meal prepared by Madame at a fixed time for her clan is no longer essential, continues Catherine Grangeard. And it doesn’t matter! So let’s stop submitting to the yoke of a definitively obsolete and widely questionable standard. Let us, on the contrary, restore value to our freedom and finally eat as we please! »

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Another unpleasant feeling widely mentioned by those who see themselves “forced” to feed themselves “on their own”: a feeling of shame that often goes hand in hand with a feeling of exclusion. We blame ourselves for remaining single, for lacking friends, for having lost our job… And, in the end, we don’t even sit down to eat. “Not hungry”, “not wanting”, we say to ourselves. Or “Prepare something for me? But it’s not worth it! “. And this leads us, sometimes, to become “emotional eaters” who swallow to calm their anxieties and their guilt… of eating alone and badly.

The underlying problem? “Often a lack of self-esteem, answers Florian Saffer, dietitian and behavioral therapist. The question of the value that we grant ourselves is indeed what makes all the difference between the one who undergoes the meal alone and the one who rejoices in it. But, according to him, when it comes to taking out a plate, many of us prefer not to think about it. “Eating alone refers to one’s life choices, to one’s itinerary, to what was, to what is no longer. Hence sometimes a feeling of failure that many say they do not want to “ruminate” when they have dinner. »

This state, Didier, 49 years old, commercial, lived it… and managed to overcome it, a year ago. “After successive professional setbacks and a devastating separation, I thought I was not going to get up, he says. It was a lot of failures and I was so little proud of myself that I didn’t have much of an appetite. His lifeline at a time when he no longer believed in it: his computer and social networks. Not like the thousands of Koreans who, ready to do anything to escape loneliness, pay a few cents to connect to a “mok-bang” site (a mixture of Korean words meaning “dinner” and “broadcast”) to eat in the face of someone who films himself… eating. No, if Didier chose to go through the virtual world, it was to find his bearings in reality.

“By frequenting the ‘colunchers’, I was able to gradually rediscover the pleasure of sitting down with others,” he explains. Sharing these meals allowed me to allow myself to trust again, and therefore to do myself good. To rediscover the taste of good things, including when I eat alone at home. »

Working to restore meaning to what we are experiencing, a fundamental rule to follow in order to overcome our complexes and rediscover the joy of eating well? The philosopher and psychoanalyst Carlos Tinoco is convinced of this. To transform the loneliness that disunites into loneliness that unites, “no other solution than to set off to reclaim oneself, he remarks. Especially through sensoriality”. And it’s not Franck Pinay-Rabaroust, ex-editor at Michelin Guide, which runs the risk of contradicting it. Gastronomic critic for Atabula.com, the gourmet still frequently finds himself at a table alone and he loves it: “How often do we say to ourselves that we are in bad company when we find ourselves sharing a meal with someone who can’t appreciate? From the moment you choose to take advantage of it, eating on the side can be a real delight. Finally alone, we are more attentive, more coherent with ourselves to explore what we taste, in all its facets, to question the texture, the aromas, the flavors… It’s a unique sensual experience! »

An experience that also seems to have a future: in Amsterdam, since last year, Eenmaal, the first restaurant in the world to offer tables only reserved for unaccompanied people, is always full. So much so that a branch could soon open in Paris…

100,000 meals in a lifetime!

Alone or not, we eat about a hundred thousand times in our lifetime. By need, but also by desire… In fact, eating is always “a complex act with multiple horizons”, as summarized by the sociologist and anthropologist Jean-Pierre Poulain, expert with the Cniel Observatory of eating habits (Ocha). However, new trends characterize our times. Overview in a few figures.

Two-thirds of the French eat breakfast alone during the week (half on weekends).

Every evening, one in ten French people dine face to face with himself.

Single people spend 22% of their meal time in front of the small screen (against 16% for couples with children).

More than 60% of executivesself-employed and intermediate professions say they sometimes sacrifice their lunch break.

The French are very synchronized : the peak time for breakfast is around 8 a.m. (excluding weekends). Lunchtime is at 1 p.m. Dinner recently moved from 8 p.m. to 8:15 p.m.

If the average daily time devoted to cooking is reduced, the time devoted to eating tends to increase: 2h 22 per day and per person, on average.

Food products purchased in individual portions can cost up to twice as much per liter or per kilo. According to a national survey by Families of France, mineral water is even 94% more expensive in small format than in a one and a half liter bottle.

Pulled down by the horsemeat affair, sales of individual ready meals fell by 17% in value during 2013.

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Sources: Ined, Insee, Ocha, lemondedusurgele.fr

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