Alone at the Table: Food Behavior and the Loss of Commensality in Widowhood

Academic Article


  • Objectives: Eating alone is a known risk factor for nutritional vulnerability in later life. Widowhood often entails loss of commensality (shared meals). This article explores this experience among older widowed women in relation to food behavior. Method: Qualitative methods based on constructivist grounded theory were used. Interviews were conducted with 15 women living alone in the community, aged 71 to 86 years, and widowed 6 months to 15 years. Results: Widowhood meant having significantly fewer opportunities for commensality. Participants attributed changes to their food behaviors to the loss of commensality, including food choice, fewer regular meals, and reduced work of meal preparation. These changes were attributed to the experienced difference between shared meals and meals eaten alone, no longer having the commitment of commensality, and having less interest in meal preparation in the absence of obligation or reward of commensality. Discussion: 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.
  • Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Author List

  • Vesnaver E; Keller HH; Sutherland O; Maitland SB; Locher JL
  • Start Page

  • 1059
  • End Page

  • 1069
  • Volume

  • 71
  • Issue

  • 6