Dinner is the last meal of the day and the one that people are least likely to skip. It’s more common to skip breakfast or lunch than dinner. The time people choose to eat the last meal of the day varies widely. Some grab an early dinner around 6ish, while others set the dinner table closer to 9:00 p.m.
Here’s an interesting fact for you. A study showed that the “healthiness” of the food choices we make decreases by 1.7% every hour that passes. So, most people make the smartest food choices in the morning, and less so as the day goes on. Therefore, for many people, dinner is not the healthiest meal of the day.
Let’s look at some common dinner eating habits that could harm your waistline and health.
Grabbing Takeout for Dinner
After a long day at work, it’s tempting to order takeout and warm it up at home. Who wants to heat up the stove? Don’t make a habit of it though. Not only are takeout and restaurant portion sizes deceptively large, but the oils that restaurants use are usually soybean oil or corn oil, not the healthiest options.
After cooking your entrée with an unhealthy oil, restaurants then smother your order with salt. It adds unnecessary calories to a dinner that is likely made with low-quality ingredients. Many restaurants use low-quality ingredients because it’s easy to do so and still produce food that is “good enough.” You don’t know what you’re getting when you eat at a restaurant.
There’s a lot of mystery behind those swinging doors that lead to the kitchen. Cooking simple meals at home with whole food ingredients is the best bet for your health, weight control, and waistline. Eat it mindfully too.
Eating a Dinner Fit for a King
Do you need a big meal prior to bedtime? You’re more active early in the day, and your insulin sensitivity is greater too. So, your body is set up to better handle the food you take in later in the day. In the evening, your body starts idling down to enter sleep mode. Insulin sensitivity falls, and it becomes harder for your body to burn fat and burn the calories from the immense dinner you just ate. The best advice is to front-load your calories. Make breakfast your biggest meal and reduce meal size as the day goes on. The old saying to eat breakfast like a king and dinner like a pauper is spot on. Eat the most when you’re the most active and insulin sensitivity is highest.
Turning Dinner into a Carb Fest
Carbohydrates, particularly refined carbs, and sugar cause a sharp rise in insulin. That’s what you don’t want later in the day since insulin is a fat-storage hormone. What do most people do after dinner? Hang out on the couch or go straight to bed. Insulin stays around longer when you’re inactive, and it’s easier for your body to store fat. Plus, high levels of insulin and poor insulin sensitivity are associated with an increased risk of other health problems, including type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The solution? Cut back on the refined carbohydrates at dinner, skip the sugar, and consume more fiber and protein. After dinner, take a 10-minute stroll. Studies show 10-minute walks after meals do more for blood sugar control than walking at other times of the day, even if you stroll for 30 minutes at other times.
Eating Dinner Too Late
An earlier dinner may be more beneficial for your waistline and health. According to some research, eating a late dinner goes against the dictates of your circadian rhythms, the natural rhythms set by your internal biological clock. These rhythms control the release of hormones that affect your appetite, metabolism, and even your immune system. Your natural rhythms are programmed to process food during daylight hours and periods when you’re most active, not late in the day.
Some studies show that eating a meal late in the evening worsens blood sugar control and increases inflammation. These factors may also contribute to weight gain and health problems. It’s still a hotly contested issue. Some nutrition experts believe the time you eat dinner is not a major contributor to weight gain.
It’s true that what you eat, how much, and how physically active you are over the entire day is most important. Still, insulin sensitivity is higher earlier in the day. Therefore, it’s best to eat your biggest meal earlier and keep meals in the evening light. The composition of what you eat matters too. Lighten up on the carbohydrates and add more protein to your evening meal.
Working While You Eat Dinner
You might be tempted to eat dinner while you finish up the day’s paperwork but resist the urge to multitask. Distracted eating will cause you to eat more than you would if you focused on your meal. Research shows mindful eating helps you be satisfied with less. According to Harvard Health, practicing mindfulness with a meal can help you gain more pleasure out of a meal, reduce stress, and better control your weight.
What is mindfulness? It’s focusing on the process of eating, rather than shifting your attention to another task. With mindful eating, you focus on the sight, aroma, taste, and texture of the food you eat. That’s the opposite of what happens when you eat in a distracted manner. Some people focus so much on the “other task” that they aren’t even aware they’ve eaten. Don’t be a person who eats on the run and works while they eat.
The Bottom Line
Avoid these unhealthy dinner habits and practices and give your evening meal an upgrade. You’ll be rewarded with better health and a slimmer waistline. You might enjoy your dinner more too!
- “Is It Bad To Eat At Night? | University Health News.” 30 Jun. 2020, universityhealthnews.com/daily/nutrition/is-it-bad-to-eat-at-night-6-reasons-to-avoid-nighttime-meals-and-snacks/.
- “Mindful Eating – Harvard Health Publications – Harvard Health.” 01 Feb. 2011, health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/mindful-eating.
- Reynolds AN, Mann JI, Williams S, Venn BJ. Advice to walk after meals is more effective for lowering postprandial glycaemia in type 2 diabetes mellitus than advice that does not specify timing: a randomized crossover study. Diabetologia. 2016 Dec;59(12):2572-2578. doi: 10.1007/s00125-016-4085-2. Epub 2016 Oct 17. PMID: 27747394.
- Radcliffe, Shawn. “Eating Habits: Healthy at Breakfast, Junk Food at Night.” Men’s Fitness. http://www.mensfitness.com/nutrition/what-to-eat/eating-habits-healthy-at-breakfast-junk-food-at-night