When is the ideal time to eat dinner?
It’s so common in our culture to have dinner as the biggest meal of the day. And often it’s at 7 pm or later.
Have you ever wondered how this impacts your body and health?
If you are truly ready to make measurable improvements in your weight, sleep, and energy levels, you have to consider the order, or rhythm, of your daily habits.
When you do things, is as important as what you do.
We often focus on what we will do first thing in the morning to get us on track for a great day.
The truth is what we do today influences how we will feel tomorrow.
That’s why I start my group coaching clients with a focus on their evening meal to optimize their ability to thrive.
Modern technology and conveniences have made it easier than ever to eat whatever we want whenever we want. However, modern progress isn’t always in tune with optimal health.
Our health still follows ancient, evolutionary patterns.
In fact our endocrine system still operates on a cycle regardless of the numerous ways we can interrupt that cycle and keep ourselves going with caffeine and other stimulates to seemingly bypass our need for rest and recovery.
Until of course, that backfires and we get sick.
Disease is often triggered by the inflammation that results from physical or psychological stress on the body.
The amount of food you ask your body to digest, and when, can either enhance your health or deteriorate it.
Eating a heavy or late dinner is not in sync with the natural slow down that takes place in your body, mind, and spirit at the end of each day.
Your body has less digestive enzymes to break down food in the evening. Which means you risk clogging your digestive tract with food that it cannot process.
This is likely to interfere with your ability to sleep soundly through the night.
It also takes energy away from the pitta time of night when your body is designed to repair itself (learn more about the Ayurvedic Clock).
While I would personally rather live with the conveniences of modern times, I also understand that our current Western lifestyle provides copious amounts of input for our minds and bodies to process.
While we may have more information and food at our fingertips than ever before, our bodies are still at their best when they can process all of this input.
That’s why timing is critical to our health and wellbeing.
As the sun goes down, we should be choosing to wind down too.
Our minds should also be lighter in the evening because our mental capacities are slower due to the kapha time of earth and water between 6 and 10 pm. We want to lighten our load in all areas during this time of day, including mentally.
If we have eaten a heavy dinner we will not be able to release the mental thoughts of the current day and will carry that clutter into the following day, losing clarity.
As for our spirit, the early morning hours of vata time are primed to connect us to that which is not tangible.
However, if our physical and mental channels are clogged because of overeating or eating late the night before, we will not have a clear connection with the etheric part of our nature.
3 benefits to eating an earlier, lighter dinner
- When you eat an earlier, lighter dinner you are putting yourself in sync with your body’s digestive capacity (agni – fire) during the evening hours.
Your body naturally begins to wind down in the early evening. Digestion is not as strong at night. Therefore, we want to avoid over taxing our system so that we can actually digest our dinner before we go to bed.
Your body works best when matching your eating times with the natural daylight cycles and avoiding eating when it is dark outside.
- Another benefit of eating an earlier, lighter dinner is that it supports a restful night’s sleep. Your body can focus on repairing your cells and not waste energy digesting excess food.
- A side benefit of of this habit is a reduction in total calorie intake for the day. Pairing your new earlier dinner time with a kitchen closed time will eliminate evening snacking.
How to shift to an earlier, lighter dinner
To prepare for a lighter and earlier dinner, you will want to shift your largest meal to lunch rather than dinner time.
Your lunch will now likely have more calories and fat than in your old routine, but the high caloric intake during pitta time works with our body’s natural release of hormones and digestive enzymes.
Your body has the capacity to digest a bigger meal between 10 am and 2 pm. It loses that capacity as the clock ticks and you move into the evening hours.
When you couple a larger lunch with an earlier, lighter dinner you simply aren’t as hungry later in the day. Which makes you less likely to eat dessert or snack.
When, then, is the ideal time to eat dinner?
Ideally you want to aim to finish your dinner before sunset.
A strict Ayurvedic approach would be to finish eating no later than 6 pm and even 5:30 pm in some places where the sun sets early.
Then allow a minimum 12 hours before you break your fast and eat your morning meal.
For me, I prefer the gradual approach. During the summer months I close my kitchen at 6:30 pm most nights. During the winter I aim for 6 pm.
Your kitchen closed time should be a lights out sort of deadline. You’ll want to have cleaned your dishes and eaten any sweets before you close your kitchen for the evening.
How does that sound to you? Will it be difficult for you to shift your dinner time? Let me know in the comments below.
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Photo credit: Sanah Suvarna