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March 5, 2024

Are you eating too late? Expert weighs in on the best time to have dinner

Filed under: Fitness — Tags: — admin @ 12:03 am

What time do you find yourself sitting down to a meal at night? Maybe you try and eat as early as possible, and sit down with the family around 6/630?

Or, maybe you find that you eat out often, and dinner could be enjoyed anytime between 6 and 9pm?

Or, maybe you are the one of many who find that after you finish work, get home, go to the gym or get the kids sorted, you may not eat your final meal of the day until 8pm or later?

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While it is not uncommon in Europe to enjoy dinner late into the evening, culturally this framework that encourages a siesta and a later start to the day is very different to the way in which we live here in Australia, and indeed for many of us, we may be eating dinner far too late, and ultimately derailing our appetite and even our weight.

Long gone are the days in which we enjoy breakfast at 7, lunch and 12 and dinner was 6pm sharp. Longer working hours, commutes and jam-packed lives mean that despite our best efforts, we often find ourselves eating dinner much later than we would like.

The issue with later dinners

There are a number of issues associated with eating a larger meal later in the evening. From a digestive perspective, ideally the body needs at least 12 hours overnight without food to support gut health and a healthy microbiome.

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The later we eat, the less likely it is that we create this overnight fast, which also supports physical digestive comfort as we sleep.

In turn, we are also less likely to wake up hungry the following day, which tends to fuel the cycle of eating later and later into the day, which is contra to natural circadian rhythm in which we are programmed to rest, repair and store at night, and burn during the day.

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From a weight control perspective, eating later is associated with weight gain over time. Indeed if we sat down to a relatively light supper at 8 or 9pm, of a soup or salad, there would be no issue but far more common is for us to snack throughout the late afternoon, whilst still sitting down to a relatively large meal, which often also includes alcohol and dessert style treats.

Consuming a relatively high number of calories later in the day is more likely to contribute to a calorie surplus overall and weight gain over time.

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Should I eat dinner at lunchtime?

From a metabolic perspective, there are a number of benefits associated with eating a larger meal in the day. Not only do you shift calorie intake forward, supporting weight control, but you will likely find that you feel fuller and more satisfied throughout the afternoon, and as such less likely to snack on ultra-processed snacks and sweet foods before dinner.

The issue with this recommendation is that it is simply not possible for all of us to eat a larger meal during the day.

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Another solution?

While it may not be possible to sit down to a full dinner meal during the day, nor may you feel like it, what may be possible is prioritising a hot lunch, and more substantial afternoon snack.

Here if you enjoy leftovers, a premade or frozen meal or even a soup along side your wrap or sandwich you will get 2-3 serves of vegetables, and a more satisfying meal than what is typically enjoyed at lunchtime.

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If you then follow this up with a protein rich snack at 4-5pm, such as a protein shake, yoghurt, crackers with tuna or a wrap, when you do sit down to your final meal, you will find you are not so ravenous and can keep your calorie intake much more controlled.

What to eat if dinner is routinely late?

As a general rule of thumb, the later the dinner, the lighter it should be, especially if the goal is weight control.

Think a vegetable rich meal with a controlled serve of lean protein – salad with fish or chicken, a bowl of soup or a smaller portion of the evening meal, and save the rest for lunch the next day. Not only will a lighter meal at night help to prevent indigestion, but it will help to ensure you wake up for breakfast the next day, hungry.


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