The best time to eat your evening meal and why, a message from the experts.
There have been countless studies, research papers, and, as a result, arguments as to whether the timing of our meals affects our health. If you, like me, are prone to eating a large evening meal, and then a couple of hours later having a sneaky snack, you may be worried that this is not exactly the healthiest rhythm for your body. Experts go back and forth with the idea that eating a late evening meal puts a strain on our system and can contribute to a range of chronic illnesses, however the concrete evidence for this is simply not there. The consensus generally is that the more calories we ingest directly before, or for some even during, our sleep pattern are more likely to be stored as fat which will encourage weight gain and raise our blood sugar levels. The basic explanation being that we are simply not using this food as fuel, because we are in overnight hibernation mode.
Eating patterns can simply be personal habits when it comes to snacking or even binge-eating, ones which we may be fooling ourselves into believing are not doing us any harm. The main issues here revolve around what it is we are eating. If we are indulging in some fresh fruits and vegetables for example, then there is little cause for concern. If, however, a full tub of chocolate cookie ice cream is being gorged right before bed, then perhaps the effect of this is pretty obvious.
And, as much as we rely on a regular sleep pattern for our health and energy levels, we also need a healthy, daily nutrition plan. Our bodies function far better when they ‘know the plan’, they need food to function, and the quality and timing of that food is important. If we are about to exercise for example, there is a good time to eat – for some up to two hours prior, in order to provide us with the energy we need to be actively efficient. And the type of food is important – we want slow releasing carbohydrates that will allow us to keep going and not tire easily or become sluggish. This example proves that timing of food consumption is relevant. Eating your evening meal late at night serves less purpose energy wise and, unless we are working a night shift, we don’t require it for sleep. Quite the opposite in fact.
There is also the argument that each body clock and rhythm is different and so we need to get to know ourselves before we dive into a new diet trend and work out exactly what makes our individual system tick in the best way. In prehistoric times, for example, food was scarce and you had to go out and hunt it, it wasn’t neatly stored ready and waiting in a chilled box in the cave. Therefore they would eat as large an evening meal as possible, and be ready (with some energy stored) for whatever faced them the next morning. Our lifestyle is somewhat different – as in completely! We can afford to eat in the morning and throughout the day to serve our bodily requirements.
Still, our bodies do have a circadian (daily) rhythm which instructs the way we work; our hormones, digestion and metabolism are all affected by what we do and when. Despite this, it does seem that considering what we eat is more important than when we eat it. To be more intentional with what we decide to ingest, improving the quality and nutrition levels of our food, seems to be the more pressing factor here.
So, for some, eating like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunch and a pauper at dinner may well be the perfect solution, but we are all unique beings that need to listen to our own beat.
Some tips for regulating your eating patterns:
Cutting out all unhealthy foods, drinks, and snacks at once is not going to work. Allow yourself to reduce these habits slowly but surely, one day at a time.
If you’re finding it stressful to limit your eating habits to three meals a day at certain times, then relax the rigidity a little. When we are over-focussing on something we tend to consume our minds with it so much that it becomes overwhelming and far more difficult. Give yourself some leeway, but not so much that you fall back into old habits.
Make a plan, write it down and have boxes you can tick. This always gives a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction as well as keeping us up to date with progress. Work out the best nutrition pattern for your body and lifestyle and make yourself a plan to coordinate with this.
If you don’t buy junk food, then you won’t eat junk food. This works, it is sometimes extremely frustrating when you want to reach for a piece of chocolate while watching a movie at night, but if it isn’t there you’ll soon get used to not doing so.
As well as making a diet plan, what you’re going to eat and when, it is essential that we also factor in an exercise plan to coincide with a nutritional one. The two go hand in hand in aiding overall wellness. Add in a time for bed and a good eight hours sleep and you’re well on your way to optimum health.
Bottom line: Find the nutritional rhythm that works for you, keep tweaking it, note when you feel at your best, and stick to that!
Online distance learning diploma courses in nutrition
Here at the School of Natural Health Sciences we have been providing a holistic education for more than 23 years. Over the years we have expanded our nutrition courses to encompass a wide range of special dietary needs. To view more information on each course, just click on the name: