Twice a week, I teach yoga in the evening. On Sundays, I can make it home by 8pm. On Tuesdays, I’m not back until 9pm. If I then eat dinner, it’s very late by the time I clean up, take a shower, and turn on my computer.
So I began eating a late afternoon snack and skipping dinner. This routine works well for me. Forgoing a late meal simplifies my life and frees my remaining evening time to do some work or correspondence. I also avoid a mad dash home, compelled to eat. And I prefer sleeping on an empty stomach.
Two recent articles in the New York Times corroborated my early dinner habit with health benefits. First, in “A 12-Hour Window for a Healthy Weight,” Gretchen Reynolds discusses a Salk Institute study that found that mice who ate within a 12-hour window averted obesity, while mice who ate at all hours got fat and metabolically ill.
Several years ago, I read about the possible benefits of such “intermittent fasting.” Proponents hypothesize that frequent meals (grazing, snacking) constantly flood your bloodstream with insulin, leading to weight gain and metabolic syndrome. Limited fasting, they say, can increase lifespan, reduce cancer risk, and increase muscle gain and fat loss.
A popular method of intermittent fasting is to skip breakfast and to eat between noon and 8pm. But, for me, skipping breakfast is not an option (I love breakfast!). So an early dinner is my way of experimenting with a narrow eating window. (I can’t afford to lose any weight, and I like three square meals a day. So I’m not reducing intake but, rather, eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner closer together.)
Of course, I break this routine when I’m traveling or visiting family and friends. But I’ve lost interest in nighttime snacks, the subject of the other Times article.
In “The Dangers of Eating Late at Night,” Jamie Koufman, MD, a New York specialist in laryngology and acid reflux, attributes the prevalence of reflux among Americans today to poor diet and late dinnertime. She adds that it’s not only the timing of dinner, but the American propensity to eat enormous quantities. (Europeans eat dinner late, but are less likely to have reflux.) Her basic advice: eat dinner at least three hours before bedtime.
I’m not advocating the early bird special for everyone, but if an evening yoga class seems out of the question, try rethinking dinnertime. One fringe benefit: breakfast the next morning is extra satisfying!