Time For Dinner

For some time, we’ve been having ongoing discussions at The Aerie about eating better in an effort to stay healthier. Over the past couple of years, we’ve cut down our meat consumption considerably and we’ve been trying to do a better job of maintaining a sane portion size for dinner because I’ve always argued that ingesting a lot of calories before bedtime is a really bad idea metabolically. That’s been going pretty well, too.

One of the things I’ve also argued for is that we should be eating earlier in the evening as opposed to settling for a late dinner. This goes to the same argument as portion control: in that it’s bad to eat big late. We’ve gotten less traction on this one because it’s a lot nicer to come home, relax for a bit, maybe have happy hour and THEN think about dinner rather than just leap into it in some unpleasant calorophobic drive to eat as soon as possible. I mean, where’s the fun in that?

However, some new research though suggests that having a large gap in your feeding schedule could be very good for you. A paper published in the latest Cell Metabolism shows that mice on a time-restricted, high-fat diet showed little ill effects compared to those that were allowed to free feed the same amount of calories whenever they wanted. The time restricted mice were only allowed to eat over eight hours.

After 100 days, the free-feeding group had all the symptoms you’d expect from eating a crappy diet: they’d gained weight, developed high cholesterol, had high blood sugar levels, liver damage, and diminished motor control. The time-restricted mice, however, showed none of these effects even though they ate the same amount of crappy calories. In fact, the time-restricted mice were able to out-perform another group of free-feeding mice that were given a healthy diet in an exercise test.

What’s it mean for you and me? Well, if the biology applies to humans (and there’s a pretty reasonable chance it will), it suggests that while it’s still important to consider what we eat, we might want to start thinking more about when we eat it.

What’s that old joke — you can call me anything you want, just don’t call me late for dinner? Sound advice, apparently.


36 thoughts on “Time For Dinner

  1. There are so many rules about what and when to eat and they seem to change all the time. remember when eggs were good for you, then bad for you, then now YAY good for you! I’ve given up worrying too much about it and it’s hard to fight genetics no matter how hard you try. I’m slim, I don’t eat meat or dairy or takeaway, I run or walk every day and my cholesterol is bordering on heart attack levels. My husband eats chocolate every day, icecream a few times a week, ribs and steak when he goes out (as I won’t cook it) and his cholesterol is so low I felt like beating him to death. The doctor said to him – just keep doing what you’re doing!! Unfair.

    I must say I do like to eat dinner early though – when you’re cooking for five you just want to get it out of the way and then sit down and relax – so we tend to eat at 6.30pm. Also I don’t snack in the afternoon so lunch has usually worn off by then.

  2. With kids, we definitely try to eat earlier, esp. with their busy schedule with things like 6pm basketball practice. On days like that, a meal at 5pm works. Otherwise, we aim for around 6pm.

    It was funny a few years ago when we went to visit my parents. They usually didn’t eat dinner until well after 8pm. Which made us all very cranky :)

    • j — I keep trying to reconcile all the skinny French people I saw with the fact that they all ate dinner at like 8:30. Maybe they just never have a breakfast anything bigger than a croissant and cup of coffee…

  3. Sign me up for the large lunch at mid-day (followed by la siesta), and have a very small tea and snack around 7 pm . Oh wait, I don’t live in South America any more, 2.5 hour lunches are not cool around here. Now excuse me while I make a giant lasagna for dinner tonight.

  4. Before I claim to like this seemingly informative post, I must know if this was the scientific article “liked” on Facebook?
    No? Then I really enjoyed it. Good food for thought. :)

    • LD — this was not the one that made me slap my head over “liking”, but I see that I can tweet or “like” this one too, so I’m afraid that’s something I’m just going to have to adapt to…

  5. I wonder if this explains why my parents are so long-lived, even though they do nothing to cut back on the amount of fat and sugar they consume. They’ve always eaten on a schedule: breakfast at 8 a.m., lunch at noon, dinner at 5 p.m. They also enjoy having a dessert at 8 p.m., either ice cream or a large cake bought at Safeway. Of course, they both have diabetes and issues with high cholesterol, but so do a lot of their friends who eat more lightly—it seems more related to age than diet.

    I, alas, eat when I feel like it, though not freely. No red meat or dessert for me. I probably take in as much sugar from my nightly glass of wine, however. There should be a study to prove that those of us who enjoy a Happy Hour live longer and happier lives than those who don’t. Looking at you, Steve!

  6. The idea of eating on a schedule that doesn’t let grazing run too late just feels right, somehow. Part of it might be psychological—eating at consistent times reinforces the idea of eating sanely, not just however you feel like. But since you’re talking about mice, it would appear to be more hard-wired. Cool!

    • phantom — there is a strong common-sense thread that runs through all this sort of metabolic research. Don’t eat too much crap. Don’t eat all the time. I think what surprised the researchers is that you could essentially eat Twinkies and Ruffles as your entire input and still be essentially okay.

  7. You make interesting points. What’s worked best for me is to listen to my body. And my body tells me no food after 8pm or I’ll wake up with muffin face .. pudgy and sluggish. Also, if I eat a meal too late, I have some crazy Technicolor dreams :) Great post! MJ

    • MJ — we were talking this morning about how crucial it is to listen to your body. Don’t eat when you’re not hungry. Don’t eat right before you sleep (I get the funky dreams too!).

      There’s so much psychology to eating that sometimes it’s hard to balance it with its simple biological need to provide nourishment.

      • I agree… when you take the “sexiness” out of food – -the tastes, the aromas, the textures, to social camaraderie and to back it down to basics .. eating for sustenance, you really see how much emotion we wrap up into it :) MJ

    • I actually lost a couple of pounds when I was there, but I chalked it up to the walking, but we ate a fair number of small meals too. Well, and some pretty large ones, so I don’t know what I’m saying here. Maybe it was all the walking.

  8. I read something about egges (speaking of) keeping you satiated for a good number of hours if they’re eaten in the am. I think it works – at least getting that protein in the morning. I went on a diet based on getting fit and my frustrating fatigue that is caused by low blood pressure (doctor told me to get more salt, water, iodine and magnesium). I also found “brain food” to be quite brilliant because I’m not as cranky even if I don’t get to eat everything I want to. So I go with hard boiled eggs with fried spinach, seaweed and kale in the morning, and fairly light carbs with fish and (sometimes) red meat the rest of the day.

    • I have gotten in the habit of eating eggs for breakfast and find that if I eat them, I am satiated well into the afternoon hours. I usually make an english muffin with a slice of cheese, ham and an egg, or two if I’m really hungry. Takes about five minutes to prepare. Have that with a small glass of juice for a quick glucose rise and I can make it from 7:00AM until about 1:00PM before feeling peckish.

      • I think I need to re-think my cereal-for-breakfast-because-its-easy routine and try to incorporate a small, but protein-ish breakfast. It’s just that I’m lazy. Oh, and that I like cereal.

        • I don’t see any reason to if you’re not exhausted all day. Certain cereals (I like the gluten free amaranth, quinoa and flax with soy milk and blueberries) are healthier than eggs, if you’re getting enough Omega 3s. I used to try protein for my exhaustion but my problem turned out to be low blood pressure. Now I get to eat potato chips for breakfast. Yay, me!

  9. Very interesting. It makes sense on not eating late in the day. And I’ve also heard a bunch of smaller meals throughout the day are better than huge meals. I have tried to pack protein into breakfast and I know that has helped me graze less for most of my day.

    • jenny — yeah, I always have a protein-containing breakfast on the weekends, but am “too busy” to do it during the weekdays. I should really change that. I think it would be really good for me.

  10. We sleep around 11, and eat dinner around 8 pm…I suppose that is spaced out enough…
    oh I really don’t know. My body has a mind of its own it seems…the bloat seems (more or less) unrelated to the input – the day after a cheese cake dessert, I am fine and dandy, but after a skimpy, low-cal meal, I feel pretty crappy if not in body (which does get all acidic, ouch !), the mind – I suppose my endorphins won’t let me live in peace ! Sigh !

    • LG — of course the darn thing is that we’re not mice in a regulated environment, but some of the lessons I think can still be applied. One aspect of our drive to a more vegetarian oriented diet is that if I eat too much meat, I can’t sleep. Talk about a self-enforcing strategy!

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