Dinner is more than just a meal...it is an American institution! Or is it? Dinner time is how most of us finish a long day by ourselves, or maybe catch up with our families and how their days went. The problem is that we as American's have actually FORGOTTEN what "dinner" actually is! Dinner is actually about the size of the meal you are eating; while the emotions we associate with the time of day are not. Unfortunately, this misunderstanding has largely contributed to why so many of us tend to gain unwanted weight over time. In this article, we will re-teach you what dinner is and how to overcome it's consequences with a better option! You'll be amazed at how something so simple can "tip the scale" so much.
You mean my DINNER is making me GAIN Weight?
YES. One of the big lessons we've learned in a previous article, was that for weight loss we should follow a "descending" dietary pattern. This means that we should end the day with a"supper" rather than a "dinner"; because it should be smaller than all other meals. This article (on the historical roots of these words) points out that in American farming communities, "dinner" was eaten mid-day to supply energy for farmers working late into the evening. Ever see a picture of an overweight farmer longer than 50 years ago? Well that's because having time to burn the food back off over the course of the day prevented them from storing excess calories overnight! They planned ahead and filled up prior to the anticipated activity; which is what we should all be doing also. When people now have low amounts of activity and food intake all day, then come home to binge a large "catch up" dinner; their body can't do anything but store those calories as fat while they sleep. Our insistence on waiting to eat the largest meal at the end of the day would therefore be like filling up your car's gas tank right before going home. To reverse this process, it would make much more sense to fill up before getting on the road for the day. Eat upwards of 75% of your daily food throughout your day, and end with a smaller supper around 2-3 hours before bedtime.
Would SKIPPING Dinner Work Even Faster?!
NO, NO, NO!!! You need to just have a SMALLER last mealof the day compared to your other meals. Avoid skipping ANY meals, but the size and timing of those meals definitely makes a difference. In the old days, our last meal was called "supper" because it was oftentimes a soup or stew to be "supped" as they called it. The smaller supper (relative to earlier meals) is meant simply to "hold you over" while you are still awake before bedtime. That way once you go to sleep, the body quickly runs out of energy and begins its fast overnight. The reason our first meal of the day is called "breakfast", is due to it "breaking" that overnight "fast". Skipping supper or breakfast triggers a series of stress responses that actually INCREASE how much fat you store. Conversely, a properly structured diet will promote a fasting state overnight; burning excess fat while you reboot. Are you not getting enough restful sleep? Or perhaps you go into a food coma after a large dinner, and find yourself waking back up in the middle of the night? These are signs that your natural fasting metabolism, detoxification and other recovery processes have been compromised. To avoid this, meet your caloric/macro needs earlier in the day when you are most active; THEN have your supper that's just enough to hold you over. Then you'll be burning fat while you sleep...who doesn't want that?!
Is "Dinner" Ever a GOOD Thing?
Of course! According to our previous article, the obvious time that someone would want to have "dinner" would be if they were TRYING TO GAIN WEIGHT. Unlike most of you, this particular crowd is intentionally wanting to store energy and rebuild tissues as they sleep; so you shouldn't accidentally be modeling them. Something a little less obvious would be your holiday dinners with the family. Interestingly, both Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas dinner are traditionally eaten earlier in the day than "supper time", right? They give you enough time to get a quick nap, still go shopping, play games into the night, and feel no heavier the next day. Weird huh?! Just like if you were a farmer, all of the post-meal family activities give you time to use what you are eating. And in the event you get hungry again before bed (which is unlikely), you'll probably eat significantly less. Overall, you would want to have breakfast as your biggest meal of the day when wanting to lose weight; but on rare occasions, having larger mid-day meals with your family will give you the energy you need for a great game night!
So where did we go wrong?
Right about a hundred years ago, with the advent of frozen meals, we became more lax about individualizing food portions. The Swanson & Sons company grew this trend by standardizing portion sizes of its "Thanksgiving turkey leftovers" in what they called "TV Dinners" in the 1950's. The
marketing and timing just happened to be perfect for the women's liberation movement. Developing into the 1960's, the movement meant "a woman's place was no longer in the kitchen"; but rather to be a financially contributing part of the household. Political and gender issues aside, the companies meeting the need for "ready made" meals was a brilliant business move. An issue actually worth considering was that Americans adapted to these corporate lifestyles and circumstances. We began relying on generically proportioned/high calorie meals as our main meal at the end of the day, instead of being more intimate with our food like we had been prior. What started as an issue of marketed convenience had morphed into a national health epidemic. Lesson learned...generically eating prepackaged Thanksgiving leftovers...with three servings of starch...year round for dinner, won't turn out well. For example, if you were a 200 pound person wanting to lose weight, your daily meal structure would look something like this:
Dinner as you KNEW it, should no longer be dinner as you KNOW it. Though most people think of dinner as the last meal of the day, it is both historically and actually the LARGEST meal...something we do mid-day, a couple times a year for special occasions. You now know that habitually eating a "dinner" as your last meal unnecessarily contributes to weight gain. A better strategy to maintain or lose weight would be to implement a descending dietary protocol with larger breakfasts/lunches, while ending the day with a "supper" around 80% of your average meal size. Know that your supper is meant to just "hold you over" (in most cases), because you filled up your tank in the first few meals of the day.
Next time you are out to eat with your friends at a "supper" party, you'll have something fun to teach them. You may be thinking, "But I've never had a 'supper' party?" Yes, yes you have! You just needed to bring supper back, as a smaller meal to end the day and promote fat loss. Now you know yet another way to SEE YOURSELF CHANGE!