What time do you usually eat dinner? The answer will (probably) be between 6pm and 7pm for most, though if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself eating at 9pm whenever the evening runs away from you.
But new research suggests we’re doing it all wrong, because we should actually be eating our main meal at 5pm – aka, the time when most of us are still at work.
Eating dinner at 5pm is the magic time if you want to maintain a healthy weight, avoid obesity and shed a few pounds, according to the study by Harvard Medical School
Those who ate their last meal of the day at this time were less hungry compared to people who had dinner at 9pm, the scientists said, meaning you’re less prone to overeating. It was also linked to positive changes in activity levels relating to certain genes, meaning the body was less likely to store fat.
We’re not doubting the methods of the Harvard researchers, but let’s get real for a minute: who can actually eat a full meal at 5pm?
Most of us are back in the workplace and won’t be home until after that time, so unless you’re bringing a packed lunch, a 5pm dinner is nonsense. And what about parents, who are scoffing down their own meals whenever they find time? Or anyone who wants to have a social life when the working day finally ends?
So realistically, if you can’t hit 5pm, when’s the best time to schedule dinner?
“Any time between 6 and 8pm is an ‘ideal’ dinnertime,” registered dietitian Tracy Lockwood Beckerman previously told HuffPost. “That’s because it gives the average person enough time to digest before hitting the hay around 10 or 11pm.”
That being said, the ideal dinnertime will differ based on your circadian rhythm — or more specifically, if you’re an early bird or a night owl.
“It’s different for early birds versus night owls because the longer the night owls are up, the higher the odds they may go back for a late night snack,” Beckerman said. “Night owls should eat dinner later than early birds to reduce the chance of mindless snacking, empty calories and unnecessary munching late at night.”
But for those late night eaters like me, you might want to push your dinnertime forward, just a bit.
“Being too full could negatively impact our sleep by possibly leading to acid reflux,” Beckerman said. “If there’s too much food digesting in your stomach and you lie down, it could potentially put pressure on your oesophageal sphincter, resulting in unpleasant reflux.”
Alisa Vitti, a functional nutritionist and the CEO of Flo Living, added: “Eating too close to bedtime can decrease the quality of your sleep, increase inflammation and can absolutely make weight management more difficult as well as increase the likelihood that you will experience night sweats or hot flashes.
Our ideal dinner time is also dependent on our gender. For women of reproductive age, being flexible might be more beneficial than being rigid with their mealtimes.
“Women in their reproductive years, especially during the luteal phase of their cycle [the phase after ovulation, or about two weeks in], need more calories and more slow-burning macros [nutrients like protein, carbs and fat] to keep blood sugar stable, keep PMS at bay, maintain a healthy weight and to have quality sleep,” Vitti said.
This means women should work on listening to their bodies when deciding what time to eat dinner, and even how much they eat. But we all have different schedules and lifestyles, so if 5pm sounds ludicrous to you, we hear you.