Whole grains, protein, fresh fruits and veggies.
All of these ingredients — also known as real food — are virtually absent from the one meal that most of us actually remember to eat: dinner.
Aside from missing the very things our bodies are designed to run on, dinner is typically followed by little-to-no activity. I, for one, typically eat my last meal of the day wearing PJs and simultaneously thumbing through my Twitter feed, checking out Facebook, or watching something on Netflix. On a bad day, it’s all of the above. No post-dinner exercise for me.
Then, it’s off to bed.
This combination of unhealthy ingredients and not moving (followed almost immediately by sleeping) is a recipe for weight gain and indigestion. When it becomes regular practice, heavy late-night noshing can also contribute to more serious conditions like acid reflux.
How Dinner Got So Bad
In recent years, the evening meal has gradually transformed into the Western world’s biggest and fattiest tradition. Portion sizes have ballooned, having increased up to 700% in some foods, and most of our meals are based around processed carbs and high-fat meats and cheeses.
Take two of America’s most popular family dinners: pizza and pasta. The most popular versions of each (cheese pizza, spaghetti and meatballs, and lasagna) are high in fat and carbs (bad news for your heart and waistline) and virtually free of fresh fruits and veggies (bad for your skin, nails and hair, and worse for your digestion).
It wasn’t always this way. In ancient Rome, for example, dinner (also the sole meal of the day) was eaten at noon. Colonial Americans, too, ate their main meal in the middle of the day, when the most light was available for cooking, as did 17th-century Europeans (with the exception of farmers, who rose earlier and typically snacked on leftovers to fuel their heavy day’s labour).
How To Fix It
No one wants to go back to the 17th-century (I like my electricity and generous lifespan, thanks), but it’s clear that our bodies aren’t designed to eat a heavy meal and collapse on the couch or the bed afterwards.
Sitting upright helps us digest — it lets gravity do the work of keeping the contents of our stomach down. In people with heartburn, laying down can cause the acid in the stomach to leak out into the esophagus, or “foodpipe,” causing reflux.
It’s not too late to change your habits.
Many of us gorge on a heavy dinner because we don’t eat regular meals throughout the day. By the time we get home, we’re famished and paying little attention to what we put in our bodies. Incorporating regular, healthy eating into your day can help. If you don’t have time to cook, keep healthful snacks like fresh carrots and hummus, hard-boiled eggs, or packets of instant oatmeal handy.
When you get home, you’ll be less famished and more conscious about what you’re eating. Avoid post-dinner indigestion with some light activity, like washing a load of laundry or taking a quick walk around the block.
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