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While staying at the home of a friend recently, I observed that he had a ravenous and gnawing hunger that made him feel incredibly uncomfortable if he didn’t have food at the right time.
He is one of those people with an appetite that demands food like clockwork. This is generally a good thing—routine when it comes to food is a good thing—but with him there was a big caveat.
He needed heavy food to feel satiated, and he was drawn to whole wheat bread or toast.
I observed that he was eating up to 6 large slices of bread a day, in addition to lunch and dinner.
Three slices were breakfast, and the other three became an early evening snack, at around 5 or 6 p.m.
Dinner wasn’t eaten until 9 or 10 p.m., and then sleep was taken soon after.
I expressed my concern about the health implications of eating so much bread, in particular the evening snack and late dinner.
I suggested that he skip the late snack, and have his dinner at 6 p.m. instead.
Then, he would have 3-4 hours to digest his food before going to sleep.
He agreed to try it as an experiment.
A few weeks later …
A few weeks later, he was thanking me profusely. Now, he has more time to focus on studies and other interests in the evening, since his dinner is already out of the way, and he saved time not making the extra snack.
He was able to go to bed even earlier than before, and he wasn’t hungry in the evening either.
The best part was, when he gets out of bed in the morning, he feels great.
He experiences calm, light, and balanced energy for meditation, contemplation, and yoga, before getting into the day’s work.
His life was transformed by this simple change.
Now, he organizes his day to ensure there’s time for cooking and food preparation for his evening meal, but then he’s free to enjoy his evening.
My friend’s story validates the power of universal intelligence in Ayurveda.
Align mealtimes with the sun
In Ayurveda, one’s digestive strength is akin to a fire, and your abdominal fire has a correlation with the sun.
Your fire is hottest and strongest when the sun is hottest and strongest, which is typically around noon to 1 p.m.
Ayurveda advises eating the largest meal of the day at lunchtime for this reason.
Midday, with lunch (by the way), is the time to indulge in deserts and other treats, because you have the power of digestion on your side.
Then, as the sun wanes, it takes your digestive strength with it. Naturally, your digestion is weaker in the evening.
This is why you are advised to eat an earlier and lighter dinner.
You simply can’t easily digest food in the evening, and the later it is, the weaker your fire gets.
As a word of caution, the worst thing you can do is eat ice cream at night. Frozen foods plus very weak digestive strength is a recipe for digestive stagnation, discomfort, and poor sleep.
An early dinner supports deep sleeps
In my experience, one of the biggest benefits of eating an earlier and lighter dinner is the difference it makes in my sleep.
Sleep is a time for deep restoration and rejuvenation of the body. However, if your digestive tract is full of undigested food, your body cannot rest and restore.
Undigested food means there will be a proliferation of bad bacterial activity in your gut, which produces gas and bloating, and can make you feel very uncomfortable.
This bad situation is made worse due to another universal truth, which recognizes that your body dedicates energy to a different organ, or organ set, every 2 hours, cycling throughout the day.
Between 10 p.m. and midnight, your small intestine and stomach are the organs which are most active.
These organs are the primary actors in the metabolism and absorption of nutrition from your food.
The nutrition you take in through your mouth into your gut is everything to your overall health. You need good absorption.
An early dinner supports a refreshed morning feeling
If you go to bed late, another reason you tend to wake up tired, is that your body wasn’t able to adequately burn off toxins that accumulated in the course of your day.
Not only that, but poor digestion between 10 p.m. and midnight led to a proliferation of bad bacteria in your gut that added to the toxic load.
It was a double whammy.
When your toxic load is more than you can assimilate, it builds up, and becomes a source of disease.
You also digest emotions when you sleep
From midnight to 2 a.m. your body works on the heart, which involves processing deep-rooted and unresolved emotions from your day, or from your life.
Emotions need to be digested efficiently to experience lightless and clarity while awake.
Avoid igniting the downward spiral at 10 p.m.
The dosha at work between the times of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. is pitta, and pitta is the energy of transformation, fueled by the elements of fire and water.
You definitely want pitta working for you (not against you) while you sleep.
You want it transforming your food into energy and nourishment, and working out deep emotions so you can feel restored.
The pitfall that many of us get into in the current day, is staying up past 10 p.m.
If you do so, you’ll likely experience a second wind that encourages you to stay up.
The burst of energy comes from pitta. But now it is imbalanced pitta energy coming at you.
Dominated by the fire element, pitta loves, and seeks out stimulation.
You will feel stimulated by your phone, computer, or T.V. screen, or even by conversations or a book.
You will feel happy and motivated to continue and pursue more and more stimulation … which will lead you to desire food.
It isn’t hunger, but stimulation you desire, so you definitely won’t desire healthy food at this time.
You want chips, chocolate, almond butter, Nutella, pancakes, and ice cream.
All that stimulation makes it very difficult to get to sleep, too, once you finally hit the hay.
Another thing that can happen after 10 p.m. if you are a vata type, or you have vata imbalances, is that you may start to feel deeply disturbed as midnight approaches.
The heaviness of your deep-rooted emotions and unresolved nervous energy may give you headaches and body aches, and leave you feeling down and depressed about life.
This is a double downward spiral that you don’t need.
Had you gone to bed when you first started to feel tired (usually between 9-10 p.m.) you could have been sleeping like a baby, and avoided all the hard stuff I just described.
So let’s do this, shall we?
Not to ready to get started yet? Let’s deal with your objections right now!
I can’t do this, because …
1. My Schedule Doesn’t Allow for It
Say you need to work until 8 p.m., and you don’t have time to cook until after that.
Okay, then we need some strategies to have dinner ready for you so you don’t need to cook, and you can at least eat at 8 p.m.
Can someone else take that responsibility to cook?
Can you use your slow cooker or Instant Pot, and get dinner started in the morning? There’s even programmable Instant Pots now.
Can you find a meal service to cook for you on those days?
Keep in mind that one of the biggest advantages of a lighter dinner is that it doesn’t need to be a big production.
Simple and fuss-free is best.
2. My husband doesn’t get home until late
Your husband doesn’t get home until 8 p.m., and you want to have dinner ready and enjoy it with him, because it’s the only time you see each other all day.
This is an easy one!
You eat dinner earlier, and then when he comes home you can devote yourself entirely to him.
Sit with him while he eats and enjoy some tea, but most of all, enjoy his company.
3. My kids are all over the place, and I can’t get the family on a regular schedule
This may be the most challenging scenario of all, but you can still manage it.
The first thing is to prioritize yourself. You can’t control others, but you can control what you do.
That means making dinner earlier, and eating your dinner earlier.
It could mean eating as early as 5 p.m. so the kids can get to evening soccer practice. I used to eat dinner at 5 p.m. every day as a kid.
Maybe you leave the dishes, and clean them up later if you need to ferry the kids somewhere.
Of course you can also enlist your significant other, or an older child to do the transportation work. You do not have to do it all, all the time!
Make your plan of action now!
The reasons above are common and understandable reasons to resist an earlier dinner, but now that you know the benefits, what are you waiting for?
Obstacles are opportunities, and you have the power to make changes in your life.
Remember that vastly improved digestion, a lighter and clearer morning feeling, and deep, restorative sleep, are waiting for you once you make that change.