Why Earlier, Lighter Dinners?
Here’s a little backstory on why we want to eat an EARLIER & LIGHTER DINNER.
There’s a fire in your belly and it’s name is AGNI, a.k.a. your digestive fire. For optimal digestion and health, we want to pay attention to and honor AGNI. Ayurveda (the 5000 year-old body-wisdom tradition) states that this fire in our belly is the capacity that governs metabolism, digestion, absorption, and assimilation.
Ayurveda and even other wisdom/spiritual traditions state that we are a part of the whole, a microcosm of the macrocosm, or a drop in the ocean. What is happening outside of us is also happening inside of us. This is in relation to our daily, seasonal, and time of life rhythms.
So this means that the sun, the big fire ball in the sky, is reflected by the fire inside of us. The sun is the highest in the sky between the hours of 10am and 2pm. This also is when our digestion is at its highest and when our livers produce the most bile and are ready for optimal digestion. This bile, or AGNI, is what breaks down our food and transforms it into energy and bodily tissue.
If we’re eating nutrient-rich foods at the wrong time of day, our body can’t digest the nutrients. AGNI has a routine or an order, which is, that it’s warming up by mid-afternoon, blazing at midday, and setting with the sun. It’s very taxing on our physiology when it is asked to turn food into energy or tissue after the sun goes down. When this happens and we eat a late/heavy dinner, the food doesn’t get broken down as efficiently and turns into “AMA.”
AMA is the byproduct of undigested food and even emotions. This shows up as the white gunk on your tongue, low energy, heaviness in body, mind and spirit, aches and pains, depression, digestive issues, brain fog, negative attitude, and even more serious conditions such as autoimmune issues. AMA is the root cause of all disease.
So when AGNI is compromised, AMA results and perpetuates a vicious cycle. For instance, if a heavy dinner becomes repetitive, the AMA moves from the gut into the blood and the joints, rendering the body stiff and lethargic. The next day you feel the sludge in your system, the gunk in your trunk and the pessimism in your attitude. The stress leads to inflammation. Add the compound effect to this pattern and you end up with chronic inflammation -- yikes!!!
So how do we put an end to this AMA-generating cycle and stroke the belly fire? How can we literally burn through our food, using it as the energy it’s meant to be, and up-level our health and longevity?
Here are 10 TIPS to help you engineer an Earlier, Lighter Dinner, strengthen AGNI, and reduce AMA:
Eat your last meal by 6 pm. Eat dinner at least three hours before bed. If you normally eat at 8 pm, start by dialing it back 15 minutes earlier each week until you ideally reach 6 pm most nights. Reverse engineer your schedule to make it happen.
Make lunch the main attraction. Try to eat the majority of your food during daylight hours when the sun is in the sky and your agni is burning bright. Make lunch lovely and include good fats and proteins to make it satiating. If you eat dessert, do it immediately afterward. Lunch should satisfy you through to dinner. Avoid snacking!
Make Dinner supplemental. Back in the day, dinner was called supper. It was supplemental, a little something to get you though to breakfast or breaking the fast. When you do this, you will wake up feeling lighter and energized the next day. You’ll make your body’s job easier. You’ll have fewer aches and pains as you age, and you won’t get fat.
Create a regular schedule of 2-3 meals per day, allowing 3-6 hours between meals to fully digest your food. Be ready to eat. If you’re not feeling TRUE hunger at this time, you can stimulate your AGNI with a cup of warm water, a tsp. of chopped ginger, a squeeze of lime, and a sprinkle of salt 20 minutes before eating. Try not to let yourself get to the point of famished by dinner time — that’s a recipe for disaster.
Avoid Snacking. Eat 2-3 meals a day, without snacking!! Empower your digestion to work undisturbed by taking only water between meals. When you eat only a few times a day, you burn fat, a steady energy source, between meals. Digestion requires energy. When you eat emotionally, or too frequently, you tax your digestion, rendering less energy available for everything else you want to do. Do this repeatedly and AMA will build up in your physical, mental, and emotional being.
Inform the troops. Let your family or the people you regularly eat with know what you are doing and why. I know this is a loaded topic. Many of us eat later, heavier dinners out of social habit, conditioning, and even cultural beliefs. We were raised to value the evening meal as the time for families to bond and connect. Yet, as a culture, we now have epidemic issues with mood (anxiety/depression), inadequate sleep, and more than adequate bodyweight. It took my family two days to adjust to me eating before them (most of the time). Here’s the thing — they don’t really care if you’re putting food in your mouth if you’re still enjoying the family dynamic and sipping tea. I’m much happier to jump up and get something for them than if I’m constantly being interrupted while trying to nourish myself. Remember, most of the time.
What to eat. Lean toward salads, soups, one-pot meals, and even stews. Soups and salads are quick to prepare and easy to digest due to high water and vegetable content. In salads and soups, the different foods or plants combine before they enter your body, requiring less energy for digestion. Plan your weekly meals. Take time once a week (1 hour) to go through cookbooks or food websites you like and pull out recipes that sound good and easy. Make your shopping list and buy your ingredients (P.S. ….There’s no harm in eating the same thing more than once in a week).
When you eat, do nothing else. Stop, sit, and mindfully taste, chew, and savor your food slowly. This also helps you to notice when you are content.
Close the kitchen after dinner, and do light activity. Finish dinner, clean up, and then it’s “Kitchen Closed.” Create a trigger for yourself to get you moving after dinner. For example: put the dog leash out to remind you to take the dog for a walk. Use the trigger of turning on the dishwasher to do something mildly active.
Kaizen your Habit Change. Start with where you are and take baby steps to where you want to be -- this is Kaizen. Get real with what’s going on in your life and identify what seems doable and fail-proof. You don’t need to move your meal-time up an hour and a half. You don’t need to cancel date night. You don’t need to exclusively eat soups, salads, and one-pot meals forever. That would only trigger your inner rebel into rebellion. When we create unnecessary tension, we’re bound to rebel and break our own rules. If you’re a “perfectionist” you’ll only disappoint yourself for not being able to live up to your crazy high standards and then beat yourself up for it. Start with a specific behavior change that seems easy but will be effective enough to notice if it’s working over time. Remember, we’re more interested in small gains than a perfect picture.
“Our cultural habits violate our bodies’ most basic needs. From a biological perspective, the later, heavier dinner is an early, slow, dramatic death sentence” — Cate Stillman (Yogahealer)
Even though this habit might seem impossible to shift, remember to take small steps. It might take a month or a year to implement this new habit. Most importantly is that you praise your own progress no matter how small. Notice the difference as undesirable habits fall away naturally. Earlier, lighter dinners are not about becoming antisocial or dogmatic. They’re about slow, steady changes that support your physiology. You never know… your social schedule may begin to adjust and support your better healthy habit for the long run.