If dinner is your biggest meal of the day, you may want to switch things up - like the saying, 'Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper', enjoying a lighter, yet filling meal in the evening may go a long way to improving overall health and supporting weight control.
For many of us, dinner remains the largest meal of the day, and when you throw in a glass or two of wine, post-dinner dessert or sweet treats with a cup of tea, it quickly adds up, leading to a late night calorie overload! Eating patterns like this inevitably lead to weight gain, and the bad habit of eating too much at night.
Cultivating healthier eating habits such as fuelling our bodies with protein filled afternoon snacks, enjoying a lighter dinner, loaded with salad, vegetables, and lean protein, can help to address not only traditional factors such as meal content and size, but also meal timing, potentiality reducing weight gain and risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease later in life.
So, if evening overindulging is holding you back from reaching your weight loss goals, here are my top 5 tips to help you cut back on your evening eating.
1. Have a protein packed afternoon snack
Not eating enough throughout the afternoon, can lower blood glucose levels, leading to hunger and energy slumps between meals, and is one of the main reasons we overdo the calories when we get home in the evening, driven to eat everything in sight!
Having a protein packed snack around 3pm can help prevent brain fog, sugar cravings and provide you with sustained energy to get you through to dinner, allowing you to make better choices for evening meals.
Good protein snack options include: vegetables & hummus, cheese & crackers, protein bars, Greek yoghurt with berries, protein shakes, and tuna & crackers.
2. Boost your vegetable intake
Increasing your veggie intake has been shown to be one of the easiest ways to reduce the calorie load of any meal without reducing the meal volume. Simply increase the portion of veggie options at dinner, by filling half of your plate with salad or veg, which will leave you feeling fuller and more satisfied, without the additional calorie load.
3. Know the calorie content of your condiments
The calorie and fat content of our favourite sauces and dressings can be considerate, and can add significant calories to our meals. Regular use of condiments like avocado, coconut oil, sour cream, mayonnaise, cheese and pesto, can increase the calorie content of even a healthy meal like a salad. It is best to use these condiments sparingly, or use healthier alternatives like salsa, Greek yoghurt, tzatziki, mustard, vinegar, and herbs & spices, to add flavour to meals.
4. Balance daily protein intake across meals
Most people exceed their daily protein requirements, however, most of it is consumed in the evening meal, with research showing that it is better to distribute our protein intake across meals throughout the day for maximum benefit. Protein can also be an energy-dense food, particularly in foods like red meat and salmon, making it easy to increase your calorie intake in the evening. An easy way to reduce calories can be by distributing your protein intake evenly throughout the day, that way you can reduce your dinner portion sizes, keeping it around 100-125g of cooked protein, which will reduce calories while still keeping you feeling full.
5. Choose added extras carefully
While we would all love to be able to enjoy a large dinner with a glass of wine, followed by dessert every day of the week - the reality is that for the majority of us, following a pattern like this will most likely lead to weight gain.
As a nutritionist, I understand that how and what we choose to eat can be a deeply personal experience, and if we are wanting to improve our health or lose weight, it is important to define what I call our ‘non-negotiables’, that is things we are not willing to give up. It is not a matter of swearing off these things completely, rather it is about finding the right balance that works for you.
So, if you are wanting to lose weight, but still want to be able to enjoy a glass of wine, or dessert, schedule these into your weekly meal plan. Making a choice to enjoy a glass of wine maybe twice a week, and dessert once a week, instead of every night, can help strike a balance between what you enjoy eating and your weight loss goals, helping you to achieve and maintain weight loss, without feeling deprived.
Suggested Food Combinations:
Salmon and Sweet Potato
While fish may be called “brain food,” it’s also good for your waist. Sources high in omega-3 fatty acids, like salmon, may help you lose body fat. One 3-ounce serving packs around 17 grams of protein, served with sweet potato and a side salad, it makes for a filling yet light meal.
Mushrooms and Ground Beef
If I told you it is possible to eat burgers and still lose weight, would you believe me? By swapping out at least 50% of the meat for chopped or ground mushrooms, can lighten the dish without skimping on the flavour! Mushrooms have a meaty texture and with only 16 calories a cup, mushrooms are also great for redulating blood sugar levels, which can help curb cravings.
Bean and Vegetable Soup
A broth-based vegetable soup can make for a light, yet filling dinner. The liquid fills your stomach, leaving less room for higher-calorie foods. Including beans, such as chickpeas or black beans, adds protein and fibre, providing a more filling meal.
Avocado and Dark Leafy Greens
While salads like spinach or kale are low in calories and high in nutrients, on their own they can leave you wanting more. To make it more filling, add in a healthy fat sources, like avocado. Packed with good fat (monounsaturated) that will leave you feeling satisfied.
Greek Yogurt and Raspberries
This creamy treat topped with half a cup of raspberries for sweetness, should satisfy the sweet tooth and also support weight loss.
Dark Chocolate and Almonds
Dark chocolate is one dessert you can feel good about eating, and because it is richer than milk chocolate you generally don't need to eat as much to feel satisfied. Pairing it with high-protein almonds will help regulate blood sugar levels, and satisfy that sweet tooth!