We have to be in the shower by a certain time, out the door at a certain time, get to our desk at a certain time, and that’s just the beginning.
Opening our calendars we peer at the day ahead and it looks like…. more things on a schedule. Meetings, phone calls, picking up kids and even stuff we might want to do like get to a hairstylist all happen in their respective time slots.
Into the evening hours, tasks continue. You might be picking up or dropping off kids, figuring out the grocery situation, or seeing if we can get a workout in. The dog needs a walk, and that stack of mail that came today needs to be looked through.
While this organization of our day can go along way to helping us be productive, many people look forward to the end of their day when there is nothing on the agenda. Usually, dinner is the last “event”, and after that it’s just, free time. It’s no coincidence that dinner (and the time between dinner and bedtime) is the meal where many people find they tend to eat the most.
Unlike breakfast and lunch, which can seem like relatively straightforward pauses in the day for nourishment, dinner has this whole aura of concluding our workday, and we don’t just gather ‘round the table for food, but also for relaxation, ceremony, family, and a feeling of comfort. We let our guards down at dinner. It’s the meal we tend to linger around after, rather than darting off. And it’s often the meal where taking second helpings or grazing on leftovers during cleanup transitions our calorie intake from a goal-focused day to a weight-gain day.
A simple tip I am going to share with you can help you save the relaxing, enjoyable aspects of dinner and continue it into your evening, while helping you avoid excess food in the process. I mentioned earlier how we tend to be scheduled during the day, up until dinner time, and thereafter it’s just “free time”. And the last thing you might expect is that I’m going to suggest you actually put something in that time spot. But, that IS what I’m going to suggest.
Before you freak out that I’m taking away the only precious downtime in your day - rest assured that I’m not going to try to twist your arm into doing some more work, folding laundry or filing receipts when you really want to be playing a game on your phone or relaxing on the couch.
I’m not talking about scheduling anything productive, I’m talking about simply planning one thing to do immediately after dinner, and hopefully, you’ll select something you will really look forward to.
The idea is that you aren’t going to be “done relaxing” after the meal, so you don’t have to eat extra just to prolong the enjoyment. You’re going to transition from the enjoyable eating chapter to the other enjoyable thing you have planned. No loss! Having a dinner+activity plan also helps prevent lingering or grazing from not really knowing what to do (so I’ll have some of these crackers while I think about it…” Don’t be intimidated, because the activity planning part might be the easiest thing you ever did. It can be the same every night. It might be “Go upstairs and read”. Or “Sit on the couch, turn on tv”, or “See who is on “Facebook Messenger”. It doesn’t have to be active, intellectually stimulating or productive. Really. That’s not the point.
Even if this is something you already do each night, it can actually change your outlook to start thinking of it as your after dinner enjoyment activity. If the thought comes in “hm, maybe I want seconds”... you can respond with, “I’ll go start that movie, and if I REALLY want more food, I can always come back.” Or, if you’re thinking how yummy the food is, and that you don’t want the meal to end, you can remind yourself that you have more enjoyment coming after the meal, you don’t need to “Get it all in now” (because chili is not the last form of pleasure in your day.)
We aren’t going to run short of any of them. In this space, we are calm, we are at our most giving and least reactive, and we can best sense how much we truly need to eat. So go ahead, plan on relaxing after dinner, look forward to it as a purposeful activity, and use it to step away from the table.