Optimize Your Health as a Senior: When You Should Eat Dinner

There is something of a running gag that older folks like to eat dinner at early times – 4:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m., for example. Most people in the United States seem to make their dinner time between 6:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Some Americans are inclined to eat even later. The choice of evening mealtimes made by Americans raises the question of when is the best, healthiest time to eat dinner.

Harvard Medical School Research on the Best Time to Eat Dinner

The well-regarded Harvard Medical School has reached the results of a research study that focused on when is the ideal time for people to eat dinner. According to the results of this study, the ideal dinnertime is 5:00 p.m. Harvard Medical School researchers indicate that there are some very real benefits to making your dinnertime 5:00 p.m. These include:

  • Helps a person maintain an ideal weight
  • Helps a person avoid obesity
  • Assists a person in losing weight

The Harvard Medical School study went on to note that those individuals who ate their last meal in the early evening, at 5:00 p.m., are less likely to overeat. Researchers point out that those individuals that wait until later in the evening to eat – 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. – are likely to be hungrier than those who dine earlier. They tend to overeat as a result.

Results showed that late eating not only increased hunger but decreased energy expenditure, burned calories at a slower rate, and altered what is known as the adipose tissue gene expression. The adipose gene expression is what promotes fat growth. The Harvard study demonstrated that all these changes combined may increase the risk of obesity. According to researchers, eating later more than doubled the likelihood of increased hunger. It also generated lower levels of the hormone leptin, which is produced when we are full.

Lisa Moskovitz, the author of The Core Three Healthy Eating Plan, addressed the issue of the timing of dinner. She explains:

If you’re eating really late at night and maybe there’s only an hour in between the time you finish dinner and the time you go to sleep, it can eventually cause some issues. It can disrupt digestion, it can disrupt sleep, it can potentially lead to higher insulin levels, which is a hormone that does regulate fat, storage and hunger the next day. You do want to give your body, say, two, three, even up to 4 hours of a break time before you go to bed, just so that you have that time to digest all the food that you’re eating and so that you could also ensure quality sleep hunger the next day.

The Practicality of Eating Dinner at 5:00 P.M.

When many people read or hear that eating at 5:00 p.m. is optimal, they will (understandably) respond keeping such dinnertime is not practical. Even in this era of shifting and individualized work schedules, 5:00 p.m. marks the end of the workday for most people. In other words, being able to eat dinner at this time can prove highly challenging, if not impossible, for many people.

Understanding the practicality issue as it pertains to many individuals, not all people are in such a position. Older people, including retired women and men, oftentimes have schedules that more readily allow for dinner at 5:00 p.m. In fact, a good percentage of people over the age of 65 have an established habit of eating in the early evening.

There has been something of a move towards eating earlier among working people of all ages. This trend actually appears to have started during the more isolating months of the COVID pandemic. During this time, many individuals were telecommuting.

People started having dinner at 5:00 p.m. or shortly thereafter. They elected to set this as dinner time in order to demarcate work time from personal time. This practice is continuing today. Indeed, it appears that more people are eating dinner earlier as a means of drawing a clear line between work time and personal time.

Check With Your Doctor

If you want more information on the potential positive impact of eating earlier, consider visiting your primary care physician. Your doctor is apt to be able to refer you to other resources to assist you in making decisions not only about what you eat but when you eat it for optimal benefits to you.

As an aside, if you are planning some sort of diet change, you should also visit with your doctor about your plan.

Dinnertime in Assisted Living

A concern of many older individuals who are considering moving to assisted living centers on mealtimes. For example, if an older person is in the practice of eating earlier, the benefits of such a practice being affirmed by Harvard Medical School, that individual may wonder whether or not this type of mealtime will work in that type of long-term care environment.

The reality is that many long-term care facilities already have a standard early evening dinner time. In larger assisted living facilities, dinner seating in the dining room may start at 4:30, ending perhaps at 7:00 p.m. Many smaller facilities will have a dinner time at about 5:00 p.m.

Even though an assisted living community might have a specified dinner time that might be later than a resident might prefer, a resident does have other options. In some instances, a resident might be able to pick up an evening meal earlier and eat the meal in his or her room or apartment.

When considering possibly moving into an assisted living community, you will want to obtain information in regard to meals, food service, and related issues. Part of this information can be garnered by touring an assisted living facility. Some of this information be elicited by questioning an assisted living community staff member. There can be some fairly significant differences in mealtimes and related issues from one assisted living community to another.