If you're watching your weight, the choices you make throughout the day — whether they deal with food or exercise — make a difference when it comes to the number on the scale. But making healthy decisions at dinnertime can really propel your progress.
These five dietitian-approved, simple supper strategies will help set you on the road to weight-loss success.
1. Stick to a Schedule
While dining at the same time every evening may not seem convenient (especially during the chaos of busy weeknights), it can encourage weight loss. That's because when you stick to a nightly routine, you're more likely to plan out your dinners versus wandering into the pantry (or ordering takeout) when hunger strikes, Carissa Galloway, RDN, registered dietitian and certified personal trainer, tells LIVESTRONG.com. The latter often results in unhealthy food choices since we tend to pick whatever's readily available when we're feeling ravenous (think: chips, microwave dinners, fast food, etc).
In fact, people who eat dinner (and other meals) without a regular schedule appear to have a greater risk of metabolic syndrome and cardiometabolic risk factors, including a higher BMI and blood pressure, per a November 2016 review published in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society.
And what time you nosh at night matters too, according to a June 2020 study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. Researchers found that adults who dined at 10 p.m. burned less fat and experienced higher blood sugar peaks compared to early bird eaters who dined at 6 p.m.
The takeaway: To promote weight loss and overall health, establish a daily dinner schedule, and the earlier you eat the better.
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2. Ditch the Distractions (Yes, Including Netflix)
While eating dinner in front of the tube is super common, it's not doing you any favors in the weight loss department. If your brain is preoccupied by the TV or your phone, you may not process taste and satiety the same way you would at a table without distraction, Galloway says.
And the science backs her up. An August 2020 study published in Appetite found that you're less likely to realize when your stomach feels full if you're engrossed in a highly engaging task. In other words, while you scroll through IG or binge-watch that true crime docuseries, odds are you'll unintentionally overeat.
Not to mention you'll enjoy your grub less. Think of it like this: How can you savor all the flavors on your plate when your attention is elsewhere?
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Conversely, practicing mindful eating (where you focus on your food, eat without distractions and take the time to relish every bite) can be a helpful weight-loss strategy, according to a June 2018 study in the Journal of Family Medicine & Community Health.
What's more, mealtime minus the interference of screens can be an opportunity to connect with family and nurture your relationships, Galloway adds. And having a strong support system and a healthy, balanced lifestyle are also key factors to success on your weight-loss journey.
3. Gulp Down a Glass of Water First
You've probably heard that drinking more water can help with weight loss, and for good reason. Sipping on H2O before and during dinner saves calories, Galloway says. This is especially true when you substitute water for other high-calorie, sugar-packed beverages like soda.
Indeed, a February 2010 study published in Obesity (Silver Spring) found that middle-aged and older adults who had overweight and obesity who consumed 500 milliliters (about 2 cups) of water before each meal lost 44 percent more weight than those who didn't drink water.
That may be in part because the water in your stomach can increase your feelings of fullness, which leads to eating less, Galloway says. As a matter of fact, that's what a small study of young adults who did not have obesity found. When participants drank water prior to a meal, they consumed smaller amounts of food, and, despite eating less, still reported adequate satisfaction and satiety, per research published in the October 2018 issue of Clinical Nutrition Research.
"Bonus points if you gulp down a glass of water 30 minutes before dinner and then eat your vegetables and higher-fiber foods first," Galloway says. "The goal is to fill up on better-for-you foods, so you're less likely to reach for seconds of higher-fat foods or refined carbs."
4. Chew Slowly
One of the simplest strategies to support your weight-loss goals is to chew your food slowly. Case in point: Eating slowly resulted in reduced food intake, decreased hunger and increased fullness in individuals who did not have obesity in a March 2014 study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
If chewing your food into a lump of mush sounds too tedious, you can still reduce your eating speed with a few simple tweaks. "Put down your silverware between bites, sip water or have a conversation to lengthen the meal and allow your body to recognize fullness cues," Galloway says.
What you put on your plate matters too, of course. Galloway suggests aiming to fill half of it with vegetables, which will help you feel full on less calories.
5. Walk It Off
After a big dinner at the end of a long day, most of us prefer to plop our butts on the couch. But if you want to drop a few pounds, a post-dinner stroll is a stellar idea.
"Walking after dinner has a special magic, as it helps to stimulate your metabolism, which in turn can help you burn calories and lose weight," Galloway says.
Plus, we're the "least active at night, so walking can help sneak in a little extra movement, which increases our daily caloric expenditure," she adds.
What's more, a leisurely walk after dinner is "great for anyone at risk of diabetes or who's diabetic, because activity can help naturally lower your blood sugar," Galloway says.
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- Proceedings of the Nutrition Society: “Meal irregularity and cardiometabolic consequences: results from observational and intervention studies.”
- Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism: “Metabolic Effects of Late Dinner in Healthy Volunteers—A Randomized Crossover Clinical Trial.”
- Appetite: “Ingested but not perceived: Response to satiety cues disrupted by perceptual load.”
- Journal of Family Medicine & Community Health: “Mindful Eating and Weight Loss, Results from a Randomized Trial.”
- Obesity (Silver Spring): “Water consumption increases weight loss during a hypocaloric diet intervention in middle-aged and older adults.”
- Clinical Nutrition Research: “Effect of Pre-meal Water Consumption on Energy Intake and Satiety in Non-obese Young Adults.”
- Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: “Slower eating speed lowers energy intake in normal-weight but not overweight/obese subjects.”
- Journal of Epidemiology: “Association Between Eating Speed and Metabolic Syndrome in a Three-Year Population-Based Cohort Study.”
- Diabetologia: “Advice to walk after meals is more effective for lowering postprandial glycaemia in type 2 diabetes mellitus than advice that does not specify timing: a randomised crossover study.”