I started eating dinner for breakfast after my friend and fellow yogi Suzanne Ellis suggested it. It’s been six months now and I’m a convert – so could you eat your dinner for breakfast?
Have you ever had the experience of going to bed, but being unable to sleep because your abdomen is so distended and your stomach is gurgling?
I used to think this slight indigestion was normal. But if you think about it logically, eating a big meal before bed will not give you a great opportunity to digest properly. Nor will it dispose you to a good night’s rest.
Yet the idea of skipping the evening meal is shocking, isn’t it? It’s awful to lie there awake and hungry.
But mindfulness helps us get over this, as it helps with almost every emotional conundrum. What if hunger was just a sensation, nothing more or less? Maybe we could observe it and move on and through? Maybe we could sleep, and maybe that sleep would be deeper and more restful than any sleep we’ve had for a long time?
It actually costs our body energy to sleep. It also costs energy to digest. So if we’re trying to do both at once, it’s not a very efficient system. Monks in Asia know the energy cost of digestion; that’s why they often have the rule of eating only one or two meals a day, and nothing after midday, otherwise they have no energy for meditation.
There is also a saying, Breakfast like a king, dine like a prince, and sup like a pauper, which sounds like great advice, only I’ve hardly ever known anyone who lived by it.
But in recent years the popularity of intermittent fasting has changed how we see eating. We now know that foregoing nourishment for a few extra hours every day or every second day, extends longevity. Our body reacts to the ‘stress’ of hunger by strengthening its immune response. So there is now lots of scientific back-up for the benefits of skipping a meal.
Personally, I’ve known in my bones for years that I should cut down on eating at night. But it seemed really hard. So when I saw how glowing and healthy my friend Suzanne looked on a regimen of Big Breakfast, Tiny Dinner, I had to try it. She and Rama Prasad, her Ayurvedic Studies teacher, introduced me to this very sensible idea of never thinking about depriving yourself of food at night, but simply taking whatever food you desired in the morning, concentrating on eating a lot and eating well in the day and simply taking a rest from eating at night, if you feel like it. No pressure!
An important thing to realise is that hunger is a sensation, and that we are evolved to pay great attention to it. We don’t have to always indulge it, but we need to respect it. So the main principle of Eating Your Dinner For Breakfast is that you aim to satisfy your senses in the morning. That’s not just alimentary senses, but visual, olfactory, tactile, and textural. Make sure you attend to all areas of sensory enjoyment, and that the major food groups are covered generously. If you do the same at lunch (don’t worry about the times, just eat a large breakfast and lunch when you are hungry), then by evening you’ll be done for the day. You don’t need much satiating. You might even find you’ve skipped your traditional 3pm cookie too, without noticing.
So how do you Eat Your Dinner for Breakfast?
Step One: Fill ‘er up (with veg)
Morning: After your yoga practice, of course. You make a large plateful of nourishment, paying attention that all the textures, all the colours, and of course all the major vitamins and minerals are represented. Go crazy with different coloured vegetables, herbs and spices. Add fermented foods – kimchi, sauerkraut, pickle. Arrange everything as beautifully as you can. Be generous with your serving. Rama Prasad counsels that you should ideally eat a tenth of your body weight for breakfast. I found this impossible, and it certainly is unhelpful to start weighing your food (we don’t want any obsessing, people), but it’s a good frame of reference.
Step Two: Pile on the protein (and a little carb if you want)
Protein is great for satiety. I am a fish-eating lacto-ovo-vegetarian, so I actually have a lot of protein sources – usually eggs, beans, wholegrains, dairy, nuts and seeds (including quinoa) and occasionally fish. Complex carbohydrates – brown rice, wholewheat bread and the like, can be really good (I love them), but don’t rely on them to fill your plate up (it should be pretty full already with vegies and protein).
Step Three: Eat with your eyes
Put the meal down on the table and enjoy how it looks. I like to put a placemat and a nice set of cutlery, and to use my best plate. I used to often skip this step, but it’s so nice to visually appreciate your efforts, and taking time to see your food is a large part of eating mindfully. You could even try taking a photo. It’s a funny cliché in this age of social media and food porn, but when you go to the lengths of taking a photo you really see your food. And you can send it as encouragement to your friends who also eat their dinner for breakfast.
Step Four: Take a good sniff
Make sure you take time to smell the fragrance of your food. If you’ve used lots of herbs and spices it will smell amazing. Since I’ve been paying more attention to vegies I’ve discovered lots of new spice combinations which you can’t find in any recipe books. No rules except your own senses.
Step Five: Eat slowly until you’re full
You don’t have to finish everything on your plate, but as you get better at this you will be able to judge how much you need to feel satiated but not over-full. Make sure you chew every bite. If you’ve done the other steps, you might find you are more inclined to eat mindfully.
Step Six: Pack the other half for lunch
Hopefully you’ve judged the quantities well enough to have left half. Naturally, we’d all like to cook afresh for lunch, but who has that kind of time? Let lunch be a bit different from breakfast by adding fresh herbs, seeds or a different protein. Eat it whenever hunger calls.
Step Seven: Gloss over ‘dinner’
Who needs it?
In my house, my husband and two kids love to eat dinner. And I love to cook it. So I go ahead and cook up a storm, but I save most of mine for the morning. Sometimes I eat a token bit with my family, or just have the salad. My husband has started eating less for dinner now too. But my kids are still growing, so they need their three meals. For adults, a light salad (summer) or a light soup (winter) can be just perfect, topped off with a herbal tea. Try and eat as early as possible to empty your stomach before lying down. I aim for 6pm.
Step Eight: Don’t obsess!
Eat dinner when you feel like it. Sometimes you need it if you’ve not eaten enough in the day. Or sometimes you just want to. Definitely go out with friends and family and indulge in social eating, just because it’s lovely. You’ll notice that your sleep and your energy may not be quite as good, but it’ll be worth it. And let me know how you go below – I need constant inspiring too.
With thanks to my teachers Suzanne Ellis and Rama Prasad.
Debbie Hodgson is editor of International Light and a yoga teacher. She is living in Canberra with her husband and two children and studying physiotherapy.