Updated: Feb 21, 2019
My days start early. I've been a morning person for a long time, which is great. By 7:30 pm, though, I can be wiped, especially if we've been out all day, running errands or even relaxing somewhere sunny and windy. Sometimes when I get everyone home and empty the car, I'd like to just curl up in a ball for a while. I'm a little hungry, but WAY more tired. I don't enjoy eating when I feel tired and gross, and it's hard to read hunger and fullness cues when tired, so I tell the kids I'm going to lay down for a while, or if we all sit down for dinner I make myself a cup of tea and sit down to socialize until I feel actually hungry. This might be in twenty minutes, or not for a couple of hours.
Generally, eating at night doesn't work well for people out of their growing years, and eating just to eat isn't necessary in our culture where food is plentiful and the next meal is a few hours away.
Several years ago, A friend in her late 40s was having high morning blood sugars and considering taking metformin, so she decided to check her blood sugar throughout the day while she watched what she ate, to see what was happening. She found that her blood sugar was actually fine all day, and ONLY high in the morning.
I asked how late she ate in the evening, and she said "Oh, 7, 7:30, and I'm not even hungry, I just eat because it's there, and it gives me a little lift through the evening." So it seemed like she wasn't processing her dinner well, and she could have done with a much lighter dinner. (There are many other factors which contribute to morning high blood sugars; we were just looking at the simplest possibilities.)
After another mom was talking about her weight loss struggles with night eating, I got curious about my own food timing, and started tracking for a few days here and there. It turned out that luck - being a morning person and not enjoying food much when I'm tired - was probably helping me maintain a healthy weight. I woke up ravenous, ate my way through the morning, and was often out of steam to eat more than a bowl of cereal or a piece of fruit if dinner was too late. Only when nursing do I have room for second helpings.
Another friend has always been lean without exercise, and says she feeds the kids dinner when they come home from school, around 4, and then she doesn't snack at night. The kids might have a snack later in the evening. She considers this preferable to having them snack after school and eating less dinner. She also said she doesn't care to eat tired, so she just goes to bed.
Eating with kids can feel more like "on-call" parenting time than "savor-the-moment" time. It's hard to simultaneously keep up a conversation, get little people what they need, assess hunger and fullness, and actually enjoy the food. I know were' SUPPOSED to have family meals, but I think the key elements are conversation and real food on the table, not whether mom is eating at that particular meal. In fact, I would argue that telling your kids you'll just be having a cup of tea while you enjoy their company, because you're not hungry (or more tired than hungry, or you just need a few minutes to settle) is modeling body awareness and respect. Anyway, my kids are used to it, and I enjoy meals much more this way.
Another benefit, besides weight maintenance, is better digestion. While it doesn't seem to make much difference to kids whether they walk and eat, or jump on the trampoline after dinner, it makes a difference for adults. If you're having tight, full, pinched feelings after meals, your digestion may need some better habits. Sit down for a few minutes before eating, eat slowly, and sit or rest for a few minutes after.
If you're eating real food and having tummy trouble after meals, a few habit changes may be the missing piece. And if you're finding it hard to eat moderately, fatigue may be a messing with your hunger and fullness cues. Enjoy a rest and hydration and see if it makes the way clearer.