Eating: The Importance of Timing

The natural world has lots of signals that help us every day. We sleep when it’s dark, black clouds indicate rain, and we eat when we feel hungry. But, do rising obesity and weight problems indicate that the ‘hunger signal’ might not be as reliable as we think? Or are we misreading the signs? Should we really eat every time we feel our stomach growl?

Let’s demystify the timing of eating:

Is it hunger or cravings?

Sometimes it pays to wait. The impulse to eat can become messed up by consuming high-calorie foods which make us feel hungrier than we think. That’s why the urge shouldn’t be the only sign you look for when deciding whether it’s time to grab a bite.

Try these few tests to see if your hunger is real:

  • Stomach growl: only usually occurs loudly when the tank needs refuelling.

  • Still hungry after 10 minutes: cravings typically go away after a brief period.

  • Still starving after a glass of water: thirst can sometimes be confused with hunger.

Another way to divert cravings is to keep busy. The Mayo Clinic recommends taking a walk, listening to music and making sure you combat any negative feelings that might push you towards ‘comfort food’.

Is it daytime or night?

Our internal body clocks (or circadian rhythms) dictate our metabolic process so when you eat matters. Think of it like feeling sleepy; it can be tough to do anything else—we’re even warned not to drive when we’re sleepy. Our bodies are the same, with the burning of calories slowing down during the evening.

That’s why studies on people who ate the same amount of calories show big breakfast eaters enjoyed a 33 percent decrease in heart disease risk markers, while those who indulged in dinner experienced an increase. It seems we are unable to process food at night the same way we do in the day.

Is it too much or not enough?

Like a good joke, timing is crucial but content counts for just as much. So, the wrong type of food, even when consumed at the right time of day can still mess up your hunger signals. Do try to stay away from the doughnuts and pastries in the morning to avoid insulin spikes which make you hungrier later.

But don’t skip breakfast if you can help it! The Harvard School of Public Health found that men who skipped breakfast had a 27 percent higher risk of heart disease than those who didn’t. That’s because passing on the morning meal can leave most people hungrier through the day and makes us likely to eat bigger portions later.

When it comes to eating, nothing beats sweet timing. Next time you feel the urge to eat, wait it out—it might be a craving, make sure you’re eating at the right time of day and put in only the good stuff if you can help it!