Poll: Do You Eat by the Clock or Your Own Hunger Signals?


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  180 comments   :  29,347 Views

In a weight-obsessed world with no shortage of diets, food products and meal plans to choose from, it can be hard to know how to eat. Should you eat low-carb, no-carb, or only complex carbs? Are more snacks better than none at all? Are mini meals throughout the day really better than three solid squares? It can be overwhelming to think about it all, and we haven’t even gotten into specific foods, nutrient breakdowns or calories.

Recently, I’ve been feeling extra hungry. (No, I’m not pregnant. Why does everyone always say that?) I’ll eat breakfast and then a couple hours later feel ravenous. Or I’ll eat my midday snack and be counting down the hours until lunchtime (is 11 too early?). This led me to wonder: Do you eat on a schedule or when you're hungry??

Some diet plans recommend eating every 2-4 hours in order to prevent hunger and drops in blood sugar. Others discourage snacking between meals, but may encourage eating at regular intervals. Me? I don’t subscribe to an eating schedule per se, although I try not to go too long between meals since getting extra hungry can lead to overeating.

I’ve blogged before about my previous restriction diets and prior problems with disordered eating and even my weight. I’m doing well these days and no longer obsess about food, body size or exercise. But it wasn’t always that way. One of the things that helped me overcome these rampant thoughts and unhealthy behaviors was a concept known as intuitive eating (and the book by the same name, written by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, which I highly recommend). People who practice intuitive eating focus on their body’s signals of hunger and fullness—eating when they’re hungry, regardless if they just ate breakfast 1 hour ago or if “lunchtime” is 2 hours away. Intuitive eaters also stop when they feel satisfied, not too full. The opposite holds true though, too. If you’re at a dinner party but not feeling hungry, you honor your body and simply do not eat until you feel ready. Behind this is the belief that our bodies are perfectly capable of self-regulating hunger and satisfaction (if we let them) and can therefore maintain a healthy weight naturally. Granted, the weight your body is comfortable maintaining might not be the same as your personal ideal or what a BMI chart recommends. But this simple practice is what helped me shed the extra pounds I gained in college (very, very slowly), keep it off for several years and counting and, more importantly, resume a healthy relationship with food.

Because I’ve been hungry more, I’ve been eating more—a lot more, it seems! I haven’t noticed any changes in how my clothes fit, but I am going to continue listening to my body instead of a clock. While this works for me, I know it’s not the perfect solution for everyone. Many people find great success with timing out their meals. Some simply can’t distinguish between true physical hunger and emotional hunger. Some need to time their meals for health and medical reasons. Others do a combination of both—including me, sometimes.

What works for you: Do you eat when you’re hungry, when the clock says it’s time for a meal or snack, or a combination of both? Have you ever tried eating intuitively?

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  • 180
    I mostly eat by my own hunger signals. I don't count anything and lose weight all the same this way. - 1/17/2014   11:44:48 PM
  • 179
    I use a combination....sometimes I get so busy that I "forget" to eat so I try to make sure to eat something even if I am not hugry...but there are also times when I eat when I feel hungry... - 8/16/2010   8:39:43 PM
    I am a firm believer in a 7am-to-7pm meal plan. The key is fueling your body all day long with high-protein/low-carb meals. Eating a small meal every 3 hours keeps your metabolism going strong.You'll feel energized and simultaneously be burning calories.

    What does eating ďaround the clockĒ look like? Here is a sample DK meal plan:

    7:00 am- Good morning! Grab some protein in the form of a shake or some whites! Protein affects a number of appetite-regulating hormones, particularly leptin which registers fullness and controls your hunger.

    10:00 am- Protein again! Whichever you didnít have for breakfast you should have as a mid-morning snack.

    1:00 pm- Take a power lunch: choose a lean protein (chicken, turkey, tuna) and mix it with some greens. Switching to a diet high in lean protein and fiber-rich vegetables will allow you to maintain a constant energy level without feeling hungry. You can also choose a healthy grain at lunchtime: a slice of whole grain bread or a cup of steamed brown rice.

    4:00 pm- Feeling hungry in the middle of the day? Grab a handful of almonds. Itís my favorite mid-afternoon snack.

    7:00 pm- For dinner, go for the same idea as lunch: lean protein, green vegetables, but this time, skip the starchy carb. Your day is winding down, so unless youíre training for a marathon, there is no need for loading up on energy-rich carbs.

    - 8/5/2010   10:52:02 AM
  • 177
    i sorta eat by habit more then hunger, if i am not hungry at lunch or i eat breakfast late, then i just kinda eat lunch cause it is lunch time, i guess it is something i will have to work on, dinner is the same way. - 8/3/2010   9:30:24 PM
  • 176
    I guess since I joined spark I have been eating intuitively or close to it. I may find myself wanting to devour something and then have to ask the question am I hungry or is something going on. - 8/3/2010   3:03:06 PM
  • 175
    I usually start my day around 7 to 7:30 with a tall glass of cold filtered water. Then I try to have breakfast on the table by 8:30 so my husband and I can be at the office by nine. we usually break for lunch some time during the noon hour and dinner happens whenever we can get around to it. In my utopian dream world I have a live-in nutritionist that kindly taps me on the shoulder reminding me that it is time for a meal or snack and of course they are always healthy and delicious. What a vivid imagination I have.

    - 8/3/2010   12:07:08 PM
  • 174
    a little of both - 8/3/2010   11:21:17 AM
  • 173
    I eat when I am hungry but if I'm at a friend's house and she's serving dinner at 6, I tend to make sure I'll be hungry around that time. It isn't practical to leave your plate sit for an hour. So yes intuitive eating mostly but within reason. - 8/3/2010   10:32:04 AM
    I do a mix of both. For instance, I eat a snack everyday at work at a set time. But because I've done that for so long, my body is expecting it and I'm hungry then.

    The weekends are a less rigid with time so I generally eat when I'm hungry. Which can be over or under cals depending on the day. - 8/3/2010   9:35:21 AM
  • 171
    I listen to my body signals. I eat breakfast at about 7 or 8 and normally by 11:30/12 I'm hungry, and the time frame is the same for between lunch and dinner. So I guess every 3-4 hours. - 8/3/2010   6:31:09 AM
  • 170
    I start my day with a small, fresh fruit salad followed by a serving of whole grain cereal into which I mix a handful of roasted, unsalted almonds and half a serving of dried cranberries. This usually leaves me well-satisfied until lunchtime, however, I eat whenever I feel hungry. I find that it usually breaks down to about every three hours or so. Listening to my body works very well for me... - 8/2/2010   11:52:32 PM
  • 169
    I do both, on my workdays I eat by the clock because if I don't eat breakfast I know I can't eat again till first break and I know I need some food before then, then I eat lunch at lunch time for the same reason, if I don't eat then I can't eat till last break which will be too long, and then I eat dinner at a certain time because if I eat later, it will throw me late getting to bed and I have to get to bed at a certain time in order to get enough sleep and wake up on time. But if I do notice I'm not hungry at breakfast, I will eat a light breakfast so that I have SOMETHING in my stomach and if I am not hungry at lunch I will eat half of my lunch, same with dinner. It's easier to just adjust the amount than to get off schedule because getting off schedule will make things worse. Then on my off days I usually sleep in late and wake up around lunch time so I have brunch at around 12 noon then I have to have dinner by 5pm because I go to work the next day because my off days are split up so I end up skipping lunch and just eating dinner because there's no time for another meal in between brunch and dinner. So I don't force a lunch just to stick with the clock on my off days so on those days I have just 2 meals. So I do a mixture. :) - 8/2/2010   9:55:16 PM
  • 168
    Ever since my husband retired, we eat breakfast when I wake up (it varies as I tend to be a nightowl) and a snack/lunch whenever we feel hungry, but dinner is always at 7 pm. I wish we timed it better, but my hubby won't wake me if I go to sleep at 4 or 5am due to pain. - 8/2/2010   6:05:54 PM
  • 167
    I do both. For breakfast I eat when I'm hungry before I leave for work if I have time otherwise I eat as soon as I get there. For lunch (at work) by the clock. When I'm off work for supper...I eat when I'm hungry. I try to make room and time for snacks during the day, except I usually run out of time at work for snacks because I don't want to ruin my supper since I can't eat late due to GERD. - 8/2/2010   6:05:06 PM
  • 166
    i am sitting here right now feeling hunger pains, i even just looked it up online, and i am sick of it, i had a good healthy breakfast and a good healthy lunch, and i had a snack, this is my downfall every single day, i have had my water, what is going on with my body that makes me feel this intense hunger, its like i havent eaten in days, im fed up - 8/2/2010   5:21:05 PM
  • 165
    I eat by the clock. If I wait until I'm hungry, it's usually too late and I end up grabbing the first thing I find and stuffing myself with it. If I eat regularly through the day, I don't usually feel hungry - unless it's one of those "I'm so hungry" days.

    It's sorta like drinking water - if you wait til you're thirsty, you're probably already dehydrated. - 8/2/2010   3:07:40 PM
  • 164
    For years, I ate by the clock... whether I felt hungry or not. I always ended up eating more than I really needed or wanted and then felt guilty. I 've started a new program that requires me to pay attention to my physical sensations of hunger and to defer eating until I'm actually hungry. I eat much less and feel much better. - 8/2/2010   2:39:23 PM
    i am constantly hungry, so i eat by 'the clock'.....06:45, 09:55, 12:00, 14:00, 17:00 and snack at 20:30...it works for me :-) - 8/2/2010   2:36:46 PM
    During the day, I eat when I am hungry, which seems to amount to about every two hours. My husband does most of the cooking. This is a blessing and a curse as he is not particularly health conscious, and pretty much cooks at whatever time is convenient for him. That means I eat dinner whenever he has it ready, hungry or not. - 8/2/2010   1:52:33 PM
    i do a little of both eating by the clock and eating by what my body is telling me. - 8/2/2010   1:34:49 PM
  • 160
    I've recently started to eat intuitively. I'm really trying to listen to my body and only eat when I'm hungry (not starving because then it's too late and I will overeat), eat MUCH slower, and not eating past 8:30 pm (I would cut that earlier but it's what works with my schedule and gym schedule now). These are the things that I know I have to work on which is why I chose to do it although I didn't know it had a name. Great post and good information. - 8/2/2010   11:42:29 AM
  • 159
    I don't trust myself enough to do this. Maybe I'm confusing hunger with boredom, but I don't believe I will ever lose the weight if I don't religiously watch what I eat. I do keep fruit and other healthy, low calorie snacks around. But the only way I have been able to lose is to get comfortable with being hungry, feeling hunger.

    That's not to say I starve myself, not by any measure. But I wait until mealtime to eat, even if I am hungry hours earlier. If I am really hunger and a meal is not on the calendar soon, then I eat an apple or drink water/tea. - 8/2/2010   11:38:45 AM
  • 158
    I think I still eat because I'm supposed to eat. I'm trying to remember that food is fuel and not just something that I'm supposed to do so that I'm not deprived. - 8/2/2010   11:20:05 AM
    I decided a few years ago to do this (not knowing there was a term for it). One summer 4 years ago my friend was home from college and she commented on my snacking (she usually stopped by between 2 and 4 in the afternoon). She said something about how whenever she stopped by I had a snack. I said it was because I got hungry mid afternoon. She said her mom had told her to just drink a couple of glasses of water in between meals, or especially if it was after dinner time instead of eating. I told her if I was hungry that meant my body needed something in it, and I was eating carrot sticks not chips so I didn't see the problem.
    This has stuck with me all these years, and further reinforced the notion that too many people are afraid of food. - 8/2/2010   10:33:50 AM
  • 156
    I eat by the clock.

    6:30am - breakfast
    10:30am - snack
    12:45pm - lunch
    3pm - snack
    6:30pm - dinner - 8/2/2010   9:02:52 AM
    i eat when am hungry... not always good but am leaning to drink water first then i see that i was actually thirsty - 8/2/2010   3:48:26 AM
  • JDBD17
    I eat "on the three's" - 6, 9, 12, 3, 6, 9 - or as close to them as I can. I've started this only recently, but I like it better than eating 3 squares a day. (and my "squares" weren't very square!) - 8/1/2010   11:48:12 PM
  • 153
    Having recently come off of a "points" restricted diet, I did try to follow a schedule, but lately , I've been ALWAYS HUNGRY...(I just started a training program, and I'm playing with food choices to find what works for me), but now, I eat when I'm hungry, and it's usally whatever it is (within reason) that I want, and portion controlled. I cannot attest as to whether or not that works for me, but I'll know soon enough, I suppose... - 8/1/2010   9:59:22 PM
  • 152
    I can go DAYS without eating...seriously, I can.... So, if I don't eat on my normal "work" schedule, I won't eat. - 8/1/2010   6:23:28 PM
  • 151
    for me i found eating every 2-3 hours keeps me going and helps me stay in control - 8/1/2010   5:07:24 PM
  • 150
    I do a combo of both. As a Type 1 Diabetic for my entire life I was always forced to eat on a schedule. But, I've noticed since I've been using the insulin pump that if my blood sugar drops I get hungry, with tummy growls and everything, so I honor that. I still do force myself to eat before a vigorous workout so I won't get too low in the blood sugar department, even if not hungry. I'm trying to do more intuitive eating, but it is hard to break lifetime habits, as well we all know! I'm going to check out that Intuitive eating book and try to retrain my brain to follow my body's cues and not the clock cues! I think I'll do better that way! - 8/1/2010   4:38:40 PM
  • 149
    I try to stay on my own schedule which falls close to regular times to eat :) - 8/1/2010   3:18:16 PM
    On weekends, I eat when I am hungry and sleep when I am sleepy! I guess I am more of a clock eater, I have to ask my self it is OK to eat yet (when did I last eat?), and not just go and graze in the kitchen. My work day starts at 6 am, and by then I have eaten breakfast - typically a sandwich or a Kashi bar and usually a frozen yogurt bar because I can eat it during my 45 minute commute. I am usually hungry when I wake up. These days it is too hot for the green tea I usually have, so I drink ice water on the way to work, if anything. I am typically hungry by 10 or so (which I think I should be since it is 4+hours since I ate). My lunch is schedued for 12:30 and that is usually way too long to wait. I try to have a snack at like 10 or so. Sometimes the work schedule is such I can eat earlier or have to wait, depending on the day. I try to have my biggest meat at lunch and then snack again on my 45 min commute home. I like to eat as soon as I get home but depending on what I am jgoing to cook, and how long that will take or how efficient my snack was on the way home, it may be dinner is not done until later.

    I want to elaborate on what Mydnite1 wrote about eating fast. I have noticed recently that I will take 2 bites at once of a hamburger or a sandwich instead of just one. WhyEVER would I want to do that? Why did I ever start doing that? In addition to making the meal go by so fast, it is so very attractive to have my mouth stuffed with food! Awareness is power, so I will be more conscious of that and slow down my meals. My husband inhales his food taking the biggest possible mouthful he can so he can move onto other things. I guess that even tho I am slower than him, I am not slow enough....LOL - 8/1/2010   1:22:22 PM
  • 147
    This gal uses a combination of the two - at times eating because my body tells me it needs nourishment & at other times eating because it is a conventional mealtime & I am blessed in having a hungry husband to enjoy the pleasure of sharing a repast with!

    Be blessed!
    - 8/1/2010   10:10:15 AM
    I'd definitely prefer to eat intuitively but like SUPERHEROIAM I can easily go the entire day without eating or feeling any real hunger so I'll stick with eating by a relatively loose time schedule. - 8/1/2010   7:58:57 AM
    I eat lunch by the clock otherwise when I get home from work I want to eat evrything in sight, and everthing else I've learned my real hunger signals apart from I'm bored. - 8/1/2010   3:31:23 AM
  • 144
    three meals and two snacks by the clock. - 8/1/2010   12:59:12 AM
    While I like the idea of eating intuitively, right now I don't think it's for me. I'd go all day without eating if relying on the "hunger" symptoms, and will have some times of eating too much. So, I'll settle for timed meals/snacks for the time being. - 8/1/2010   12:57:17 AM
  • 142
    I have to eat by a certain time or I get a headache - at work I eat by a11: 30 am. or before noon - by the time I get home and make dinner it will be 6:00 or 6:30 p.m. before we eat. If I feel hungry after dinner which might be at 8:00 p.m. I will have a fruit - 8/1/2010   12:26:03 AM
  • 141
    I basically eat by my hunger, twice a day, I combine breakfast and lunch. I just have a piece of fruit in the morning, then pool, and then eat right after. That is about noon or one p.m., I am ravenous then. We are usually hungry by 6 p.m., and eat again then. I don't eat a meal, unless I'm hungry. - 7/31/2010   11:22:20 PM
    90% of the time I'm 'by the clock'.

    Karen - 7/31/2010   10:54:13 PM
  • 139
    It's kind of a toss up. Breakfast is a schedule time, lunch is intuitive and dinner is usually scheduled (my husband is a diabetic). I also have a snack sometime in the evening. This helps to ensure that I don't have low blood sugar in the AM. - 7/31/2010   10:31:07 PM
  • 138
    I eat when I'm hungry. - 7/31/2010   9:49:52 PM
  • 137
    I am also one who does both and for a while I thought it could be mood related as when I'm up I tend to eat less.But don't really see it One thing I do do is get in breakfast but whether having protein at breakfast vs carbs makes a different re lunch time have yet to see. - 7/31/2010   9:11:00 PM
    when i'm hungry for me.. - 7/31/2010   9:09:52 PM
  • 135
    I'll generally try to go with when I feel hungry - unless it's too short a time. Then I'll try a couple of drinks of water, or a cup of water and a cup of green tea.
    But yes, there are times that suddenly appear from nowhere, and I feel hungry more often, and sooner after a meal. If water and tea don't work, then it's time for an oatcake and cheese, or wedges of apple and a dod of cheese, or something.
    But why do we get times like this? I've often wondered (especially as I've "suffered" from it off and on most of my life). - 7/31/2010   8:34:31 PM
  • 134
    I am mainly by the clock by am flexible to a certain extent. I have medicine that I have to take with meals 3 times a day so I must be somewhat regular. But I can flex 2-3 hours when necessary. That is when I notice when I am hungry or not and decide to eat less (or more which I shouldn't). I do add a snack during the day as well and that is based on hunger alone and I try to keep it healthy. - 7/31/2010   8:23:01 PM
  • 133
    I eat by the clock I guess----3 meals a day----but maybe it would be a good idea to try eating only when hungry--aqt least for a day-- - 7/31/2010   8:08:46 PM
    When I get hungry enough, sometimes I just EAT the daggone clock! Takes care of everything! - 7/31/2010   7:58:30 PM
  • MOVEIT62
    Eating five mini meals suits me better than the traditional three meal a day plan. I realize that trying to time my hunger to set mealtimes is also problematic for me. So, I eat when I feel hungry. Of course, within reason. Morning meal at before I leave for work. Followed by a mid morning meal at around 10-11 am. This usually helps me get to a lunch at around 1, maybe 2. When I do not take the mid day meal, I find that I overeat at lunch because I am soooo hungry. This is pretty much the same for dinner. I agree that it is important to listen to what your body is telling you. - 7/31/2010   7:18:58 PM

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