the best time to eat

What Is The Best Eating Schedule?

Is there an ideal eating schedule? If so, what is it? This post will give you clarity on the best time to eat!

The Best Eating Schedule 

The best eating schedule is one that honors your internal cues of hunger and fullness. In other words, the best time to eat is when you feel hungry! Shocking…I know. 

Ideally, it’s best to eat when you’re just starting to feel hungry. If you wait until the point of ravenous hunger, there’s a greater chance of overeating. This leads to overall body discomfort and an unpleasant dining experience. 

You can use the hunger & fullness discovery scale to practice eating when you start to feel hungry and stopping when you start to feel full. 

The Best Eating Schedule 

Eat Regular Meals and Snacks 

It’s often encouraged to eat “regular” meals and snacks. But what does that really mean? 

A general rule of thumb for the average healthy person is to eat every 3-5 hours. This is based on how the body utilizes carbohydrates. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose and stored as glycogen in the liver and muscles. The liver’s glycogen stores deplete every 3-6 hours. Therefore,  it’s recommended to go no longer than 5 waking hours without eating. (1) 

Going no longer than 5 hours without eating helps: 

  • Prevent ravenous hunger 
  • Manage blood sugar levels 
  • Maintain energy during the day 

For one person, this might look like 3 larger meals. For another person, this might look like 3 meals and 2 snacks per day. There’s not a right or wrong answer. What matters most is that your eating pattern honors your hunger, schedule, and preferences. 

Eating Times: FAQs 

Eating isn’t black and white. There are many gray areas such as, “should I still eat even though I’m not hungry?” These are valid questions when determining the best eating schedule! 

Should I Still Eat If I Don’t Feel Hungry? 

There are many instances where it’s smart to eat, even if you don’t feel hungry. Here are some examples:

  • Eating breakfast at 9 am, even though you aren’t hungry yet because you know that you need energy for a morning of back-to-back meetings. 
  • Eating when you feel stressed. Stress can interfere with your ability to notice hunger. Set timers on your phone to break for meals, especially on your most stressful days. Your body still needs fuel!
  • Honoring a taste craving. Maybe you just ate, so you aren’t physically hungry. But you have a craving for something sweet. Honoring your craving, versus restricting it, can prevent future binges. For more on taste hunger, check out this post. 

Does Eating Late Cause Weight Gain? 

Eating late does not cause weight gain. Weight gain is correlated with overall caloric intake, not meal timing (2). If you feel hungry after dinner, it’s okay to eat. In fact, eating a bedtime snack can help take the anxious “edge” off hunger, helping you sleep better. Aim for late-night snacks that satisfy you, without making you feel overstuffed or too “hyped,” which could make it difficult to fall asleep. 

What if I Never Feel Hungry For Breakfast? 

Many people don’t feel hungry upon waking and skip breakfast altogether. Yet, breakfast is an important meal, especially for energy and metabolism. The act of skipping breakfast day after day is what could have silenced hunger in the first place. 

At first, you might feel hungrier during the day when you start eating breakfast after years of skipping it. That’s normal! It’s a sign you’re getting back in touch with your body. Remember, Hunger is a welcomed cue signaling that the body needs fuel. Aim to eat something within the first 2 hours of waking up. 

Some of my favorite make-ahead breakfast foods are overnight oats and egg muffin cups

When Should I Eat If I’m Working Out? 

It’s important to eat pre and post-workout. Before exercise, aim for easily digestible carbohydrates like fruits, yogurt, granola, or oatmeal. The timing of that pre-workout fuel depends on how your body digests food. For some, eating 1 hour before a workout is enough time to digest. Others need a larger window frame between eating and exercise. Again, this is unique to how your body tolerates food. Experiment with what feels optimal for your body.  For post-workout, eating protein and carbohydrates within 1 hour after exercise is optimal for muscle replenishment. (3)

 

Have a question that we missed? Comment below to keep the conversation going!

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