Q. "Are there optimal times of day to eat meals? And what’s the ideal amount of time to leave between meals and snacks?"
Mel, Maroochydore, QLD
A. Accredited Practising Dietitian Glenn Cardwell says:
The best time to eat is when you’re hungry. And when you’re no longer hungry, stop eating. Yes, it’s a crazy concept, and it won’t catch on, but it makes physiological sense: Your body knows the best time to eat and drink. Nature comes with a clever operating system, complete with two inbuilt programs (standard in all primates!) called hunger and thirst — quite brilliant, really.
I have to roll my eyes when pop nutritionists say you have to eat meals at certain times, or not to eat after 6pm, or to leave a certain amount of time between meals or snacks. What did people do before they had watches? They did what makes good sense: they ate when they were hungry and food was available. Simple.
This is radically different from the “Ooh, that chocolate cake looks delicious; I must try a slice”, “Hey, it’s 1 o’clock — burger time!” or “Man, I’m chockers; I couldn’t fit in another morsel” ways of eating, when all kinds of food are abundant and available 24/7.
Sure, some environmental cues prompt us to eat whether we’re hungry or not. The sight of, say, chocolate Bavarian seems able to override all appetite cues!
However, if you feel like you’re in control of your eating most of the time, then eat when you’re hungry and stop eating when the sensation goes away — which is most likely to be before you start feeling full. We really don’t have to complicate this simple message any further.