Should You Eat On Time Or When You’re Hungry?

Eating is a basic need for all of us. But, it is also one thing that we all do differently. Our body needs nutrition every 3-4 hours to prevent energy loss, metabolism slowdowns, crankiness, and cravings, all of which can interfere with our lives. Some people eat based on a schedule rather than hunger, which is one of the drawbacks of the three-meals-a-day tradition.

On the other hand, many people like munching at regular intervals throughout the day, which helps them satisfy legitimate hunger pangs. Eating routines are shaped by environmental and cultural contexts and these routines reflect our thoughts, behaviors, and tastes.1 Here, we look at the advantages and disadvantages of both eating on schedule and eating when you’re hungry.


Pros Of Eating When You’re Hungry

1. Your Food Intake Satisfies Your Body’s Requirement

Eating when you’re hungry satisfies your hunger

You feel hungry for a reason. In all likelihood, your body is deprived of energy and it badly needs vital nutrients to function normally. An empty stomach prevents the brain from operating optimally and can hinder your performance. So, eating when hunger pangs occur is a good way to ensure that you supply your body with the energy it requires. But, ensure that you don’t over-indulge and refrain from eating unhealthy junk foods or fast foods.


2. Your Body Absorbs The Nutrients Better

Eating when you’re hungry helps the body to absorb the nutrients better

Eating when you’re hungry gives the body exactly what it needs – energy. The digestive system is in a receiving mode and can efficiently absorb the nutrients in the food. Hunger is the body’s way of telling you that it’s time you fill up. By consuming a balanced diet consisting of proteins, minerals, vitamins, fibers, and fats, you can ensure that your body assimilates all the vital nutrients present in the food.


Cons Of Eating When You’re Hungry

1. You May Not Consume The Right Nutrients

If you just eat to fill your stomach, you may not be consuming the vital nutrients

Since you’re hungry enough to eat a horse, you often don’t really care what you eat as long as it fills your stomach. This can be detrimental to your health as your food may be devoid of the essential nutrients. Or, you may be eating too much of one macronutrient and not enough of another. This is where a balanced diet matters as your body requires more than one nutrient to function normally.


2. You May Indulge Mindlessly

Eating when you’re hungry may cause you to overeat

Many people eat mindlessly because they’re starving. They may not pay attention to the texture, flavor, and the richness of the food and simply shovel it down. Or, they may fiddle with their gadgets while stuffing themselves with food. Many studies have repeatedly shown that people eat more than what is needed when they don’t pay attention to their food.2 This could also be from watching television, talking during meals, or listening to music. All this may collectively result in you eating more without realizing it.


3. You Maybe Hungry Because Of Stress

Stress can lead to hunger pangs that make you overeat

If you had a sumptuous meal and yet feel hungry within an hour or two of eating, then stress could be the reason behind your hunger. When you’re under stress, your body releases hormones called cortisol, which makes you hungry and causes you to overeat. Stress can change your eating patterns and food habits. Over time, this may lead to changes in allostatic load and trigger neurobiological adaptations that promote increasingly compulsively behavior.3 So, instead of feeding your hunger, try to de-stress through simple breathing and relaxing techniques.


Pros Of Eating On Schedule

1. You Train Your Body To Follow A Schedule

Eating on a schedule helps in training your body to eat on time

Eating right on schedule allows you to train your body to a specific schedule, which creates a healthy eating pattern. Eating on time also prevents overeating and causes less stress on your digestive system. More importantly, adhering to a schedule gives your body the much-needed time for efficient assimilation of the nutrients present in the food. Just as sleeping and waking at specific times helps you stay healthy, even eating on the schedule is crucial for overall health.


2. You Can Prevent Acidity And Fatigue

Eating on time can help prevent acidity and fatigue

If you ignore your hunger and don’t eat on schedule, you may develop digestives issues such as acidity, which occurs due to excessive acid build-up in the digestive tract. When you eat at the same time every day and make it a habit, you can prevent the accumulation of acids in your system. By eating on a schedule, you can also prevent fatigue problems that occur when your stomach is empty and the body suffers from energy loss.

3. You Give Your Body Time To Assimilate

Eating on time facilitates efficient digestion of food

Once you’ve eaten and satisfied your hunger, the body begins to break down the food and absorb the nutrients. When this digestion process is ongoing, it is incorrect to stuff your stomach with more food as your digestive system will become overburdened. The digestion process needs some empty space for better absorption of the food. By eating on a schedule, you give your body the space and time it needs, which ultimately helps in maintaining a healthy digestive system.

Cons Of Eating On Schedule

1. You May End Up Starving

Waiting for mealtime can sometimes leave you hungry

While eating on a schedule has its advantages, it also has a few downsides. Your body develops hunger based on the work you do and on the quantity of food intake. On some days, you may perform more tasks, which may cause you to become hungry earlier than usual. At such times, if you wait for the exact eating routine, you may just end up starving and trigger the release of digestive acids when there is no food present in the stomach. This, in turn, leads to acidity and gastric problems.4 To overcome acidity problems, drink water frequently until it’s time for your meals as this can help dilute the acids and prevent acidity.

2. You May Not Eat Your Fill

While eating on schedule, you may not eat your fill if you’re not really hungry

When you habitually eat on schedule, you generally feel hungry an hour or so before mealtime. But, sometimes, you may not feel hungry due to various factors. This lack of hunger may cause you to eat less than you normally would. It’s hard to eat your fill when you’re not hungry, but are just eating because it’s time to eat. In such cases, it is better to wait for a few minutes, although it may be past your scheduled time, as you will sooner or later develop hunger.

3. You May Become Tired Quickly

eating on schedule can sometimes leave you hungry and tired

While some foods are digested very quickly, certain foods may take longer to digest. So, if you’ve eaten a light meal right on schedule, chances are that you will end up hungry much before your next meal time. The body does not last long on an empty stomach and you soon begin to feel the effects of energy loss. Lack of energy adversely affects both your physical and mental performance. In such a scenario, you could munch on some biscuits or drink a glass of fresh fruit juice as an interim relief.

The Verdict

Each person’s body works differently with their own rate of metabolism. In fact, just one person’s body may behave differently on different occasions based on various factors such as the food consumed or the work performed. Since hunger is the body’s way of telling you that it needs energy, we must respect the feeling and supply it with a healthy dose of energy. Following a strict eating schedule is beneficial and healthy. But, ignoring hunger and starving is also bad for health. So, learn to recognize genuine hunger and try to stick to healthy eating timings. But, at the same time, avoid starving and provide your body with small doses of energy. It’s more important to eat regularly than to eat by the clock.