Ask a Dietitian: Are Scheduled Meals Better Than Skipped?

Hi Charlotte, Guidelines say to eat on a schedule and not skip meals. Then they say to eat only when you're genuinely hungry. This seems contradictory. What if you're sometimes hungry outside the schedule or not hungry on the schedule?

Hunger and how we respond to it is personal, some people can have a couple of squares of chocolate and put the rest back in the cupboard and others will finish the whole bar and then look for another one when they’re no longer actually hungry.

In this case, eating to a schedule and trying to avoid skipping meals is a good idea. They’re basically the same thing and both can help you to eat when you’re hungry. Let me explain: the body has an internal clock called the circadian rhythm.

Eating at roughly the same time each day is one of the ways to keep this clock in check, along with a regular sleeping pattern and avoiding blue light late at night. When we talk about skipping meals what we’re really saying is we’ve missed eating at a time that we usually do.

Eating stimulates the release of enzymes and hormones which aid the digestion and absorption of what we’ve just eaten, but they also affect the circadian rhythm. Therefore, if we miss a meal, we miss the release of these substances and their effect on our internal clock. This makes it harder to listen to internal cues relating to hunger and that’s the link between eating to a schedule and eating when you’re actually hungry.

If you’re struggling to know when you’re genuinely hungry, try to implement a bit of a schedule such as eating dinner at 7pm everyday, regardless of it being a weekday or weekend, to get that internal clock back on track. With everything going on in our lives this isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be on the dot every day, and there’s room for a bit of fluctuation. .

Now, I’ll finish by saying hunger is dictated by many factors, and the food environment that we live in is key. Seeing fast food outlets everywhere and price promotions on sweet treats can override our hunger signals, and habits can form – for example opening the cupboards when you’re bored. If you want to learn more, we wrote an article about cravings which you might be interested in and may help with the above.


Try to eat at roughly the same times every day so it’s easier to listen to your body telling you when you’re hungry, and not just bored or drawn in by marketing.

Written by: Dan Clarke, RNutr

Reviewed by: Charlotte Marie Werner, MS, RD, CDN

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