Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
13 Jul

Meal Timing Concerns: Breakfast, Frequency, and Snacking

The issue of meal timing is a dense thicket of conflicting advice, a mix of conventional wisdom dispensed from USA Today articles, broscience on Internet forums, and confusing physiological feedback from a dysfunctional metabolism. How can one wade through it all and stay sane? You’ve been told your entire life that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but then you hear about intermittent fasting, Warrior Diets, and skipping breakfast while thriving. The buff/cut/shredded/ripped/insert-increasingly-violent-adjective-to-describe-one’s-leanness-here (what’s next, “flayed”?) dudes at the gym insist you should break up your eating into at least six small meals (and if possible, maintain a steady IV-drip of Muscle Milk throughout the day) to “boost” your metabolism. Some say three meals a day works just as well, while others say it’s even superior. Others try to simplify things. They suggest listening to your own body, to eat when hungry and fast when not, which makes sense, but what if you’re overweight and hungry all the time – can your body’s metabolic signaling really be trusted?

These are common concerns. I don’t profess to have all the answers, but I think I can make navigating the meal timing issue a little easier for people. Let’s go through a couple of the most common questions and explore what might work. I think you’ll find that context is key.

To Eat Breakfast, or Not

It’s true that epidemiology shows habitual breakfast skippers trend toward being fatter and less healthy than traditional breakfasters. People who skip breakfast are more likely to be dieters (meaning they’re overweight) and lead generally unhealthy lifestyles (since skipping breakfast is widely seen as unhealthy, they’re more likely to engage in other unhealthy activities).

Is this true for you, though? Are you technically skipping breakfast, only to grab a Frappucino on the way to work and eat a couple stale donuts in your office at 10 AM? Are you skipping breakfast intuitively, simply because you’re not hungry? Or are you skipping breakfast while mustering up all the willpower you have and ignoring your body’s cries for sustenance? These are two very different physiological states. I’d argue that the intuitive breakfast skipper is not skipping breakfast at all. Instead, he (or she) is in tune with his body. He’s still breaking his fast, just at a later time. The tortured breakfast skipper is fighting against his own satiety hormones, a battle he cannot win over the long haul. He’s living in perpetual metabolic discord. What do you think he’s more likely to eat for lunch – a Big Ass Salad whose contents he lovingly and thoughtfully prepared the night before, or a Big Mac combo?

If you’re of the former category and a traditionally-timed breakfast simply never occurs to you, you’re fine. Stick with it and eat when you get hungry, especially if your fat-loss efforts are succeeding.

Others might want to eat a protein-rich breakfast. Overweight teens who habitually skipped breakfast ate either a high-protein breakfast (50 grams protein) or a breakfast with normal amounts of protein (18 grams) for seven days. Three hours after their last breakfast on the seventh day, researchers measured the teens’ neural responses to pictures of food. The high-protein group displayed the least amount of activity in areas of the brain associated with food reward. According to brain imaging scans, the high-protein group was more sated and less interested in the idea of food than the low-protein group. Of course, the usual caveats apply here: these overweight teens were not skipping breakfast so they could do their afternoon squat session fasted, they probably weren’t interested in fasting-induced cellular autophagy, and I doubt they skipped breakfast spontaneously because they were happily humming along on stored body fat energy. In short, they are a specific demographic whose results may not apply to you. But if you’re the type who’s tried to skip breakfast and failed miserably – or did it and felt miserable and ravenous – you might try eating a high-protein breakfast. Add some fat to that protein and I bet you could maintain satiation for longer than the three hours described in the study.

Many Small Meals vs. Few Large Meals

To graze or to feast? According to many fitness “experts,” grazing is supposed to “stoke the metabolic fire,” while infrequent meals “slow your metabolism.” The idea is that eating many small meals keeps your metabolism plugging away at a high rate for the entire day, helping you burn more fat. Conversely, going too long between meals slows down your metabolism, so that when you do eat, your body is sluggish to respond to the caloric load and you end up storing it as fat.

It’s a neat-sounding theory, but it isn’t true.

First of all, there is no metabolic advantage to eating multiple meals. Yeah, your body expends metabolic energy to process and digest food, but it doesn’t matter when or how it’s eaten. You could eat a steak in a single sitting or the same steak cut up into five pieces, each eaten an hour apart, and the total energy expenditure required to process and digest the steak would be identical in both cases. So, assuming macronutrient ratios and caloric content are identical, eating more frequently doesn’t make your metabolism “burn” brighter. If it did, this study would have ruled in favor of increased meal frequency as an effective tool in weight loss for obese patients. But it didn’t.

But wait: eating more frequently keeps you sated, right? If you’re eating more often and keep a cache of snacks on hand, you should be able to keep hunger at bay. This must be true because those 100-calorie snack packs of cookies and chips are so successful, and I always see the trimmest, sveltest folks happily snacking away on them. Why, I remember seeing a cubicle garbage bin positively filled to the brim with 100-cal snack wrappers. Its inhabitant was off for lunch at the time, but with all that healthy snacking, I imagine he or she was fit as a fiddle!

Ha, no. A recent study actually suggests that eating more frequently reduces measures of satiety and fullness in overweight and obese men (the population that most desperately needs satiety, mind you), while eating less frequent, higher-protein meals increases satiety and reduces hunger. This is buttressed by the hordes of anecdotes I receive in my inbox from folks who only achieved freedom from constant hunger when they started eating real, substantial Primal meals and stopped obsessing over frequent, smaller meals.

What About Snacking?

Another study, featured in a recent Weekend Link Love, reveals that 25% of Americans’ calories now come from snacks, half of which are sweetened beverages. Sure, drinking soda and eating chips in between meals is obviously terrible, but that doesn’t really apply to Primal snackers and their macadamia nuts, beef jerky, and berries. Or does it?

For certain groups, I think healthy snacking, or smaller, healthy meals, may be warranted. If you’re starving, it’s definitely better to reach for the beef jerky than the cookie. Chris Kresser wrote about how infrequent, larger meals and IFing (even in the context of a “paleo-type” diet) cause wild blood sugar swings in some of his patients, most notably the stressed-out ones with cortisol disregulation, so that’s something to consider. In my experience, whenever I’ve had a bad night’s sleep or am going through a particularly stressful situation with work or life in general, I like breakfast; I get hungrier more often and skipping breakfast or fasting simply doesn’t feel right, so I don’t. Rather than tough it out or power through it, I listen to my body in these situations and eat if I’m hungry. I strongly suspect that trying to fast when your body doesn’t “want” to does more harm than good. Problems arise when this becomes chronic, when you’re always stressed out, always hungry, and always snacking. But in the short term? Eat when hungry.

If you must snack, include some protein. As to why, I’ll draw your attention to a brilliant post by J. Stanton, entitled “Why Snacking Makes You Weak, Not Just Fat.” Stanton explains why eating a carb rich snack without protein is inherently catabolic: the insulin spike stimulates muscle protein synthesis, for which the body needs amino acids, and without dietary protein the body must draw on muscle protein stores. Once or twice this wouldn’t be a problem, but if you’re snacking on protein-deficient carby foods throughout the day, every day, you’re eventually going to see muscle wasting. The classic example is the skinny-fat cyclist or jogger with a fanny pack full of dried fruit and a bandolier of glucose gel packets.

Personally, I like my buddy Aaron Blaisdell‘s slogan: “Not IF, but WHEN (When Hunger Ensues Naturally).” Let hunger happen. Don’t force the fasting. Don’t fight hunger just because your official “eating window” hasn’t arrived yet, and if you feel it’s “ensuing” unnaturally, do some investigation. Are you sleeping well? Are you training too much, or not at all? Is your 80/20 turning into a 60/40? If all that stuff is under control, consider that you may need a few days to entrain your ghrelin secretion to your eating schedule. Ghrelin? It’s a hormone that precedes and indeed predicts mealtimes, induces hunger and is secreted when you’re about to eat. Your ghrelin secretion schedule follows your eating schedule, and it’s a fast responder, so a few days should be plenty of time to get things lined up. In the meantime, you may have to deal with a little extra hunger at your previously normal mealtimes.

In the end, it all comes down to doing what works for you. I’ll admit that IF is a great tool for people who thrive on it. I like throwing in a fast here and there, because it works for me. You have to consider how these strategies work within the confines of your physiology. If something isn’t working for you, don’t “stick with it” just because it worked for others or there’s a big blog post listing all the benefits with links to rat studies and human trials. Eat a big breakfast if you need it. Eat food before your workout if you find you perform better with something in your stomach. Your needs are the bottom line – all other considerations pale in comparison.

Of course, your needs will change, especially as you continue with the PB lifestyle. Once you start sleeping, eating, dealing with stress, and moving well, things get easier. You might get hungry a little later in the day. You might find you even have enough energy for a quick workout before that first meal. You might look up from your plate and realize that it’s noon and you haven’t eaten in sixteen hours – and you feel fine. When that happens, go with it. Don’t force it, but let it happen if it will. The good news is that this is all contextual, and nothing is written in stone.

How do you handle meal timing? Have you noticed any changes since adopting a Primal lifestyle?

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. Great article! I personally try to avoid snacking and feel an occasional fast has helped control my hunger.

    Robert wrote on July 13th, 2011
    • Conversely, allowing oneself to get hungry…knowing what it feels like without panicking…is a good thing. Snacking all day leaves me too bloaty and the psychological feeling of having to constantly put something in my mouth definitely leads to weight gain for me. I’m definitely in favor of 2 or 3 meals rather than 6 or 7 mini-meals. (although those bodybuilders do get pretty darn lean that way…).
      I am a 4;30 or 5 am runner though, so I always have a protein shake after my shower…waiting til noon is no option here!

      Marie wrote on July 14th, 2011
      • “(although those bodybuilders do get pretty darn lean that way…)”


        I’m afraid I can’t take too much notice of studies, when the evidence is walking around and talking to me in the gym!

        Same with protein. The “studies” tell us we only need maybe about 20 grams per day. Any more is wasted.

        Tell that to ANY successful bodybuilder?

        Generally I love Mark’s blog but found this post unconvincing. Do what feels good, as and when you feel like it, while ignoring what is proven to work for bodybuilders?

        No thanks.

        Alan Carr wrote on July 15th, 2011
        • Bodybuilders? Step a few feet back and
          take a good look at bodybuilders…alot
          look like giant, plastic insects…do
          you really consider that a role model of health and the way humans ought to look? “Successful bodybuilder?” what is

          Gman wrote on July 15th, 2011
        • One last comment…aren’t we all trying
          to build our bodies?

          Gman wrote on July 15th, 2011
        • I think it’s not just a matter of “it works for them” Alan.

          Sure, if you want to get to the shredded level of a bodybuilder you will need at least that much protein, everyday. Because this is their job, they cannot falter at that. Their training and diet goes through a entire protocol to ensure maximal fat loss with minimal muscle loss, this is far from being the main goal of the Primal living.

          I’d like to eat all that protein, because I enjoy it, but if it happens to get lower than that some days, there’s no need to get crazy about it (unless you’re dieting to some event or having a intense training day).

          Ricardo E. wrote on July 15th, 2011
        • We may be building our bodies, but we aim for health and strenght, while bodybuilding aims specifficaly for maximum muscle hypertrohpy.

          Ricardo E. wrote on July 15th, 2011
        • wrong site pal. bodybuilding with the help of steroids and artificial whatnot is not healthy. mark’s not a bodybuilder. neither are most of the primal people. we go for health, strength and leanness, not building muscles for muscles sake in unnatural ways.

          einstein wrote on July 9th, 2012
    • Interesting.

      Doniyor Yusupov wrote on July 15th, 2011
    • if you ate only half the amount of food (by weight) compared to the amount of crap ya wanna serve us up with thru BLOG you should be right with the required

      anti-fuss russ wrote on August 12th, 2011
      • I’m sorry but this is incoherent.

        Terri wrote on July 8th, 2012
        • Hahaha why is it that people who are always angry or trying to make a point tend to misspell or misspeak?

          Matt wrote on February 23rd, 2016
  2. I’m a recovering grazer, and appreciate this compilation of excellent info. The combo of my local Crossfit gym, Mark’s Daily Apple and pregnancy-induced hypoglycemia helped me see the light.

    I’m finding it much easier to eat well when I don’t have to plan to eat ALL THE TIME. Which is what I was doing before!

    Anne wrote on July 13th, 2011
    • Recovering Grazer. I believe that’s my problem. Grazing. I’m never full and eat constantly. I’m not overweight but keeping my diet in check is a major struggle. Maybe all I need to do is stop grazing and eat my three meals a day. That will be my goal for the rest of this month and leading into the next. I think I can do it :)

      Mindy wrote on July 13th, 2011
      • Hi Mindy

        How is your fat intake? Consider upping it ….I had hypoglycemia and had to snack all the time…I was eating good protein but it wasn’t until I upped the fats and really lowered carbs that I resolved it for good – no more snacking :) well maybe occasionally! But I feel satisfied from meals now, not hungry an hour afterwards.

        Allison wrote on July 14th, 2011
  3. I always have been scared to skip breakfast because of all the myths out there…but then I looked at my husband who doesn’t eat breakfast because he isn’t hungry in the morning and he does just fine. He has a physical job and doesn’t collapse because he doesn’t eat breakfast. So I started skipping breakfast most days of the week and it really works for me. I find that when I eat breakfast, I feel hungrier all that day and my brain obsesses on food more. If I don’t eat breakfast, my hunger level stays down and I don’t think about food until easily after noon.
    I also don’t like the eat 6 small meals a day approach either because then it seems way too much of your day is centered around food and who needs that.
    Most days I have two meals and no snacks and I’ve lost 35 pounds since February when I started Primal so I’ll just stick with what’s working.

    Nomad1 wrote on July 13th, 2011
    • Whatever meal you eat after not having eaten in a while is breakfast, no matter what time of day it is. Just because you don’t eat right after you get up in the morning doesn’t mean you’ve skipped breakfast.

      I know I’m getting a bit technical but I think understanding the difference between a morning meal and “breakfast” is important.

      In your situation (and you husband’s) you just like to keep your fast going a little longer before you break it.

      Chris N wrote on July 13th, 2011
      • Chris, it’s people being way too literal and technical like that in response to basic conversation that makes people stay away from the site. Yes, most people get that any time you eat after waking is technically breakfast because you are breaking your fasting state…but we all know what people mean when they say breakfast.

        Nomad1 wrote on July 13th, 2011
        • I think maybe I worded my post wrong. After re-reading it sounds harsher than I intended. I was only commenting because you said that you, “started skipping breakfast.” No worries.

          I personally think there’s a psychological difference between thinking you are skipping breakfast vs. putting it off till noon or longer.

          Chris N wrote on July 13th, 2011
        • I like your point on the psychological difference, and will be using it on myself. I had a tiny amount of guilt that I had been “skipping breakfast” lately, and I think that mind shift will do it in.

          Elisabeth wrote on July 13th, 2011
        • picky picky..relax nomad1
          it’s people like you, who turn others off with your scrutinous remarks

          peopleaware wrote on July 13th, 2011
      • I’m totally with you on this one Chris. I always say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day – but it doesn’t matter what time of day you eat it. I usually eat mine around 4-30pm.

        Theslimreaper wrote on July 13th, 2011
    • I’m the same way! If I eat breakfast, I generally think about food all day. It’s insane. But if I don’t eat it, my morning is just the same!

      Allie wrote on July 13th, 2011
      • No worries Chris:-)
        I get what you mean about thinking about it differently. If you consider it skipping, you mentally might associate with a feeling of depriving yourself.
        I like the feeling of working out on an empty stomach too, I seem to have more energy.

        Nomad1 wrote on July 13th, 2011
    • YAY for you!!!! I started only 6 weeks ago–I am finding 2 meals a day totally works for me late omelet most days (around 11a) and dinner around 6 with a handful of nuts around 4 or so. I work from home so I have the luxury of making a quick meal in the middle of the work day. I am sticking with what works too!

      Tonja Pizzo wrote on July 13th, 2011
      • I have very much been testing this
        2 meal a day theory for a few weeks…
        I think it is the way to go…especially the older you get…and if you have a sedentary job…
        I bring eggs with me to work that I cook
        when I get up have them around 10-11am and like to have a big ass salad at 6pm….

        Gman wrote on July 14th, 2011
    • Yay! I’m so glad you said that! I landed on this post today because I am usually an intermittent faster, having my first meal at 1 or later, but this morning I was hungry. So I ate a healthy breakfast, protein, fat and veggies and was ravenous 2 hours later! I always check with Mark to figure things out. :-) Going back to skipping breakfast!

      Lauren wrote on February 3rd, 2016
  4. Cool post Mark. I have carried over my previous endurance sport habit of eating and snacking at certain times every day. I had to eat often when I was a chronic cardio person eating a non-PB fare or else I was not a person you would want to be around because I was so grumpy. My wife would plan our weekend chores around my eating so I wouldn’t get in a bad mood. I haven’t made it to the point of more natural eating, but I’m progressing. Eating real food makes it incredibly easier to go long periods in between meals. Now it’s my wife that I have to look out for. She is still a SAD eater and gets cranky when she goes too long between meals.

    WS wrote on July 13th, 2011
  5. Interesting post Mark. I have always been a grazer, in the sense I always ate when I was hungry and this happened to be every 2-3 hours. Maybe I’ll try eating larger more infrequent meals and see how I do.

    Jaybird wrote on July 13th, 2011
    • Jaybird – I think you may have missed the point (though I really can’t speak for you OR Mark). It seems from the article, you would keep doing what you’ve been doing, since the main focus of the article is to listen to your body, eat when you’re hungry, and eat plenty of protein. It does not seem to me that Mark is ADVOCATING large meals, as much as he is just saying that they are not the true evil.

      Dr. Kwame M. Brown wrote on July 14th, 2011
      • I agree with you, I think that is the point he’s trying to get across. I am a big believer in switching things up though. Maybe I have always eaten that way because I have trained my body to be hungry at those times. Every sports nutrition class I took certainly drilled 2-3 hours in my head. I guess all I’m saying is I think i’ll try it out and see if it is better or worse than my current plan. If it works, it works.

        Jaybird wrote on July 14th, 2011
        • There is something to be said for training your body. For most of my life I have eaten every 2-3 hours and would get headaches if I didn’t eat but since going primal and lower carb I have trained myself to not eat breakfast because I like having two BIG meals in a day instead of three medium sized ones and I no longer get hungry in the morning.
          Apparently it only takes about a week if skipping breakfast to get used to it.

          There is an article on the leangains site about breakfast. It’s great.

          Terri wrote on July 8th, 2012
  6. I must say, one of the most beneficial aspects of living primal for me has been the freedom from being hungry all the time. I used to eat every 3 or 4 hours, and if I didn’t I’d get very irritable and unpleasant to be around. The ability to be flexible with my meal times has definitely improved my quality of life in general.

    Burn wrote on July 13th, 2011
    • I completely agree. It is so nice to not be constrained by finding/cooking food all the time. I do that enough with three kids! :)

      Crunchy Pickle wrote on July 13th, 2011
      • Gah- I know! Especially during the summer… I feel like my entire day revolves around fixing my two girls food or cleaning up.

        N wrote on July 13th, 2011
    • God, I love the freedom of not being hungry all the time. I did not realize that my hunger was such a burden.
      What you described used to be me.

      Andréa wrote on July 13th, 2011
  7. I was one of those always hungry six-meal-a-day adherents, and had to pack snacks if I knew I was going to be out and about during a feeding time. It’s much, much nicer to only need three meals a day (not to mention tastier; bacon > unsweetened oatmeal bar). I have found that I do need to eat breakfast, though, and unless I’ve had an unusually large meal, IF isn’t really for me.

    I will admit to being way too amused by the fact you used the word “broscience” and by that “flayed” bit.

    Sudenveri wrote on July 13th, 2011
  8. i have ibs type stuff and large meals mess me up(still) but i hate snacking all day. i haven’t eaten since yesterday evening and it’s 2 pm texas time. just not hungry. i still dont know how to handle my meals times well but i DO know that the more i center my diet around fat, the better i do overall. less hunger, less ibs symptoms. fat rules.

    Daniel wrote on July 13th, 2011
    • +1 for the fat….it fixed my hypoglycemia !

      Allison wrote on July 14th, 2011
      • Mine too! And +1 for not being hungry all the time! Hypoglycemia was ruling my life! I love not wasting all that time preparing food and making sure I have snacks with me where ever I go.

        Robin wrote on August 7th, 2011
    • good for you, really envy you. I am constantly hungry. I also have IBS, but for me the more fat I eat the more unbearable the pain and symptoms are. all you on this board who can eat as much fat as you want, you have no idea how lucky you are.

      Susie wrote on October 24th, 2011
  9. When I was eating “healthy” according to conventional wisdom (low fat, lots of whole grains, vegetables, citrus fruits, very little animal fat), I experienced regular, painful acid reflux and heartburn, and I mean, steel-band-around-the-chest, feels-like-a-heart-attack heartburn. When I saw my (previous) doctor about it, she didn’t question my diet at all, but focused on when I ate. When I told her that I would skip breakfast, and ate lunch and dinner when I was hungry, and not at any set time, she told me that this was why I was having digestive problems. No suggestion at all that what I was actually eating might be having an effect on my digestion. I continued to have the heartburn, and started taking Pepcid regularly in advance of meals.

    Now that I am about 90% primal, I still only eat breakfast occasionally (except for mass quantities of bacon and eggs on Saturday and Almond flour pancakes every Sunday!), and still eat lunch and dinner at varying times. I have absolutely no digestive problems, haven’t had reflux or heartburn in 2 years, and don’t have up and down energy levels. I’m a big fan of eat when your hungry, each as much as you want (within reason) when you eat, and don’t eat more than a couple of ounces of nuts or something similar between meals.

    I have found since going primal that I have no problem going from 7:30 at night until 1:00 p.m. the next day without eating. When I would do this before, I would be lightheaded and starving by lunchtime, and then I would crash in the afternoon.

    Duncan wrote on July 13th, 2011
    • I know that light-headed feeling! Mine got so bad, I would almost pass out! Once I gave up the grains, most dairy (I still eat kefir, plain yogurt and whole eggs)and started going very high protein–much more protein/day than the gov’t recommends, my symptoms disappeared. Cravings gone, energy level steady and no more moodiness (I didn’t like that any more than the people around me, I’m sure!)
      I now eat when my body tells me I need to, and I don’t stress about any sort of rules. This attitude, in itself, has been an enormous release of stress for me with food. If we are really in tune with our bodies, our bodies will let us know what we need.
      Excellent article, Mark!!

      Susan wrote on July 13th, 2011
      • I HAD bad hypoglycemia. I thought I needed food every few hours to steer off the shakes/light-headed feeling/ and especially the irritability that comes with low blood sugar. Now on the HIGH fat, Moderate protein intake and no grains – I feel great with only eating 3 meals a day. I just attempted my first intermittent fast and it was the first time since I have been eating primal that I had low blood sugar symptoms that felt out of control. Considering ways to fix that for the next time I want to IF. I love the freedom of eating when I want – no rules – no cravings to sub-cum to. I feel great!

        Lela wrote on July 14th, 2011
        • “sub-cum” did you really mean to say that?

          Ruby wrote on July 15th, 2011
      • Why do people put eggs in the dairy category? EGGS ARE NOT DAIRY PEOPLE!

        Diego-p wrote on July 16th, 2011
    • It’s that crash in the afternoon that was doing me in. Whenever I ate carbs (pasta, rice, etc.) I would get very sleepy within just an hour of eating. Sometimes I would have to pull over when driving because I could feel myself nodding off.
      Ever since going primal I have had no problems with that. In fact, I’m more alert than ever before. No matter what time of day I eat.

      Heather wrote on July 13th, 2011
  10. Hey Mark,

    Great post!

    Any thoughts on timing if you’re trying to put on muscle? I found that I’m natually less hungry,but need to hit a goal of 3500 calories to sustain muscle growth. Should I eat even if I don’t physically need too? And should it be in large meals or spread out via snacks?

    Kris wrote on July 13th, 2011
  11. I am right with you, Mark! I think it is important to eat if you’re hungry, and NOT eat if you are not hungry. People tend to want some shining silver bullet that will get rid of allll their diet problems, and meal timing is one of those ideas that always gets people thinking “well I can lose those 50 pounds in a snap if I just… eat 6 tiny meals a day” or “just… eat breakfast at 8:02am each morning”, etc…

    Being healthy is about being in tune with yourself, and eating whole foods – the foods we were meant to eat!

    ANyway, the point of this long rambling comment, to answer your questions:

    1) I eat when I’m hungry. It’s generally a small breakfast at 10am, lunch (moderate size) around 1pm, dinner at 7-8pm, and then maybe a snack before bed (the snack is not usually out of hunger, I just like having a dessert snack).

    2) I’m not totally primal but I have noticed that since I cut out the junk (I only ate junk briefly for a few years in college), I have better moods and it’s easier for me to adapt to eating situations – like if I have to eat according to another person’s schedule, that’s fine.

    Maggie wrote on July 13th, 2011
  12. I’ve been following the warrior diet lately and I love it, I feel more focused during the day and not having to worry about food frees the mind up during the day.

    Scott T. wrote on July 13th, 2011
  13. Perfect Timing, I’ve been thinking and researching this subject all week. Just breakingmyfast now 11:45PST, up at 6am walked to the train, took the 5story stairs to the cubicle, but only just feeling hungry, so I ate and enjoyed it (3eggs with ham)
    Dinner tonight when I get hungry and same thing tomorrow, has been a trend this week, tons of energy and blasting through my workouts.
    Not losing a damn pound though after being strict primal for 10days now. Giving myself 3wks before possibly adjusting.

    Domo wrote on July 13th, 2011
  14. I was just talking with a friend of mine who is a Gluten-Free Life Coach. She told me that she lost weight and started to feel amazing when she got happy! In other words, she worked on her stress responses and cortisol situation before struggling with the other aspects of a restricted diet. In fact, she said that it was easy, even though she has many food allergies. Because of her allergies, she’s basically primal and feeling great. This is her website:

    Unshod Sarah wrote on July 13th, 2011
  15. Big Ass Salad–just sounds wrong.

    Bill wrote on July 13th, 2011
    • but tastes so delicious! 😉

      Nomad1 wrote on July 13th, 2011
  16. I just blogged about this topic this morning :) I’m starting to wean myself off the traditional meal schedule I’ve been on. I’ve realized I’m eating snacks three times a day, just because that’s what I’ve always done, even when I’m not hungry. I’m going to start listening to my body, and only eat when I’m truly hungry!

    Sara wrote on July 13th, 2011
  17. Cortisol is the biggest ‘trip’ factor for me with slipping into ‘grazing’. Stress obviously generates it but I find that disrupted sleep is also a big culprit – lots of people underestimate or don’t appreciate the connection between poor sleep habits (episodes) and eating patterns. Lots research out there now about how inter-connected the hormones are between sleep and appetite.

    Check out Emily Deans evolutionarypsychiatry blogspot for various articles.

    Kelda wrote on July 13th, 2011
    • This is a great point – sleep and cortisol really monkey with eating patterns.

      The longer I stick with paleo/primal style eating, the less concerned I am about when I will eat next… BUT, I find it absolutely crucial to get a good night’s sleep. If I don’t, the next day I make a point to eat three meals and two snacks that are full of protein, veggies and good fats.

      (This is actually helpful when avoiding junk foods, because I know eating ice cream or white rice or other crap at night will wreck my sleep… I am too greedy with my 8+ hours to go there :)!)

      N wrote on July 13th, 2011
  18. Keep it simple. Eat when you are hungry.

    Primal Toad wrote on July 13th, 2011
    • I think that is a little TOO simple. It might work for some people, but definitely not for all. If some people ate every time they felt hungry, they’d be eating all day long and taking in way too many calories.

      Nomad1 wrote on July 13th, 2011
      • True. But, the statement is true for fat adapted primals.

        Primal Toad wrote on July 14th, 2011
        • Yes when you are on the carbohydrate roller coaster you could eat all day, but when you are using fat as your primary source of fuel your metabolism is just so stable! You really can just eat when you are hungry. :) Loving the Primal life!

          Robin wrote on August 7th, 2011
  19. Great post! I’ve noticed since going Primal that I am not tied down to eating at specific times or specific meals. I just eat when I’m hungry and stop when I’m full. I’ve also noticed that I don’t have to eat every 3 hours to keep my energy up (I can go for hours not eating and I’m fine). I feel like I have mastered my metabolism, rather than be ruled by always having to “graze” on things such as those low calorie snack packs.

    Charlotte wrote on July 13th, 2011
    • You are probably snacking on your fat stores in between meals:)

      Kishore wrote on July 13th, 2011
  20. Food seems to taste better when I eat fewer times a day (2-3). I feel more sensitized to subtle flavors of meat, veggies, fruits and spices. A candy bar or a slice of pizza tastes over-powering and repulsive.

    Kishore wrote on July 13th, 2011
  21. I have to say that when we first went Primal it was very easy for my to fast at breakfast time, in fact I usually never really felt the urge to eat at all in the morning. It was pretty weird. And I stopped eating so much during the day, just listening to my body and eating when it told me to. Of course we still enjoy the sit down dinner together, sometimes its a big dinner sometimes its very light, there are just other family benefits to sitting down together.

    Now that I am pregnant again, there is more demands on my body for food intake….slipping breakfast doesn’t work out so well for me now…so I find it very important to listen to your body!!! When pregnant I have to eat breakfast or I start to feel very ill…..when not pregnant I totally can fast at breakfast time!!

    The point eat when you body tells you too, not when you bored or when someone else tells you too!!

    The Real Food Mama wrote on July 13th, 2011
    • sorry typing fast while 4 yr old bugging me for the computer! LOL

      my = me

      slipping = skipping

      you = you are

      The Real Food Mama wrote on July 13th, 2011
  22. i’m under the impression that the body won’t bring significant fat out of storage if there’s much glucose OR insulin in the bloodstream…. if one is snacking constantly, the two of them are NEVER low at the same time, no?

    tess wrote on July 13th, 2011
    • This is true, and even eating large quantities of protein without eating carbs can keep enough glucose circulating (via gluconeogenesis) to prevent fatty acid metabolism.

      You can read this guy’s scientific workup of why the morning is a fat-burning wonderland until you eat something that increases glucose and/or insulin.

      (It’s in the free report.)

      Naomi Most wrote on November 2nd, 2011
  23. I follow leangains. 16 hour fast followed by an 8 hour feeding window. I’ve been doing this for more than a year now and never get hungry outside of 12pm-8pm. I usually eat 2 big meals, one to break the fast and one just before starting. The only times I ever go outside of this is during very stressful periods or when social time/family time calls for it which I can usually nudge more in my favour.

    Steve wrote on July 13th, 2011
  24. Since dumping grains and sugar from my diet, I’ve found it difficult to GET hungry. I found that skipping meals just made my body go into starvation mode, even though I wasn’t hungry, and the scale would not budge for weeks at a time. So I’ve started increasing my carbs up into the PB “sweet spot” rather than in the ketogenic area, and I keep my fat intake highest – and my weight loss is once again on the move.

    LiciaHarry wrote on July 13th, 2011
  25. Personally I IF till Noon, workout on just BCAA’s and eat 3 meals a day. Since I have switched to these practices I have gotten leaner and had more productive workouts.

    Gary Deagle wrote on July 13th, 2011
  26. I’m still a primal beginner, but I feel hungry a lot. I didn’t think I liked meat, but I ate a giant porkchop last night and liked it. (I call my Big-Ass Salad a Kick-Ass Salad, LOL). I kind of wander around the kitchen wondering what to eat. I’m just not that into meat and probably eat too much canned fish.

    Unshod Sarah wrote on July 13th, 2011
    • I think I had that feeling too when I started. It’s like you have to get used to being “not hungry”, but “not full” at the same time. I was used to the full, bloated feeling that you get when eating pastas and breads, but it’s just a different feeling to be full on meat and veggies, at least for me. Now on primal, after eating, I’m not hungry, but I don’t feel “full” either, sorry, kind of hard to explain…

      Nicole wrote on July 13th, 2011
      • I get it. Eating all that crappola makes me feel always full… bloated and icky… but never really satisfied (so I keep grazing). I’m guessing that eating Primal is giving you a good “full” (though not what your used to) and is, hopefully, leaving you satisfied. I am always amazed at how my children will eat a big dinner, then go jump on the trampoline…I’m guessing there is some survival value in that!

        Milemom wrote on July 14th, 2011
    • do take care that your canned fish contains no soy products….

      tess wrote on July 13th, 2011
    • And I would worry about canned fish being farmed fish. A lot of Omega-6’s, not to mention grain-fed, what we avoid. Like eating conventional beef vs. primal grass-fed, organic beef. Much better and primal.

      John D. Pilla wrote on July 13th, 2011
  27. I have been a certified fitness trainer for over 25 years and so many of my clients have struggled with the “eating breakfast rule”. I never eat breakfast and start my day with an intense exercise program and encourage my clients to eat only when they are hungry. Many of my clients complain that when they do eat breakfast they are hungry all day and overeat. Without breakfast they are more successful at achieving and maintaining their goal weight.

    rosalie wrote on July 13th, 2011
    • All this time I never believed my boyfriend… I thought he was confused or fooling himself. Guess he is right.

      Marie wrote on July 14th, 2011
  28. Great post, as always. Interesting that there was no mention of the leptin reset idea, given that it’s a pretty big topic on the forum at present. I was doing really well on PB, with decreased appetite and managing my IBS easily – until I starting eating when I wasn’t hungry (large amounts of protein first thing in the morning). Now I’m all messed up again and it’s taking ages to recover. I was tempted by the magic bullet. Sigh.

    Jac wrote on July 13th, 2011
    • same for me, IBS, it never turns out well for me if i eat when i’m not hungry

      dthalman wrote on July 19th, 2011
  29. Hey Mark. Im huge fan of intermittent fasting. I saw your interview with dr. Mercola on youtube. You talked about adaption period, getting ‘fat adapted’.

    This was a greatpoint. Few years ago i tried warrior diet and failed.. i think it was due to the fact that my body wasnt adapted to the new eating schedule/habbits. Lately ive skipped most “junk” carbs. Now the intermittent fasting (or warrior diet) feels good increasingly better for me. Thanks.

    FAST wrote on July 13th, 2011
  30. More then 2 years of skipping breakfast here and I love it. I keep losing inches but seem to maintian my weight. I have seen increase in my strength and stamina. I think I will be IFing for the rest of my life but then is it really intermittant.

    Chris Tamme wrote on July 13th, 2011
  31. I am so glad to read this article. I have given up trying to eat breakfast when I get up, I am not hungry. However, so many people are so shocked when I say I did not eat and am working out without any food. I do have good workouts and then usually I am hungry and have something.

    Dorothy wrote on July 13th, 2011
  32. Great post. I am almost never hungry for breakfast and then will grab something small around 10am. I went through a phase for years that I would force myself to eat breakfast. This usually ended up making me feel sick, but I stuck with it because eating breakfast was the “healthy” thing to do. I feel so much better (and eat so much less) now that I only eat when I’m hungry.

    ElizaGrok wrote on July 13th, 2011
  33. One of the best books on this is Mastering leptin by Byron Richards.

    Sofie wrote on July 13th, 2011
  34. I eat when I’m hungry and it seems to be working out just fine for me.

    I usually wake up around five and eat around nine because that’s when I start getting hungry. Not always though, sometimes I’ll be ravenous when I wake up and cook a massive breakfast and then not eat again all day.

    I’m not sure how that works for others, but even when I was 75# heavier and eating regular (usually high-carb) meals I wasn’t really hungry half the time I ate, I just ate because it was time to.

    Morghan wrote on July 13th, 2011
  35. I just had this conversation with a classmate last week. I told her that I regularly skipped breakfast because I just wasn’t hungry. She flat out called me stupid. Quite frankly, I find ignoring what my body is telling me stupid, but whatever rubs your Buddha…

    Jess wrote on July 13th, 2011
  36. Phew, nice to know I can discontionue my steady IV-Drip of Muscle Milk…that was getting expensive! :)

    Chase wrote on July 13th, 2011
  37. I decided to skip breakfast for a few days, and ended up feeling tired and unable to concentrate, so skipping breakfast isn’t for everyone – just like most things. I drink a protein shake, mixed with almond and coconut milk, and a tablespoon of virgin coconut oil, and I’m set for 5 hours.

    Carlos wrote on July 13th, 2011
  38. I’m only two weeks in to primal living, but one of the biggest benefits I’ve experienced is NOT feeling hungry every couple of hours. I am pregnant, and I also think I’m experiencing a little bit of “low carb flu,” so I’m a little tired. But, in general, my body is responding fantastically to the change. The hair/skin symptoms of PCOS that I’ve battled for almost 20 years are diminishing before my eyes, so I’m amazed.

    Mark, one of my favorite parts of today’s post (and I only stumbled across the site and the PB a couple of weeks ago – thank goodness I did!) is when you highlight the fact that different things work for different people. We should be in tune with our bodies, and eating should be natural. If something feels very off, we should listen to our bodies’ signals! I love your comment about trying to force unnatural eating habits on ourselves because some rat studies indicated a possible benefit. Thank you for your cheerful, life-loving approach to what could have been a very daunting journey for me.

    Lesley wrote on July 13th, 2011
  39. What you said about good primal meals when you are ready for them! It is great to not be constantly negotiating with yourself about how long you can hold out. It is fighting against the design of the system if you follow the CW. It is miserable.

    I’m one of those people who do very, very poorly on the CW (lots of small high-carb meals with low fat and modest protein). It is just a recipe for failure and constant hunger alternating with bingeing for me.

    The Primal approach is incredibly liberating. I make better choices because they are satisfying, now that I know how to do that, and ignore food until I am hungry. Meat and vegetables, meat and vegetables, meat and vegetables. It may sound boring, but nothing could be further from the truth. It is delightful and satisfying. Being strung out on bad carbs all the time was horrible.

    The only part of the deal I have a hard time with is coconut oil. I do much better when I include it, and it is getting easier, but it is something I’m still working at.

    slacker wrote on July 13th, 2011
  40. I eat once once per day. I only drink water but feast at night on paleo foods. I started this style of eating last August (almost a year ago). Since that time by weight has dropped from 320 to 218. I was hungry during the day for the first few weeks but now I rarely get hungry till dinner time. My body has adapted just fine.

    David wrote on July 13th, 2011

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