Are you hungry, or is it just lunch o’clock?

Most people assume that because it’s lunch time, that they should have something to eat. They crack open a sandwich and start eating, with no regard to hunger or whether they are ready to eat.

Maybe you think I’m crazy to even mention it – of course they should eat! It’s lunch time!

In reality, meal times have varied greatly over history. Our rules about when we eat are relatively new. Breakfast is a modern invention, arriving sometime in the 17th century. Before then, people didn’t eat in the morning. From Roman times to Middle Ages, everyone ate in the middle of the day and often it was the only meal. This is still the case for Buddhist monks, who eat a single meal at noon. The evening meal, by comparison, has long been a more sociable one, and this has become later and later with the advent of electric light. In Spain, dinner isn’t served until 10pm which is agonisingly overdue for many of us.

If meal times are arbitrary and culturally determined, perhaps you can set your own?

You may also find that your body naturally gets hungry at certain times of day. I don’t feel hungry first thing in the morning, and find eating breakfast makes me feel sluggish and sleepy. I get hungry at around 9.30 or 10am. There is no reason that I can’t breakfast at that time. When I’ve worked in offices, I’ve packed something and taken it in. Other days I don’t feel hungry until late morning, so I skip breakfast and have an early lunch.

It might suit you to have a late lunch at 2pm – when you’re hungry and when it will see you through until dinner. It’s hard to know unless you’ve been brave enough to break some of the rules and find out.

There is also no evidence that skipping a meal does you any harm whatsoever. In fact, sometimes, giving your digestive system a break, allows your body to work on healing itself, and getting itself back into balance.

It can be quite scary to miss a meal. You may find yourself checking in every few minutes to see whether you are hungry, or worrying that you will run out of energy. It can be a nice surprise to find that your body will work without a constant drip feed of food, that you can survive a few hours on your own. You may find that discovery empowering.

Part of trusting yourself, and learning when to eat when hungry, is giving yourself permission to explore these ideas. Some of them may seem confronting, especially if they go against cultural and social norms. Not eating lunch until 3pm, when everyone around you is eating it at 1pm can be challenging. You may find, however, that this works for you and allows you to remain energised until dinner. You won’t find out until you try.

Excerpt from ‘Why we Cheat when we Eat and how to stop’.

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