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Lunch o' Clock

Note: This is part of a short series of posts relating to the Mindful Eating cycle in the Am I Hungry? program, where each part looks at one of the decision points that goes into eating – why, when, what, how, how much, and where you spend your energy. This section looks at when we eat. Learn more here or at

“Is it lunch o’ clock?”

A former co-worker used to ask that question fairly often, usually around noon but sometimes earlier if he felt the day was dragging. At first I didn’t think much of it apart from being amused, but about a year later, I started to lose weight and think about when I ate. After that, his question made me realize something I hadn’t acknowledged: much of my eating was done by the clock.

For instance, at work our “lunch hour” was from 12 to 1, and so I felt like noon was the time to eat. Except – some days I wasn’t hungry at noon. Sometimes I didn’t get hungry until a little later, but more often I wanted to eat earlier than that, since my breakfast was usually at 5:30 or 6 a.m. What amazed me was noticing that if I ate at 11, it was a real struggle not having at least something to nibble on at noon. I wasn’t hungry, but it was “lunch o’clock” – wasn’t I supposed to be eating?

Then I remembered that this had started years before. For instance, during my first two years of high school, my one chance to have lunch was squeezing it in around 11, between band and chorus. This meant that I wanted a big snack when I got home at 3, but that didn’t stop me from having supper between 5:30 and 6 (i.e., when my mom got home from work but before my dad watched the 6 o’clock news). I didn’t need the food then, but it was our family meal, so I joined in. (Plus, in those days I didn’t let a little thing like lack of hunger keep me from eating.)

It isn’t just school and work, either; our society in general is geared around expecting people to eat at certain times. Airlines, for instance, may offer food during a flight based on the time of day. The oddest example of this, I think, is international flights. When I go from Boston to Europe, I get served a full dinner shortly after takeoff, and then “breakfast” four or five hours later. Do I need the food? No, especially as those few hours have been spent in almost complete inactivity. But with the time change, it’s morning, which means breakfast, so we get served.

Overseas trips also made me realize that my expected times for eating were not universal. Lunch o’ clock might be closer to 1, dinner not until 7 or even 8. In some ways, adjusting to that was harder mentally than physically, to let an expected meal time go by without getting antsy or finding an excuse to eat.

These days, I’ve learned how to prepare better for scheduled eating times, having certain amounts and types of food so that the next time I’ll be hungry is when I’m planning to eat. This is especially useful on those trips to Europe, or for my book group potlucks when we don’t eat until a little after 7. I’m still not perfect at it (this is where snacks are handy), but it is nice to know that when I eat is now mostly driven by when I’m hungry and not by the clock.

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