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Ask the experts: Eating patterns

Healthy Food Guide nutritionist Claire Turnbull looks at how the timing of your meals matters for health and weight management.

Q. I am busy during the day so don’t really eat much (I just snack), but then I end up eating lots at night because I’m hungry! Is this bad for me? I have struggled with my weight for years and wonder if this might be part of the problem?

A. Healthy Food Guide nutritionist Claire Turnbull responds:

This is a very common trap to fall into, especially when life is busy! Your body gets used to going much of the day without food, then when you start eating in the evening you probably reach for high-energy foods.

There are a couple of issues with eating like this. Firstly, what is it you are eating during the day? While it might not seem like much, if you keep a record, you may find it adds up energy-wise (i.e. total kilojoules). A couple of milky coffees, the odd snack here and there … I’ve worked with people who were eating like this, and we found that even though they weren’t eating ‘meals’ during the day, the little bits and pieces they ate along the way often ended up being the kilojoule equivalent of a nutritious breakfast and lunch.

Secondly, it can be very hard to eat a good balance of foods if you are effectively eating just a single meal and grazing throughout the evening. Even if you do organise yourself a healthy balanced meal for dinner, what do you eat afterwards? In my experience, it is rarely carrot sticks and vege soup, and more likely to be cheese and crackers, or toast and biscuits.

There is also some evidence to suggest your body may be better at using kilojoules during the day when you are more active. If you are struggling with your weight, then it’s definitely worth seeing how you can structure things differently so you have healthy balanced meals and snacks during the day, and eat lightly at night.

Date modified: December 10 2020
First published: Oct 2016

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