Are You Meal Hungry or Snack Hungry?

Hi guys! I’m popping in today with something I’ve been meaning to discuss for awhile now: remembering that there is a difference between meal hungry and snack hungry, and that you should honor that!

Am I Meal Hungry or Snack Hungry-

Something I work often with my AnneTheRD clients on is giving themselves permission to eat when their body vs. a clock (or a calorie tracker) tells them it’s time to eat.

Even though society basically made up meal timing, for many people there is a tendency to really try to stick to those specific mealtimes and meal sizes, even if they are hungry before (or after) them. I see clients doing this often in the afternoon – trying to “wait it out” until dinner, even though they are really hungry – and occasionally in the morning, too, waiting for lunch. You guys know I’m a big fan of intuitive and mindful eating, but it will go haywire if you get too hungry. Think about the last time you were too hungry – were you able to sit down and calmly have a mindful meal? Probably not. Getting too hungry is likely going to set you up to overeat, maybe even binge – and at the very least it will increase your stress! Work stress with the addition of hunger stress = no good. 

In addition to staying on top of your hunger levels and having snacks so you don’t find yourself too hungry before a meal, though, another thing to consider when you find yourself hungry is this: am I snack hungry or meal hungry? Meaning, will I feel satisfied by a snack right now, or do I need to have an actual meal, regardless of the time?

Pregnancy has been a good lesson in particular in this for me because I can’t just go on autopilot and do what I normally do – it’s forced me to revisit my hunger cues and be more mindful and checked in if I don’t want to get too hungry. Some days, my normal routine in slightly larger quantities works, other days, not so much, and it’s important to honor that.

For example, on Monday morning, I had my microwave banana oatmeal at home before heading into the city to work at my coworking space for the day. Normally that oatmeal (with lots of toppings!) holds me over until lunch with just a snack, and I vary the size/amount of the snack based on how hungry I get in between breakfast and lunch. But Monday was one of those days that for whatever reason, I was MEAL hungry at 10:30 a.m., not snack hungry. A snack was not going to cut it – I needed something more. So rather than trying to have a snack anyway and wait it out until lunch feeling unsatisfied and irritable, I went out and bought myself an egg salad sandwich. It was delicious and just what I needed.

am i meal or snack hungry

I was still hungry for an actual lunch a few hours later, but even if I wasn’t, that would have been okay too – I wasn’t “spoiling” my lunch by eating earlier – I just ate when my body needed it. Did anyone else grow up with the whole “don’t spoil your dinner!” thing? While I’m sure that was well intentioned, I feel like it made people nervous to eat in the afternoons if they were hungry. I always tell clients they shouldn’t worry about spoiling their dinners; if they aren’t very hungry by dinner because they’ve snacked a lot, they can just eat however much their body wants at dinnertime – no big deal! Or, maybe they have “dinner” in the afternoon and a snack at night – that’s okay too! Whatever works, my friends. I’ve been known to have a snack on the way out the door to meet people for dinner – Matt thinks this is weird, but I’d rather show up pretty hungry and ready to calmly enjoy dinner vs. hangry and irritable and ready to destroy anything put in front of me. :)

So – just a reminder to listen to your body rather than trying to fit into some arbitrary idea about what is acceptable meal/snack size or timing.

I’d love to hear how you’ve been working on being more intuitive and mindful lately – feel free to share in the comments! :)

More intuitive + mindful eating related posts from me:

Recent posts I’ve loved from other bloggers that are also intuitive/mindful eating and self-care related:


  1. 1

    A great reminder to listen to your body! I have those days too where I get SUPER hungry before my usual lunch time and I eat earlier because my body clearly needs it. Being in tune with your body is so important :)

    • 2

      Definitely. Sometimes there’s no obvious reason either – Monday wasn’t a day where I got up early or did a morning workout or anything, either! Just randomly super hungry!

    • 3

      Yes, me too. It is hard because we are taught, largely as a society, that we aren’t “Suppose to be” hungry until “x”. I am working on recognizing my hunger, honoring it with respect, and moderately adjusting the rest of the day. I.E. just bc I have eaten early, doesn’t give me an excuse to say, “oh, eff it!”and give up. True Hunger is a natural process the body experiences, not something to punish yourself or feel ashamed. :)

  2. 5

    I love this! Sometime in the last few weeks, I was hungry for and craving my lunch, so instead of snacking and waiting, I also ate early. I text my twin sis, who thought I was odd that day, but even though we’re twins, we’ve of course tuned into our own needs. I eat breakfast earlier, etc. I love that I no longer am a slave to the clock and disordered eating because if Matt is later getting home from work, I can honor my hunger and avoid becoming hangry. :)

  3. 7

    This is such a great and important post. I think the “timing” thing is something that doesn’t get enough attention. I have struggled with my relationship with food a lot in the past, and I can pint this back to childhood. I remember spending a lot of time with my Mom and sometimes we would be on a trip somewhere and eat lunch out. I would almost always eat too much because everyone else was probably eating too much, also. I would NEVER ben hungry again for the rest of the day, BUT STILL at about dinner time my mom would say, “We should get something to eat.” I remember thinking there is no way I’m hungry and I didn’t understand how anyone else could be, but because it was “time” to eat then we would eat again. These types of behaviors definitely contributed to some of my problems around food in the past.

    I work hard now to ignore the timing issue. If I’m hungry at 3 p.m. and have a snack and then at “dinner time” I’m not as hungry anymore, then I’ll have something small, like cereal or yogurt with toppings. In my book, that just means I don’t have to cook anything! And if individuals are worried about the rest of the family not having a cooked meal – don’t! It will teach children also that there doesn’t have to be a designated type of food for dinner or a designated size. There’s no reason the whole family can’t enjoy a bowl of cereal for dinner and call it the cook’s day off! ;)

  4. 9

    The timing of this post could not have been more perfect! Seriously, right before I opened the post, I grabbed a piece of fruit to munch on as a pre-lunch snack. Normally I would have made myself wait another hour, until it was “time” to eat lunch, but this time I decided to honor that hunger pang and give my body something to work with until I feel ready for that meal. Your words were such a great confirmation and a reminder to listen to and work with my body! I feel so much better for following its cues. Thank you!!

  5. 11

    I love this! I definitely grew up with the “no snacks before supper” thing, (because of the fear of spoiling my appetite), but my own kids NEED snacks. I pick up my 4 year old at 4:30 from daycare, and he eats two bananas during our 30 minute drive home. And then devours supper around 6pm. He’s like the guy from the Snickers commercial if he doesn’t get food when he’s in need of it (he MAY get that from me, ahem), so we make sure to plan ahead for him. I’m so with you on the ‘eat a little something before we go out’ thing as well. Just to take the edge off hunger so I don’t order the entire menu!

  6. 13
    Michelle says

    Anne my mom told me that sometimes hunger pains may be a sign of your body needing water. I try drinking water first before snacking. Is that true or is that an old tale?

    • 14

      I’m not sure if there’s any biological truth to this or not, but I’m sure there are times where thirst and hunger can get confused. If it works for you, keep doing it, but if you notice you are always still hungry even after the water, then maybe just go straight to the snack. :)

  7. 15

    I love this! Just last week I was leaving work to go to the store and was quite hungry. I ended up stopping at Chick fil A for a nuggets box. It was exactly what I was in the mood for, and it helped me calmly shop at Trader Joe’s rather than hangry and buying all the things. ;) And I was still able to enjoy my dinner later that night, just a smaller portion than I would have needed otherwise.

  8. 17

    I was literally reading this while eating my lunch at 10:45, I was just hungry early today. I really try to eat when I am hungry, I find that I make food choices I normally wouldn’t if I allow myself to get super hungry.

  9. 19
    Roadrunner says

    A very good question to ask, Anne. Thanks!

  10. 20

    Hmm great point. Recently I’ve noticed I’m not always hungry for a giant meal at dinnertime, and because in my family this was always the biggest meal, I was kind of entrailed to that concept. Trying to remind myself that just because it’s dinner, doesn’t mean I need to eat a huge dinner’s worth, a ‘dinner snack’ is ok too :)

  11. 22

    i’m totally with you on the grab-a-snack-while-you’re-running-out-the-door to go out to eat thing! especially if i have dinner/happy hour plans after i workout, i always eat a light protein-rich snack right after my workout so that i can get something in my body in that optimal 45-min window to replenish post-workout (since you gotta factor in dinner service time and all that) and by the time my meal actually comes– i’m still hungry enough to really enjoy it! but not too hungry that i eat so fast it makes my stomach hurt lol

    • 23

      Yes, same here re: a snack right after a workout! I’ve always done that (but it’s especially important now being pregnant since I get hungrier faster) because by the time I showered and got a real meal in it would be too long and I’d be ravenous!

  12. 24

    Love how you are wrapping in pregnancy to teaching about this! We’ve given people allt hese foods rolls via nutrition studies, they are afraid to follow the most important rule. Eat when you are hungry and don’t eat when you are not hungry! The other principle I repeat to myself is how much do I really need to be satisfied? How much do I need to quell hunger?

  13. 26

    Great post! I used to wait until specific times so that I could enjoy a big, sit down kind of meal 3x a day and I would be starving by then. But now, I find I actually do much better when I eat 4 smaller meals a day, including second breakfast/lunch at 10:30am!

    • 27

      I’m a huge fan of second breakfast – and first/second dinner :) Splitting it up and spreading it out more works best for me, too!

  14. 28

    Thanks for a great post, Anne! I recently started an office job and have been finding myself feeling pretty hungry around 10:30 or 11 and really craving the lunch I packed for later in the day. I worry if I eat my lunch too soon, I’ll be hungry before the end of the work day with nothing to eat. I’ve started a small collection of granola bars and raw nuts in my desk as extra fuel when I feel hungry.

    • 29

      I would definitely eat earlier, and start packing more food for the afternoon – sounds like you might need more than you’ve been bringing! :)

  15. 30

    I worked outside for most of the day on Sunday, and was pretty hungry around 4pm. I had somewhere to be at 6, where I could have gotten dinner while I was there. Pizza sounded great and I was definitely meal hungry, so I made a flatbread pizza and ate dinner at 4:30pm! It worked out just fine. :)

  16. 32

    Time for an old girl to ‘weigh in’- sorry MY RD…I know what we think about scales!
    I will tell on myself in hopes of shining a light on the path ahead for the readers who
    can still jog, bounce the baby, make the meals, AND greet the husband with a smile
    instead of sore feet at the end of the day. As women age into their 60s, I think there
    is a mindset among some, certainly in my circle, to equate being thin with youthfulness
    and appeal. And so we postpone eating to watch those calories, metabolism having
    slowed a long time ago. Unfortunately we now struggle with osteoporosis and other maladies because of our controlled eating habits. I have learned, and continue to need reminding,
    to eat and, most important, I have seen a return of energy levels to see me through the day.
    So thank you Anne for helping me to see that food is not the enemy.

  17. 34

    Love this! I also like having a quick snack before dinner – if I’m not ravenous I’m more likely to order something more sensible off the menu too!

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.