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Psychol Rev. 2004 Jan;111(1):128-41.

The timing of meals.

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  • 1Department of Neuroendocrinology, University of Groningen, Haren, The Netherlands.


In most individuals, food intake occurs as discrete bouts or meals, and little attention has been paid to the factors that normally determine when meals will occur when food is freely available. On the basis of experiments using rats, the authors suggest that when there are no constraints on obtaining food and few competing activities, 3 levels of interacting controls normally dictate when meals will start. The first is the genetically determined circadian activity pattern on which nocturnal animals tend to initiate most meals in the dark. The second is the regularly occurring changing of the light cycle: These changes provide temporal anchors. The third relates to the size of the preceding meal, such that larger meals cause a longer delay until the onset of the next meal. Superimposed on these 3 are factors related to learning, convenience, and opportunity.

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