It is rare to encounter someone who has never skipped a meal. Some simply don't have food available or don't have the time to eat when they're hungry. Others skip regularly, hoping that if they eat fewer meals, they'll take in less total calories and lose weight more successfully. Although the scientific research is conflicting in some regards to skipping meals, a few sound consequences have been supported.
Zaps Your Energy
Sugar is the fuel that our bodies run on. If it is not circulating in the right amounts, every organ within the body can be impacted. Skipping just one meal will result in a drop in your body's blood sugar levels. Or, in the case of skipping breakfast, your body loses an opportunity to even get out of the starting gate. Generally, you will feel tired and foggy. In addition, without a steady supply of nutrients, your intellectual and emotional functioning can also change, resulting in irritability, mood swings and brain fog. Going extended periods of time without replenishing your body's fuel supply will force it to shift to breaking down energy stores within the muscle, further sapping your strength.
Cutting back on meals means cutting back on opportunities to consume adequate amounts of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need in a day. When it comes to weight loss especially, the emphasis tends to be on total calories and the three macronutrients: carbohydrates, protein and fat. Because they are required in smaller amounts, the roles of the micronutrients are typically less emphasized. However, these dietary components are vital to many body processes such as growth and development, disease prevention and overall well-being. In order to maintain a healthy lifestyle and set your body up to succeed, focusing on consuming more nutritious, well-rounded meals is necessary for overall health.
Gateway to Unhealthy Dietary Practices
Our body's cells are hard-wired for survival. Going too long without eating will switch our body into "survival mode," sending us on a quest for food. According to the National Institute of Health, skipping a meal has shown to make you feel hungrier when the next meal rolls around. This could cause you to eat more calories than you would have otherwise. Repeated cycles of restricting and binging can lead to a plethora of detrimental health concerns, however it primarily reinforces unhealthy eating, and can lead to disordered eating practices.
Restricting meals takes the pleasure and enjoyment out of eating. Believe it or not, our bodies are highly effective at regulating caloric intake to meet our needs. It is best to listen to your body's cues for hunger and fullness. Eating when you are hungry and stopping when you are full will help you to consume an appropriate amount of calories. So instead of waiting until you are starving to eat, turn to heathy meals and snacks throughout the day. If you miss meals because time is an issue, plan ahead to have some foods available that you can eat on the run.
It's important to note that everyone is different. There are a multitude of influences that can play a role in an individual's health and weight. There is no one magic bullet to weight loss and there is no one defined response to skipping meals. However, as a general recommendation, it is advisable to try and adapt healthier eating patterns and incorporate more physical activity, rather than skipping meals to lose weight.
Sarah Dreifke is a freelance writer based in DeKalb, IL with a passion for nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease. She holds a Bachelor of Science in both Dietetics and Life Sciences Communication from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Currently, she is working towards a combined Master's Degree in Nutrition and Dietetics as well as a dietetic internship at Northern Illinois University.