When life gets busy, it’s tempting to skip meals. Plus, right now, intermittent fasting is a growing popular trend. But does skipping meals really help you lose weight? Is it healthy? Scientists weigh in on this subject. Here is what they’re saying.
What happens if you skip a meal?
Everyone skips meals once in a while. But if you’re skipping meals regularly, you may not realize the impact it’s having on your body.
1 – Blood sugar drop
When you skip meals, your blood sugar plunges. Your brain needs glucose to function, and fasting causes your glucose levels to drop> Thus, your brain may feel foggy, as if you can’t think straight. You may also feel irritable and tired. Your body is under stress, so it makes extra cortisol to compensate.
When you skip meals regularly, your metabolism slows down. Your body stops burning calories, so you can’t lose weight. Your body starts working hard to survive, so it craves nourishment.
3 – Poor food choices
When you skip a meal, you feel starving. When you decide to eat, you’re prone to eat carbohydrates or sugary foods because these make you feel better right away. But loading up on carbs causes your glucose levels to spike, then fall quickly. You create a cycle of lowering and raising your glucose levels. This is dangerous and can lead to diabetes down the road.
4 – Depression
Regularly skipping meals increases your stress level leading to anxiety and depression. Your blood sugar dips and your cortisol levels increase. This drop causes moodiness and mental exhaustion. One cross-section study revealed that university students who frequently skip breakfast showed depression symptoms.
5 – Strong cravings for sugar and carbs
Another consequence of skipping meals is low blood sugar, leading to strong cravings for sugar and simple carbohydrates. Simple sugars get broken down quickly in your body. There’s a spike in your blood’s glucose levels, so you get a short blast of energy that doesn’t last long.
Simple carbs include the following:
- Corn syrup
- High fructose corn syrup
- Fruit (fructose) juices
- Baked goods
- Cereals with sugar
- Table sugar
6 – Weight gain
If you’re trying to lose weight by regularly skipping meals could backfire on you. One study found that meal skipping, especially breakfast, was related to obesity.
7 – Mess up your digestive system
When you skip meals, it affects your gut. It can lead to diarrhea or constipation. Plus, your stress levels are elevated, which also affects your digestive system. Over time, skipping meals, then eating a lot of food creates irregularity and could lead to digestive system problems like IBS. Eating regular, fiber and plant-rich foods help your digestive system function correctly.
8 – Risk of an eating disorder
Skipping meals and fasting put you at risk for an eating disorder. Not maintaining a normal meal routine combined with healthy exercise sets you up for poor health and a cycle of losing weight quickly through fasting. Eating disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and orthorexia (an obsession with eating healthy, fad diets, and food planning to the point where your health suffers) all started by irregular eating, guilt about eating, and a poor body image.
If you think you may be struggling with an eating disorder, talk to your doctor, or a counselor right away. Eating disorders can lead to health problems down the road that can make your life miserable.
What is intermittent fasting?
Intermittent fasting has gotten a lot of interest over the past couple of years. The premise of this eating pattern is that you limit the time during the day when you eat so you can lower your calorie intake. Usually, you only eat during an 8-hour window, fasting for 15 to 16 hours. So, if you stop eating at 7:00 in the evening, you don’t eat again until 11:00 am the next day. The jury is still out as it whether intermittent fasting causes weight loss and if it’s healthy for you.
Researchers say that the timing of your meals isn’t usually the biggest factor to your weight loss, but what and how much you’re eating is important. Eating a diet high in whole grains, dairy, vegetables, and fruits give you the greatest advantages to be healthy. Moderate to intense exercise at least 2 1//2 to 5 hours a week is also important for your health. Intermittent fasting isn’t safe for everybody, especially if you have health problems. It’s best to talk to your doctor before you do this fast.
Is intermittent fasting healthy?
If you’re looking for a quick way to lose weight, intermittent fasting may not be your best choice. The question of intermittent fasting’s long-term health effects on humans should involve more research. Researchers are still trying to confirm if an intermittent fasting pattern is safe for healthy people, both old and young. So far, most of the research has been done on middle-aged, overweight individuals.
Check with your primary care doctor for specific guidance on whether intermittent fasting will work well for you.
The importance of eating breakfast
In a January 2020 study, researchers found that skipping meals, especially breakfast, will up your risk for coronary heart disease, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome involves high blood pressure, extra body fat around your middle, and higher cholesterol levels. Eating breakfast every day lowers your risk of glucose or insulin problems, leading to diabetes. Another study found skipping breakfast reduces the quality of the food you eat since breakfast often contains fiber and calcium that you may not get the rest of the day. Because of this, skipping breakfast over a long period can affect your overall health. Plus, eating breakfast didn’t cause weight, but overeating was the cause of obesity in adults.
In an interview with Laila Ali: fitness expert, athlete, and wellness advocate, TV host, founder of the Laila Ali Lifestyle Brand, home chef, and mother of two, suggests this:
If you’re short on time and energy in the morning, skipping breakfast may be tempting. But breakfast gives me the energy to knock out all my daily tasks and take care of my family. It also helps me choose healthier snacks and meals later on. Keep healthy, portable options around like fruit and nuts, or low-sugar granola, or yogurt you can grab on your way out the door and eat on the go. And the earlier you can stop eating at night, the better! Having an early dinner may help you avoid weight gain in the long run.
How to maintain your weight and stay healthy
You don’t want to skip meals. But how do you stay healthy and not gain weight? Here are some suggestions to help you.
- Eat smaller meals more often during the day rather than skipping your meals.
- Keep a snack handy when you’re out running errands. Choose something high in protein and fiber like nuts or seeds. They will keep you full.
- Plan your meals ahead of time, so you don’t get over hungry and end up grabbing unhealthy food at the last minute.
- Plan your menus a week ahead of time and buy the food you’ll need for the meals. This takes away the pressure to grab processed or pre-cooked meals at the last minute. Plus, you’ll have everything you need to cook when you get home after work or picking the kids up from practice.
- View food as an investment. You invest in healthy foods to get the best returns.
- Enjoy your meals because you haven’t been snacking all afternoon.
What should I eat?
Doctors suggest you eat a balanced diet involving eating these foods daily:
- 5 portions of vegetables and fruits
- High-fiber foods like whole grains. Choose whole grain rice or quinoa.
- Dairy or dairy alternative foods like cheese, tofu, milk, or almond milk
- Lean proteins like fish, eggs, nuts, and seeds
- Eat small amounts of fat, salt, and sugars. You can eat healthy fats like avocado oil or olive oil.
Skipping meals sounds like a quick way to lose weight, but more and more research shows that it’s not healthy and may not help you lose weight at all. Skipping meals elevates your glucose, which in turn boosts your stress hormones called cortisol, which affects your mood, weight, heart, and metabolism. Skipping meals sets you up for an eating disorder that can cause long-term health problems like the following issues:
- Heart failure
- Kidney failure
- Liver failure
- Low blood sugar
- Gastrointestinal problems
If you want to lose weight, eat regular meals, or frequent small meals during the day. Eat a good variety of fruits, whole grains, vegetables, dairy, and low-fat meats. Exercise regularly, at least 2 ½ hours a week.
Eating trends come and go with many other fads. And not all are actually that healthy in the long run. Stick to a tried-and-true method of regular meals, healthy food choices, and exercise because this is the safety healthiest route.