It seems like a no-brainer — skipping meals and ignoring your stomach’s moaning and groaning means you’ll take in fewer calories, which will eventually lead to weight loss, right? Not so fast. When you skip meals, you’re actually setting your body up to fail, in both ability to lose weight and overall daily performance. Food supplies you with both calories and glucose – and while it’s true that overeating can lead to weight gain – you still need enough of that energy to function throughout the day. Skipping meals doesn’t just backfire when it comes to weight loss; it’s also not a good idea for several other reasons.
When you skip meals, your body gets scared. Nowadays, with so much food available at a moment’s notice, this reaction isn’t really necessary, but your body doesn’t know that. You may be thinking that the more meals you skip, the fewer calories you’ll eat, and the more you’ll lose; but when you skip meals, your body responds by slowing your metabolism down in an effort to conserve calories. When this happens, your body doesn’t burn calories as effectively as it can, which actually makes it harder for you to lose weight. Skipping a meal once in a while probably won’t have a lasting effect, but if you do it regularly, your metabolism can remained slowed and this can actually lead to weight gain.
Regardless of how many meals you skip, at some point, you’re going to have to eat. That’s just the way the body works. When you eventually do eat after skipping meals, it’s likely that you’ll be hungrier than if you had eaten regularly during the day and you’ll eat more than you normally would have. People who skip meals also tend to crave unhealthy foods, like simple carbohydrates. Your body also has trouble interpreting the hormonal signals (ghrelin and leptin) that tell you when you’re full.
It’s not just your weight that you’ll have to be concerned with though. When you skip meals, you deprive your brain of glucose – the sugar that it uses as its main source of energy. When your brain doesn’t have access to glucose, it can lead to weakness, shakiness, nervousness, anxiety, sleepiness irritability, confusion, dizziness, and even fainting. You may also notice an increase in perspiration. If you skip meals regularly, you may also have trouble meeting your nutrient needs, which can set you up for nutritional deficiencies and the conditions associated with deficiencies, such as fatigue, impaired brain developed, and decreased immune function.
Skipping meals regularly also messes with insulin and glucose levels, causing rapid drops and significant spikes throughout the day. While your body can handle these spikes occasionally, it can cause significant disruptions over time. If you’re not careful, it can eventually progress to insulin resistance – and then type II diabetes.
Instead of ignoring your rumbling tummy in an attempt to lose weight, The University of Rochester recommends eating at least every four hours to keep your energy levels high and your weight stable. Eating regular, satisfying meals throughout the day will help prevent you from feeling ravenous throughout the day, which will also prevent overeating at meal times.
You should also make it a point to eat breakfast within an hour of waking up. This will not only help reduce hunger during the day, but eating breakfast – and making healthy choices at breakfast time – will actually set you up to make healthier choices for the rest of the day. Make sure to include a lean protein, complex carbohydrate, and a healthy fat source. Good choices include oatmeal topped with berries and almonds or scrambled eggs with avocado and a piece of whole-wheat toast.