Skipping meals is often a topic that is hotly debated. We’ve all been there – in an effort to drop a few pounds fast, you consider skipping lunch, thinking you can ride out the hunger pangs until dinner. Some say that it causes more harm than good, while others say that fasting is healthy. So who’s right? Should your breakfast be a measly glass of low-calorie green juice, assuming that the plants will provide the nutrients you’re not getting from your usual milk and cereal?
While your body’s exact reaction to a missed meal will depend on your age, health, and diet, the act of skipping can jump-start a range of physiological processes — both good and bad.
1. Your blood-sugar levels takes a dive
Sugar is the fuel your body runs on, and if it’s not circulating in the right amounts, every organ in your body is affected. You generally feel tired and unwell overall. Also, without a new supply of calories, your system shifts into starvation mode in an effort to conserve energy. Your metabolism slows, so the food you do eventually take in isn’t burned off very efficiently.
2. Your brain takes a hit
Without a steady supply of nutrients, your intellectual and emotional functioning changes. For example, you can get foggy, and you can become moody and irritable. When you do eat again eight or so hours later, your body feels relief — but it’s short-lived. Your metabolism will stay low since it doesn’t know when the next supply of calories is coming. And your blood sugar takes a plunge again, ushering in the low energy, brain fog, and mood swings you experienced all day. Keep the meal-skipping thing up, and your body might turn to your muscles as a fuel source, further sinking your metabolism and sapping your strength.
3. Risk of diabetes
One study published by the medical journal, Metabolism, suggested that when people of normal weight and blood sugar skipped meals, but didn’t reduce their caloric intake, they increased their risk of diabetes. The study particularly focused on those who eat a large meal in the evening, between 4-8 p.m. This means if someone skipped breakfast and lunch, but ate a huge dinner, they would have a higher risk of developing diabetes.
The reason for this is that when one large meal is eaten, the body experiences a blood sugar spike that it can’t process. This is especially true if the calories are consumed in the evening. If a person eats a big dinner and then goes to bed, the excess blood sugar isn’t used in daily activities like working or exercising. So the sugar is stored as fat for use by the body at a later time. This is part of the reason people tend to gain weight over the holidays. Over a long period of time, this could lead to obesity.
4. You could run low on nutrients
While skipping a meal here and there — sometimes referred to as “intermittent fasting” — can be beneficial, harnessing those benefits requires careful planning. Otherwise, you risk nutrient deficiencies linked to fatigue, poor mental function, and other health concerns. If you’re considering fasting on a regular basis, consult with a registered dietitian or other nutrition pro to ensure you’re getting enough protein, vitamins, minerals, and essential fatty acids in your meals and snacks.
5. You may be more tempted to eat junk food
Cornell University researchers found that meal-skippers grab 31% more junk food at the grocery store when shopping hungry, compared with when they had a snack beforehand. Shoppers who hit the aisles during the high-hunger hours between 4 PM and 7 PM also selected a larger percentage of high-calorie options. All this suggests your body may crave crappier food if you skip meals.
1. You can shed some light weight
The theory behind this is true, however, it seems that people have taken this to the extreme, thinking that if they skip one or two meals, that they will start packing on weight because the body thinks it’s starving. However, this survival mechanism takes some time to kick in. Just skipping one or two meals won’t cause the body to start stockpiling fat immediately.
2. Burn more fat when exercising
A 2013 medical study found that morning exercisers burned 20% more fat during their workouts when they sweated on an empty stomach. Important to note: How your body reacts will depend on what the rest of your diet looks like and how hard you’re going to push yourself during your workout. But if you’re fond of light AM workouts, you might benefit from exercising before your first meal or snack. Just make sure you eat a nutritious, filling dinner the night before.
3. Helpful for overweight people with asthma
A medical study demonstrated that people who are significantly overweight and suffer from asthma can benefit from skipping meals. Asthma is a common problem for obese people. The program called for people to eat normally one day and then restricting their diets to 20 percent or less of their normal intake the next day. By alternating days, study participants were able to stick to the regime. Over the eight week study period, participants lost eight percent of their body weight and experienced significant improvement in their asthma symptoms.
4. Offers heart healthy benefits
A medical study from the American Heart Association demonstrated that those who ritually fast, such as Mormons who regularly fast for religious reasons, had a lower incidence of Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) and experienced a number of other heart healthy benefits such as being nearly 40 percent less likely to be diagnosed with heart disease.
The study also hypothesized that by skipping meals, the insulin-producing beta receptors in the body didn’t become desensitized as they do in people who don’t fast, so they work more efficiently.
When skipping meals, keep these things in mind:
- Ease into the fast. It will be easier to maintain over time and the body won’t experience as much of a shock.
- Always consult with a doctor before beginning a fast to be sure that it is safe for the individual.
- Be careful when breaking a fast. Trying to consume too much too fast can lead to problems.
5. Inflammation calms down
From arthritis to cancer to heart disease, many major health conditions stem from damage caused by chronic inflammation. Periods of fasting appear to trigger damage-repairing adaptations in your cells. While fasting comes in all shapes and sizes, some inflammation-lowering health perks could accrue after forgoing just one meal.
Skipping meals can lead to improved health and quality of life, but like everything else, moderation should be used, to ensure safety and success.
- Skipping meals can be healthy if done safely. If done over a short period of time (up to one month), and a person is careful about how they break their fast, they can improve their health.
- There isn’t exactly a right way to skip meals. Some people refrain from eating during daylight hours and then consume something light in the evening. This is very typical of ritual fasts for spiritual reasons. Others will consume only liquids and no solid foods. The important thing is to find a method that is safe and works for you.
- Over a long period of time (one month or more) skipping meals can be dangerous. If a diet is too restricted it is very unhealthy and can even have fatal results.
- It is a good idea to use vitamin supplements when skipping meals. This will help keep the body from suffering from malnutrition.
- Don’t be surprised if there are some side effects, like trouble sleeping or gastrointestinal issues.
The smart strategy?
Let’s face it – skipping meals here and there is no fun. Instead, try losing your weight by eating healthy foods throughout the day. Don’t know where to start?
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