What happens to your body when you skip a meal and what can you do?
For a variety of reasons, skipping a meal is something we've all done—whether we didn't have time for breakfast preparation, we didn't want to spend the money to go out to grab a bit at lunch time, we're trying intermittent fasting, or we thought passing up a meal, especially dinner, would be a good way to hit a weight loss goal. But beyond leaving us hungry (and in many cases, hangry), skipping meals makes an impact on our bodies, no matter the reason for doing it.
A meal is very important for our body whether we are on or off the diet. It’s where our body gets the nutrient needed for proper function.
We skip meals without knowing the possible consequences most of which are all negative. Here are a few of the things you are likely to experience when you skip a meal.
a.Sluggish and unable to focus
Skipping a meal will literally make your head spin. You will feel dizzy, low in energy and even feel like you might pass out. This is all due to a drop in the blood glucose level affecting your body organ’s normal function. Fluctuation in the blood sugar levels can increase your risk of developing diabetes later in life.
Missing a meal may save time short-term. Yet it will ultimately lead to your day slowing down due to tiredness, according to Piedmont Healthcare. When meals are skipped, a person's blood sugar decreases. "You'll get lethargic and tired, and you may want to sit down," says Registered Nutritionist Kelly Devine Rickert, president of Devine Nutrition Inc.
“When we don’t feed our brains, this can signal to the body that it’s time to shut things down.” says Frances Largeman-Roth, RDN, a nutrition and wellness expert and author of Eating in Color. This is why if you're going to practice intermittent fasting, you have to make sure you’re doing it properly—on a set schedule—and when you do eat, you’re filling up on foods that will sustain you throughout the fasting periods.
The feeling of hunger from missing a meal can also lead to mood swings and a serious lack of anger management. A study by psychologist John de Castro found that food intake was related to the "average mood of the subjects" that he examined throughout his study. Rickert says that a change in blood sugar can lead to changes in mood, or leaving a person feeling "hangry." Your blood sugar drops when you skip meals consistently. This can greatly affect your disposition. If you’ve ever been “hangry,” then you know the feeling. Lower blood sugar can also lead to feelings of irritability, confusion, and fatigue. “Glucose is the number one fuel for our brains so when we don’t have it, it can put us in a very bad mood,” Largeman-Roth says. That’s why if you’re skipping meals and end up feeling hangry, don't grab the first snack you find, unless it’s healthy. When people have very low blood sugar, they tend to go for very fatty or sugary foods because their body starts to crave it.
c.Tendency to overeat
Overeating is the psychological result of skipping a meal. When you skip meals, you feel like you owed something later in the day so you tend to overeat, according to Healthcare at Home. The organization says that when you skip a meal, the body begins to crave processed and junk foods, which leads to unhealthy weight gain. While you may skip a meal to lose weight, it could lead to the opposite because skipping meals can lead to unhealthy food choices later. "You go past the point of no return," says Rickert. "Your blood sugar is low and you're going to crave whatever it is you're going to crave—whether it's salty stuff, stuff with fat in it, sweet stuff. Then it's very hard not to overdo it."
d.Hold onto calories
Your body goes into a starvation mode causing your body cells to crave more food. When you eat your body will hold onto calories for future storage. The foods you eat will transform into fat more readily and get deposited around your belly. When your body goes into a starvation mode, it looks for a new source of energy. As it transformed fat into energy you will feel nauseated and constipated. You’ll become irritable and stressed. Your blood pressure and blood sugar level are affected.
e.Does not lead to more weight loss
If you think skipping a meal is a smart way of losing and maintaining weight, then you are wrong, Registered Nutritionist Joan Salge Blake, an author and a clinical nutrition professor at Boston University, says that it could have the opposite effect, especially if you skip out on breakfast. "Your body is on a 24-hour circadian rhythm, and what that does is the hormone releases are incorporated throughout the day," says Salge Blake. "If you eat a
bulkier dinner later at night, hormones are going to go off, but they're more efficient to storing fat than they were earlier in the day.” A 2018 study by the University of Helsinki also found that skipping out on meals contributes to weight gain because the most important thing to focus on when
trying to lose weight is eating regular meals.
You will consume fewer calories for sure but there’s a great chance for you to binge on unhealthy foods and cave in to your cravings.
When you skip a meal your metabolism will slow down causing you to gain weight and making it harder for you to lose the weight you have gain. All this can lead to a dangerous cycle of yo-yo dieting. Yo-yo dieting can mess up with your metabolism. Your body won’t burn the calories from the foods you binge after skipping a meal efficiently. Your hunger hormone, leptin, will also take a hit. Your body might produce less leptin making it harder for you to discern when you’re already full.
f.Risky metabolic changes
Studies found out that skipping a meal during daytime and eat one large meal at nighttime resulted in risky metabolic changes such as an elevated glucose level and delayed insulin response. When persisted on a long-term basis could lead to diabetes.
Bottom line: Skipping meals is bad for your health.
Skipping a meal can happen from time to time but it can negatively impact your health if you are doing it consistently, even leading to lead to nutritional deficiencies. You’re also not able to perform at your best because all you can focus on is food. If you have trouble making time for meals because you have a busy schedule, consider these tips:
- Keep a healthy snack ready. We all know how busy life gets, and there will be days when you’re rushing from one meeting to next without much time to eat in between. That’s where having nutrient-rich noshes at your desk can come in handy. Some good snack ideas are a handful of roasted almonds, low-sugar protein bars, and low-fat, plain Greek yogurt with fresh fruit.
- Eat frequent meals throughout the day rather than to skip a meal. You may eat your fruit or carb portion as morning, afternoon or evening snacks.
- Have a meal replacement shake handy. A meal replacement shake can help you get a complete meal on the go along with some healthy snacks. Just remember not to turn this meal replacement shake into a regular habit. Even if you have a very busy schedule, making time to prepare for your meal is a priority.
- Plan your meal. Prepare a nutritious breakfast a night before so you can have something ready to eat in the morning. You don’t necessarily have to prepare a meal for the entire week.Make a lunch date. Setting a lunch date won’t give you any excuses for not having a proper meal.
- Eat less but do not skip a meal. Eating less is different from skipping a meal. When you have not eaten for a very long time your brain receives messages from your body for nourishment. When you are very hungry the more you eat and this happens when you skip a meal.
Just remember, meal replacement shouldn't turn into a regular habit. Making time to sit down and enjoy a meal should be your priority, whether you have a busy schedule or not. Stepping away from your desk to eat can do wonders for stress relief and help you feel more focused too.