Most likely, you have had the urge to skip a meal every now and again. Maybe you were bogged down with work or studying and did not want to leave it for long enough to eat. Maybe you were running late in the morning, and figured you could make it through the day without breakfast. Or maybe you were feeling bad about your weight, and wondered if skipping a meal would make you feel better about your physical appearance and/or help you lose weight.
We have all been there. However, skipping meals can be very unhealthy for the body if not done right, and oftentimes does more harm than good.
Read on to understand what happens to your body when you skip meals, and to discover some healthy alternatives. Finally, this article will detail some safe methods of fasting, which will promote detoxification and better wellness without the negative side effects of skipping meals.
What Happens To Your Body When You Skip Meals?
Ever heard of the term hangry? A blend of the words hungry and angry, hangry represents a common change in mood that we experience when we go too long without eating. Hunger can make us irritable, cranky and hard to be around. You can also become sluggish and weak, and may experience headaches.
When we go an extended time period without eating, our bodies move into survival mode. The most immediate effect will be a drop in blood sugar, which explains the fatigue and change in mood (the brain runs on glucose). The human body responds to a drop in blood sugar by releasing a hormone called ‘cortisol’, which increases stress in the body.
When the body runs out of calories from the food we eat to turn into fuel, it must get its energy from various fat stores in the body. Because of this, many people falsely believe that skipping meals can help you lose weight. This only works if you are consistent in your fasting method, and even still it can be a dangerous weight-loss method.
See, when the body notices a decline in its influx of calories, it will lower the amount of energy it needs in order to function properly (i.e. the metabolism), and start to burn less calories.
However, if/when you return to eating a normal amount of food, your metabolism will not automatically bounce back to what it was. Thus, your body will need less daily calories than what you are eating, and will start to gain weight.
When you add exercise to the mix, the effects of a lost meal are even more profound. Your body will be less prepared to restore energy levels and repair/build muscles. You will also be less likely to make it through a workout without any sustenance.
Potential Negative Effects Of Skipping Meals
While skipping one meal here and there is not too big of a deal, and happens to the best of us, consistently skipping meals can cause serious, adverse side effects, including the following:
- Cravings – When we skip meals, we tend to start experiencing cravings, mostly for unhealthy foods like sugars and refined/simple carbohydrates. These foods will give us a quick energy boost but ultimately will not fill us up and will leave us needing further calories to fuel our bodies.
- Overeating – Similar to cravings, we often make unhealthy choices when our bodies are overly hungry. This has nothing to do with a lack of willpower. Instead, eating like food is scarce is a natural reaction to hunger. We overeat to make up for whatever meal we lost, so any “benefits” (such as weight loss) of missing a meal will be sacrificed. The food we choose to overeat, more likely than not, will be some type of junk or snack food.
- Loss of energy – Our cells run on glucose (blood sugar), which is drawn from the food we eat, for energy. Carbohydrates are an especially good source of glucose. When our body runs out of blood sugar, it needs more food in order to power itself. By skipping a meal, we deny our bodies the fuel they need to work properly, and we become sluggish and tired.
- Mood swings – A drop in blood sugar causes the body to release the stress hormone cortisol, which heightens moodiness and increases the risk for poor mental health. Stress-eating (similar to overeating) is a common phenomenon with high levels of cortisol.
- Loss of focus – The brain runs on glucose, so low blood sugar inhibits optimal concentration and cognitive function. Additionally, when you are hungry, it is difficult to think about anything other than food. Preoccupied with your need to eat, your mood and focus will suffer.
- Nutrient deficiencies – Skipping a meal means missing out on an opportunity to get a good serving of essential vitamins and minerals, some of which the body cannot produce on its own and can only take in through diet alone. To get all the nutrients you need and make sure you are constantly replenishing your stores, you should get a well-balanced diet from at least three meals a day.
- Food loses its enjoyment – Eating ought to be one of the best parts of your day. We need food to survive, yes, but food is also delicious, diverse, and a fun way to get creative on a daily basis. Instead of thinking about how skipping a few meals might help your weight (which it really will not), think about how you can transform some healthy but kind of bland food into a meal you can get excited about consuming.
- Digestion issues – For one, an increase in cortisol, the stress hormone, will disturb your digestive system. Additionally, unpredictable mealtimes and calorie intakes can confuse the body and disrupt your digestive balance.
- Eating disorders – Skipping meals increases your risk for eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia. Binge eating often follows a missed meal, which may lead to guilt and/or shame about your eating habits. Also, obsession over food is a common symptom of eating disorders and is not healthy.
- Hormone changes – We have already talked about how skipping meals triggers a stress response in the form of the hormone cortisol. In addition, the hormones leptin, which signals fullness, and ghrelin, which signals hunger, become out of whack. When you cannot follow your own body’s cues in terms of hunger and fullness, it is hard to develop a healthy eating cycle.
This long list of side effects might deter you from wanting to skip meals. However, if you are truly looking for ways to detox the body, there are a few fasting methods that are effective and even healthy, as long as you take them slowly.
Methods Of Fasting
The most popular method of fasting in the news these days is intermittent fasting, in which you only eat for a set period of time each day, typically around eight hours. So, for example, you could decide that from 11 AM to 7 PM you are allowed to eat solid food, and for the rest of the day you are limited to zero-calorie beverages like water and tea.
This “diet” is popular because it tells you when to eat, not what to eat.
Build up to your desired time range by slowly cutting down the hours during which you can eat. The first couple of weeks are the hardest part, but once you get beyond them and stay consistent, your metabolism, digestive system, and brain will readjust to this new schedule.
Just make sure you are eating healthy foods during your ‘on’ period–just because you have less time during the day to eat, does not mean you can forego a well-balanced diet for sugary snacks.
Another method of fasting that is especially good during the weekdays when you are busy and have less time to think about food is the two smoothies, one meal method. You can choose to have one solid meal a day, most likely lunch or dinner. For the other two meals you can drink a healthy, nutritious smoothie using any variety of ingredients, like frozen fruit, nut milk, chia seeds, and leafy greens. The best part is smoothies only take minutes to put together and blend!
For increased fullness and energy, consider adding a protein supplement, such as Livingood Daily Collagen, to your smoothie.† This Collagen & Coconut Milk Smoothie recipe offers a delicious source of protein and essential nutrients, but feel free to improvise with whatever you have.
Do not go over 24 hours without food. Though the body is evolved enough to survive a couple days without, you should not put your body through those conditions if you do not have to.
Talk to your doctor before trying any of these fasting methods. If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, diabetic, under the age of 18, or have a history of eating disorders, you should avoid fasting.
How To Eat And Live Healthy
Truly, the best way to keep your body energized and healthy is by eating real food to get proper nutrients. Incorporating in fasting, if done correctly, can be a very powerful tool for success.
This means lots of fruits, vegetables, limited whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats. Care about nutrients, get in what your body needs and then curb consumption to optimize results.
Additional tips include:
- Keep a go to snack available, like these delicious Almond Butter And Green Apple Bites.
- Exercise 3-6 times a week. For a quick and adaptable exercise that will help you burn fat and get your circulation flowing, try high intensity interval training (HIIT).
- Let your body’s cues/hormones tell you when it is time for your next meal.
- Plan and, if possible, prepare your meals in advance, so that you have no reason to skip nutrients. Bringing your own lunch to work will save money and make sure you always have nutrients to eat, even when things get really busy.
Healthy nutrition starts with a focus on real healthy food. There are healthy fasting methods available, but make sure you do the proper research and build up to them. Together caring about nutrients and curbing your consumption are powerful tools for longevity to real health.
The best way to stay healthy and slim is by eating a well-balanced diet and exercising regularly.