Skipping a meal here and there may not seem like a big deal, but it can get you into trouble if it becomes a habit. Here are eight reasons not to skip a meal next time the urge may strike:
1. Focus failure
Without a steady supply of carbohydrates (your brain's favorite source of energy), you may have difficulty concentrating, remembering things or paying attention. As your blood sugar drops, you may feel nauseous, dizzy or shaky.
2. Metabolism mess up
If you cut your calories too low, your metabolism slams the brake on fat-burning in a desperate effort to conserve energy. This is called "hypo-metabolism," meaning the rate at which you convert food into energy has been slowed down. Seeing as most of us want to be lean, mean, calorie-burning machines, we want our metabolisms to be revved up and burning away.
Repetitive dieting can lead to chronic constipation. Your stomach and intestines are muscles and when you don't use them, they lose their strength and become inefficient. Eating regularly stimulates peristalsis (the contracting of your digestive tract to move food through) and skipping meals makes it hard for your GI tract to keep functioning at its best.
4. Muscle breakdown
Without enough carbs to supply glucose to your brain, muscles and organs, your body will turn to your precious muscles – breaking down their proteins to use for energy. Muscle burns more calories than fat. If your body "catabolizes" (breaks down) muscles for energy, then your metabolism is going to take a hit.
5. Moody misery
You may have heard the witty term "hangry" (hungry + angry) which is used to describe the wild phenomenon of utter crankiness that surfaces when you don't eat. Without the flow of glucose to your brain, you may get irritable, moody, depressed and anxious.
6. Hunger Confusion
Sporadic eating can alter your hunger cues. You may experience early satiety (getting full from less food than you should) or suppress your hunger cues entirely. This may seem like the best plan ever, but skipping meals, chronic dieting and low-calorie intake are all risk factors associated with developing a clinical eating disorder. Most people want to eat when they're hungry and stop when they're full. Skipping meals will throw that mindful harmony off kilter.
7. Crappy Quality
Optimizing your diet is more than just calories. It requires a delicate balance of macronutrients (protein, carbs and fat), micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), fiber and fluid. It may be difficult to paint the perfect dietary picture in too few eating occasions.
8. Risky bingeing business
Let's say you ate dinner at 6 p.m. and go to bed at 11 p.m. Then you wake up at 6 a.m. and eat lunch at noon. You've just gone 18 hours without refueling! Guess what you're going to eat? Anything that's not nailed down. Skipping meals increases your risk of bingeing (out of control over-eating) later in the day.
There is some emerging research about intermittent fasting and its benefits in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer. However there are limited human studies and more research is definitely necessary in this area.
Kerri Link Heckert, a registered dietitian at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, has been in the fitness and nutrition industry for the past 7 years. She is a yoga instructor (RYT-200), ACSM certified Health Fitness Specialist and certified personal trainer. She earned her Masters at Drexel University and currently lives in the Philadelphia suburbs.