The Pros And Cons Of Skipping Meals

By:    Published: January 29, 2012

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Skipping meals is often a topic that is hotly debated. Some say that it causes more harm than good, while others say that fasting is healthy. So who's right? Should you attempt to skip lunch to shave off a few calories, or does skipping a meal actually have more negative repercussions on your body that you aren't aware of? As it turns out, both camps may have some basis in fact.

Weight Loss or Weight Gain?

For decades health care experts held the belief that skipping meals would lead to weight gain. The thought was that the body would think that it was starving and go into a sort of shock that would cause excess calories to be stored as fat, so that in the event that food was scarce, the body would survive.

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.

Better or Poorer Health?

The affects of skipping meals has been discussed for years, but recent studies have shown that if done properly, fasting can have a variety of health benefits. If not done safely however, it can be dangerous, even deadly.

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.

Fasting becomes a problem when it is taken to extreme or is done for too long a period of time. There have been a number of stories in the news over the years that demonstrate what happens when someone takes skipping meals too far. Several supermodels have died of starvation because they existed on as little as two pieces of lettuce or an apple a day over several months, leading several fashion show organizers to call for restrictions on how thin models can be.

The body needs certain nutrients in order to function. Severely restricting a diet over a long period of time deprives the body of those nutrients and eventually, body functions will just shut down.

Remember:

  • 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.

Does the Way Meals are Skipped Matter?

There have been a few recent studies that demonstrate that the way meals are skipped does indeed make a difference.

The study published by Metabolism demonstrated that by skipping meals during the day, but gorging in the evening dangerous blood sugar spikes occur that can eventually lead to diabetes and obesity.

Another study, published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine, 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.

A third 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.

Skipping meals can lead to improved health and quality of life, but like everything else, moderation should be used, to ensure safety and success.

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