Skipping Meals to Lose Weight
I hear it all the time: “I’m going to start skipping meals to lose weight.” Ugh. I slap myself on the forehead and let a big scream out louder than when I was a kid and found out my dad copied over a tape of WrestleMania. (Back in the days when we used VCRs and tapes!) Let’s get to the science behind skipping meals.
Most people believe that losing weight functions on an energy balance continuum. This is partially true, but of more importance is the notion that less is more – if cutting down on some intake leads to weight loss, then why wouldn’t eating less and less tip the scale in your favor?
This turns into very low calorie dieting, a sure fire way to make you a lethargic, weak, and all around cranky person. The issue here is more than just food going in and out of the body. Successful weight loss is more about getting your hormones under control. Low calorie diets don’t work because they cause your hormones to go haywire. In terms of skipping meals, this can really affect your metabolism.
Waiting too long between meals, or skipping them all together, usually sends signals between hungry tissues and your pancreas that they are ready for more energy (1). This can result in decreasing blood sugar levels and your body eventually recognizes this as a stressor.
As a result of this stressor, your body releases cortisol – a hormone that likes to weaken our immune system and accumulate fat. Furthermore, skipping meals increases our lipogenic enzymes – the enzymes that promote the storage of fat (2). Since fat is our preferred storage method of energy, the body then stores what we eat as fat because it recognizes the low amount of calories as an act of starvation.
In fact, eating less food through skipping meals actually tells our brain to slow down our metabolic processes (3). It’s possible too that the body will break down its own muscle as an energy source – so the body will get the energy it needs whether you provide it or not. However, breaking down muscle is a good way to destroy your metabolism and affect the look of your physique. After all, you train to look strong, right?
In fact, a study done long ago showed that a very low calorie diet (less than 1,000 calories a day) lowered resting metabolic rate by 23% (4). The subjects did lose weight over the course of 12 weeks, but not any significant body fat. In the long term, success would be significantly hindered with a slower metabolism.
1. Seeley, Stephens, Tate. Anatomy and Physiology: 7th Edition.China: McGraw Hill. 2006, pp 637
2. Chek, Paul. How to Eat, Move, and Be Healthy. San Diego: Chek Institute Publication. 2004,pp 209
3. Beradi, John. The Metabolism Advantage. United States: Rodale. 2006; pp 20
4. Burgess, N.S. “Effect of a Very Low Calorie Diet on Body Composition and Resting Metabolic Rate in Obese Men and Women.” Journal of American Diet Association. 1991. 91:4. 430-434