We’ve all had those seductive little diet thoughts: Maybe I could just cut those calories today. I’m not that hungry…
But the science shows that skipping a meal or allowing yourself to go hungry is a really terrible — and actually dangerous — habit for your health.
You’ve heard the warnings for extreme dieting. You know that’s bad, sure. But you’re not pounding green juice or starving for weeks. So your diet is fine, right? Nope. Not fine. Not fine at all if you’re skipping meals and trying to shed weight by omitting food (even if it’s in a minor way like grabbing a handful of almonds instead of breakfast).
The evidence has piled up that many of the negative health effects of severe dieting are also experienced on a smaller scale during those tiny, less-intensive periods of deprivation — like waiting until dinner to eat or going hungry past lunch.
Your body doesn’t know the difference between starvation and a weight-loss plan — it’s going to react the same way when it doesn’t have fuel. Here’s what really happens when you make yourself go hungry.
Your digestion feels out of whack
When you go hungry, your stomach shrinks. You’ve probably heard that before: It’s priming itself to carry a smaller load. However, your digestion also slows way down. This often causes some really uncomfortable side effects like constipation and bloating. When you keep your meals regular, your digestion becomes regular, too.
Your brain just kind of gives up
Fun fact: Your brain runs on fat. It’s mostly made up of fat, too, so when you don’t have enough of it, your brain is going to slow down.
You’ve probably experienced this before. Ever felt spacy when you haven’t eaten for a while? Or maybe you have trouble remembering things right before lunch. It’s not just your adoration of food that’s distracting you from your daily life. Your brain has literally decided that what little energy you have is better used elsewhere. Say goodbye to your attention span — that’s the first thing to go. Unless you want to sound dumb in meetings and become forgetful at work, don’t skip lunch.
People can see it on your hair and skin
Food does more for your body than just give it calories. It also comes with nutrients like vitamins, minerals, proteins. Your body is constantly using those things to replenish dead cells, grow your hair and nails, and keep your bodily processes moving. When you’re lacking in food, you’re lacking in those nutrients, too. So your skin is bound to look less fresh, your hair won’t grow in as lush, and you’ll just feel generally worn out. Your body’s in need of some serious sprucing; and it’s going to look that way.
You start to feel like you hate everything
We’re not even exaggerating here: Hanger is real.
Regular food keeps blood sugar regular, too. When you don’t get the food your body expects, it sends your blood sugar plummeting in response. We don’t have to tell you twice that that’s not a good thing: It’s what sets off fatigue, irritability, and (in extremes) an increased risk of diabetes. You’ll feel the signs physically because every little thing gets just so much harder to handle.
Why? Because when it’s in starvation mode, your body sends off all kinds of stress hormones. Swimming in cortisol, it’s just harder for your brain to be rational.
Your body starts plotting a junk food binge
Even if you’re missing the calories now, you’ll likely regain them later — and then some. In deprivation mode your brain is on red alert to get highly-caloric food as soon as it can — and lots of it. Your cravings will likely feel more intense, you’ll start wondering why you’re so obsessed with food, and you’ll likely just go for it. Your body will be happier as soon as you begin the binge — it’s just trying to survive, and it’s not sure when you’ll feed it again. Except instead of a balanced, nutritious lunch, you might just go for a huge jelly doughnut. Oops.
You prime your body for weight gain once you do start to eat again
Again, your body’s just going for survival. It doesn’t understand that you want to fit into a size 4. All it knows is that it didn’t get any food for a while, and that it was running low on energy.
Once it does get some energy, it’s holding on for dear life. And that, friends, is how fat cells are born. Kind of like how a bear fattens up for winter; your instincts are doing that on a smaller scale, harboring resources for the oncoming famine.
So it’s pretty clear: Skipping a meal is doing nothing beneficial for your health (or your weight loss pursuit, for that matter). And if you begin skipping meals chronically, aka chronic dieting, you’re likely to experience severe detractions from your overall health that range from diabetes to a shorter lifespan. Want to live a long, fruitful life? Eat three meals a day. It’s as simple as a sandwich.