It’s an all too common scenario. You’ve been on back-to-back-to-back Zoom calls and are up against a tight deadline, so you think “I’ll just skip lunch, I'm not that hungry, anyway.” It doesn’t seem like a big deal. But later, after you shut your work laptop and saunter over to the kitchen to pore over that pile of takeout menus you’ve accumulated, you realize just how hungry you’ve become. You’re positively famished! So when you place your dinner order, you place it feeling like you need all the food — which leads to you eating all the food you can.
What happens if you only eat one meal a day? Is skipping breakfast really so bad? What are some of the effects of not eating? We'll get into all that, and more here:
Going too long without eating can lead to feelings of lightheadedness. That's because when your blood sugar drops too low – a condition called "hypoglycemia" – it can cause dizziness. Being dehydrated from a workout or even from forgetting to have a couple of glasses of water can compound these feelings.
Ever been "hangry?" That's your body telling you that it needs food. And when you continue to under-nourish, that's a surefire way to feel crabby or short-tempered. Our brains are primarily fueled glucose, and when there's not enough in our systems, it's easy to not feel like yourself.
Another common symptom of being under-fueled is brain fog. Low blood sugar can leave you feeling mentally wiped and impact cognitive function.
By skipping meals, you're depriving your body of the calories it needs to get through the day. We tend to feel most energized and alert when our blood sugar is relatively stable – skipping meals and then feasting tends to cause swings in blood sugar which doesn't do any favors for your energy levels.
We have internal hunger and fullness cues in the form of hormones: leptin decreases appetite when your body is adequately fueled and ghrelin makes you hungry when your body needs more. But if you don't listen to these signals, it can throw them off.
Skipping a meal also means removing an opportunity to give your body essential nutrients it needs. A study found that people who skipped breakfast had lower lower daily thiamin, niacin and folate intakes, while people who didn't skip it consumed more fiber and less fat and sugar throughout the day.
Skipping meals can trigger nausea, diarrhea, and even constipation. Similar to when you're feeling anxious, your body's stress response to going too long between meals can upset your digestive system.
“I hear about experiences like these all the time during consultations with clients,” says Mallory Gonzeles, RD, head of nutrition at kencko. “They think they lack control around food. But this isn’t about a lack of willpower. It’s a natural response to hunger.”
Whenever you skip meals (or have a very small meal), the quantity of ghrelin — the hunger hormone — in your body increases. When released, ghrelin stimulates hunger, which should result in food intake. Essentially, this is your body's way of telling you that it needs energy.
The longer you wait to eat, the more hungry you’ll feel, leading to that out of control feeling. By enjoying regular meals you are giving your body nourishment so that you can feel better throughout the day, and don’t wind up only thinking about what you will eat when you’re done with work!
Plus, studies have shown that skipping meals is associated with higher risk of chronic disease and metabolic syndrome.
“Then there’s the fact that lunch is the perfect time to take care of your body and give your brain a moment to decompress in the afternoon,” says Mallory.
Another scenario that’s presented to me all the time by people working from home is concern over constant snacking. When you multitask — like when you bring a pack of cookies to your desk while you’re working on a report — it’s much more likely that you’ll zone out and make that pack of cookies disappear without meaning to.
“But when you set aside a little break in your day for lunch, it helps more clearly define the first and second halves of your work day, but it also lets you actually enjoy the meal or snack you’re eating, which means you’ll likely go back to work much more satisfied and refreshed,” adds Mallory.
Our bodies run on energy, and that energy comes from calories, which are made of macronutrients: proteins, fats, and carbs. If we skip lunch or fill up on less nutrient-dense foods, we aren’t providing our body with adequate energy for the day which can result in feeling foggy or tired. To combat this, prepare the perfect lunch by pairing a protein, fat, and carb together to provide all of the macronutrients your body needs to function its best. Need some examples? We have some suggestions and you can find them here!
If you're trying to break the habit of skipping meals, or simply find yourself forgetting to eat over the course of a busy week, try some of these tips:
Become a snacker – smaller, frequent meals throughout the day might fit better into your schedule.
Keep a snack on hand for emergencies – things got busy? Reach for that granola bar. It'll hold you over until your next meal.
Focus on getting enough protein and fiber. Foods containing these nutrients will keep you full longer.
Plan and prepare – sort out your meals in advance or even make them the night before a particularly busy day.
You slot in time for meetings and appointments – try setting an alarm for lunchtime. It'll make it harder to avoid, and harder to double book yourself!
Make it a date. You'll be less inclined to skip a meal if you're meeting a friend or family member.