Overview: Irregular meal timings Impact
Do you ever put off eating because you’re working on something? Or will you forego breakfast because you slept in? Isn’t it no big deal as long as you don’t binge later on? Is irregular meal timings really harmful? Perhaps not, though. Two recent papers published in the Proceedings of the Nutrition Society reveal that your health is affected not just by what you eat, but also by when you eat. Regardless matter how many total calories you consume, eating irregularly can lead to obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes.
One study looked at foreign eating habits and found a possible link between obesity and eating more calories later in the day. Another study discovered that people who ate six meals a day on a consistent basis had lower cholesterol and insulin levels than people who ate meals on a variable schedule, such as three to nine times a day.
“Despite consuming more calories overall, we discovered that adults who consumed calories during regular meals—at similar times from one day to the next—were less obese than adults who consumed calories during irregular meals,” says Gerda Pot, Ph.D., a visiting lecturer in King’s College London’s Diabetes and Nutritional Sciences Division who worked on both papers.
According to Pot, many metabolic processes in the body, including appetite, digestion, fat, cholesterol, and glucose metabolism, follow 24-hour cycles. “Our own body clock may be disrupted if we eat seldom,” she says. Weight gain and other health problems may result from this disruption.
But how big of a difference does it make if you eat at different times ?” This is a really critical and valid topic that we are unable to answer at this time,” “It would be fascinating to learn more about the influence that changes in our circadian cycles may have on obesity risk.”
You might affect every component of your body.
For the time being, it appears that eating at the same time every day, if possible, is a good idea. However, if you are unable to do so, there are numerous other options for staying healthy. Going too long between meals, whether you’re following the intermittent fasting craze, working through lunch, or missing breakfast, can have major effects. Because food fuels every system in our bodies, skipping meals or fasting affects almost every component of your body.
We asked Christy Harrison, M.P.H., R.D., C.D.N., author of Anti Diet and host of the Food Psych podcast, and Jessica Ball, M.S., R.D., Eating Well’s digital assistant nutrition editor, about the effects of skipping a meal.
“While proponents of fasting love to tout the science that allegedly supports skipping meals, that science is very preliminary and in no way sound enough to recommend fasting, given all of the risks,” Harrison says.
“There are no potential benefits to fasting or skipping meals in my opinion, and there are very real dangers.”
You could Experience Anxiety
Skipping a meal, or going too long without eating in general, might be detrimental to your mental health. Adolescents who skipped breakfast were more likely to experience stress and despair than those who ate breakfast regularly, according to a 2018 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. When you don’t eat for too long, your blood sugar drops, telling your body to start manufacturing cortisol. Cortisol, popularly known as the “stress hormone,” is released to assist control blood sugar levels, but it also triggers a stress reaction in the body. This can make you feel not simply nervous or sad, but also irritated, cranky, and stressed.
Your Energy Could Take a Major Dip
Consider how dreadful you feel when you’re hungry: these large swings in blood sugar aren’t helping your energy levels. Furthermore, our brains literally function on glucose (which we prefer to acquire from carbohydrates), so don’t expect to breeze through your morning workout—or the rest of your day. If you skip a meal, your body will have fewer calories to run on, making you sluggish. If you’ve skipped a meal, you shouldn’t try to burn calories through exercise because you’ll be leaving even fewer for your brain to use up. (This is just another reason to avoid the keto diet at all costs, as it leaves your brain and body with very little glucose to work with.)
You Could Lose Touch With Your Hunger and Fullness Cues
In the form of hormones, our bodies have built-in hunger and fullness cues. Simply explained, leptin suppresses your hunger when your body has had enough, but ghrelin stimulates your appetite when your body requires more fuel. When you don’t listen to your hormones—even if it’s just to eat inside a set window—you can easily throw them off. “Your hunger and fullness cues are excellent indicators of when you need to eat,” Ball explains. “Ignoring these in order to stick to an externally oriented eating plan can lead to a significant loss of touch with these cues over time.” Losing your sense of hunger and fullness might have serious health repercussions that are difficult to manage.
You Could Develop Strong Food Cravings—Especially for Sugar and Carbs
One of the repercussions of having a low blood sugar level and ignoring your hunger and fullness cues could be severe cravings, particularly for simple carbohydrates and sugar. Both of these provide you with rapid, short bursts of energy, which is exactly what your body is looking for right now. Two research-backed effects of skipping meals, according to Harrison, are our persistent, intrusive food thoughts and a loss of control over consuming your next meal or snack—especially when it comes to these refined carbohydrate sources.
This means that attempting to reduce weight by missing meals or ignoring your hunger cues in order to eat within a certain time frame could backfire and result in binge eating. Skipping meals can rapidly develop into self-sabotage, and your clothes may feel tighter as a result. In reality, numerous studies have linked missing meals (particularly breakfast) to obesity.
You Could Be at Risk for Nutrient Deficiencies
For a variety of causes, skipping meals might result in nutritional deficits. First and foremost, skipping a meal means foregoing the opportunity to provide your body with the dozens of important nutrients it needs to survive. Breakfast skippers had lower daily thiamin, niacin, and folate intakes, according to a 2017 study from UMass Medical School, but breakfast eaters ingested more fiber and less fat and sugar.
Furthermore, giving in to refined-carb desires after a lengthy period of fasting may temporarily satisfy your hunger, but these meals lack the substance necessary to genuinely fuel your body. While carbohydrates are an important part of the human diet, we should prefer whole grains, fruit, legumes, and dairy over other carbohydrates.
Your Digestion Could Become Really Irregular
According to Harrison, missing meals can cause nausea and diarrhea, as well as constipation. The stress reaction created by the body when you go too long between meals might irritate the digestive tract and make your bathroom excursions unpredictable, similar to when you’re stressed. And if you’re in a vicious cycle of skipping meals and then binge eating, your digestion will be further hampered. Listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues, as well as eating fiber-rich plant foods, will help you reestablish appropriate digestive patterns.
You Could Become at Higher Risk for an Eating Disorder
“People who fast or skip meals are at higher risk of developing an eating disorder,” Harrison says. “All of these consequences are harmful to people’s overall wellbeing, and at a deeper level, they keep us from being fully present in our lives, from living our purpose, and from harnessing our power to change the world.”
Not only can skipping meals lead to a binge-eating disorder, it can also lead to anorexia, bulimia, or even orthorexia. Skipping a meal in order to consume fewer calories, out of guilt for something you ate earlier, or because the food around you isn’t “healthy enough” isn’t just unhealthy for your brain, but also for your mindset.
Eating Could Become Less Enjoyable
It’s crucial to enjoy what you’re eating—after all, we have taste receptors for a reason, right?
“Eating on a very strict schedule may not work for your current routine, and it doesn’t leave much room for when things don’t go as planned,” Ball says. “Making eating a chore might make it feel less enjoyable and more like a chore to finish. Food is a necessity, but it should also be enjoyable and nutritious.”
Mindful eating and intuitive eating are two strategies that have been shown to offer significant, research-backed health and weight-loss advantages. To fully appreciate your food, mindful eating necessitates the use of all five senses. Rather than eating your lunch at your desk while you’re in the middle of a project, bring it to your desk.
Intuitive eating is a more personal approach, urging you to abandon the diet mentality in favor of relying on your body as your guidance. Listening to one’s hunger and fullness cues, not restricting meals or food types, and enjoying everything in moderation are all part of intuitive eating.