The notion that skipping meals will lead to weight loss is a logical one at first glance; fewer meals equals fewer calories, which translates to weight loss. In reality, not only is meal skipping generally unhealthy, but it's also a difficult habit to sustain for individuals who are accustomed to several meals a day. Meal skipping may cause feelings of deprivation, and eventually lead to overeating and greater weight gain.
Fewer Calories, More Stress
The basic premise is that your body needs a certain number of calories each day for proper functioning. Meal skipping lowers the number of calories consumed. However, research indicates that individuals who skip meals to lose weight actually end up eating more calories when they finally do eat.
The stress resulting from food deprivation coupled with immense hunger can lead to a food binge. In these cases, dieters are sometimes not even aware that they are eating more calories in one sitting than they would have consumed across several meals.
Impact on the Metabolism
Meal skipping leads to a slowing down of the metabolism. One study found that the bodies of healthy individuals who restricted their caloric intake began to see a decrease in the fat and calorie burning process. After about one week, these healthy women lost 16% of their energy expenditure, meaning they burned fewer calories. Skipping meals led to the storing of fat and slower metabolism.
A slow metabolism coupled with skipping earlier meals in the day and overeating at night often leads to weight gain. Studies confirm that skipping breakfast and eating fewer times throughout the day leads to greater weight gain than eating a nutritious breakfast and several small meals each day. Research also suggests that consuming several small meals leads to greater appetite control.
Pros and Cons of Meal Skipping
With regards to health, some studies do show that fasting and calorie restriction assist with disease prevention and promote a longer life. A recent animal study suggested that meal skipping may have health benefits. A study with rats showed that meal skipping was much like exercise in its ability to reduce blood pressure and heart rate. However, the consensus is that more studies need to be performed to confirm these results. Additionally, what may be true for animals may not apply to humans. In the same study, rats who were not fed regularly did gorge on food whenever they were supplied with unlimited amounts.
While skipping the occasional meal may be good for the body, allowing the organs a much needed rest, the general consensus among dieters is that the best way to achieve weight loss is through eating small meals throughout the day, including breakfast. A variety of low-fat, low-calorie foods from all food groups, portion control and regular exercise all work together to provide the body with necessary nutrition and calories, optimal metabolism and the healthy state of mind necessary to lose weight and keep it off.