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What Would Happen If You Skip a Meal?

By Carly Schuna

Whether you eat three square meals a day or five to six smaller meals, sticking to your regular schedule is important. Skipping a meal occasionally isn’t likely to do you any harm, but it does have short-term consequences that can temporarily derail a healthy eating plan and affect you both mentally and physically.

Low Blood Sugar

According to Evelyn Tribole, author of “Eating on the Run,” your brain’s supply of glucose becomes compromised within four to six hours of your last meal or snack. Having low glucose levels means your body needs to use less efficient methods to keep its normal processes going, so you may begin to feel fatigued, sluggish, moody or just out of sorts if you skip a meal. Low blood sugar can impact your memory, concentration and mental or physical performance.

Energy Dip

Eating regular meals keeps your energy levels consistent throughout the day. When you skip a meal, on the other hand, registered dietitian Jennifer Okemah points out that your energy and blood sugar levels may stagnate, dip or surge throughout the day. Low energy and blood sugar levels can make it difficult to focus and may also cause mood swings, fatigue, headaches, shaking or sweating. If you regularly exercise for health or weight loss, skipping a meal may also make you more likely to skip your workout, since your energy and fuel levels will be flagging.

Fasting to Feasting

Skipping a meal is likely to make you feel hungrier at your next meal than you would otherwise. That intense hunger makes it harder to focus on eating what’s nutritious and easier to grab the first foods that come your way, which may not be the healthiest choices. If you aren't able to get in a full meal, go for a filling and healthy snack instead. In a scientific survey conducted in 2010 by University of Kentucky food sciences student Courtney McDonald, subjects who ate six or seven snacks daily tended to have significantly lower body mass indexes than subjects who averaged no more than one snack daily.

Chronic Meal Skipping

The consequences of skipping a meal here and there aren’t usually severe. If you skip meals often, however, you may be doing greater harm to your body. Chronic meal skipping can induce ketosis, a process in which your body metabolizes fat for energy. That may sound desirable, but ketosis can have negative side effects, including nausea, constipation, fatigue, kidney stress and low blood pressure. If your body is often in ketosis, it will adapt to burn fewer calories, slow your metabolism, hold on to fat stores and decrease your lean muscle tissue -- all of which can make it more difficult to lose weight.

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