Why Skipping Random Meals Can Hinder Your Weight Loss

If you're trying to lose weight, the idea of skipping a meal here and there can be tempting. You might think that cutting back on calories throughout the day is a good way to shed a few pounds, but in reality, going without breakfast or fasting over lunch could get in the way of your weight loss goals.

Our bodies burn calories for energy, a function known as metabolism (via Mayo Clinic). We each have a certain amount of calories that we need in order for our bodies to work properly at rest during basal metabolism. This number of calories is impacted by things like muscle mass, body size, age, and sex. If you exercise, you'll burn more calories. If you eat extra food, your body will have an excess of calories that aren't used for energy. It might make sense to assume that if you just eat less, you'll lose some weight.

When you go without a meal or two, however, you interrupt this basal metabolism, according to Prevention. When your eating habits become unpredictable, the body will hold onto calories and won't burn them as efficiently — the body will think you're going into starvation mode. You might have trouble knowing if you're actually hungry or not, and you may become more susceptible to cravings and binge eating.

How skipping meals impacts your weight and mental health

When you deprive your body of calories, even by missing just one meal, your energy level can take a major hit (via EatingWell). Your blood sugar drops and you start to get that "hangry" feeling. Cravings for simple sugars set in as the body yearns for an energy boost, so you might turn toward foods like potato chips and candy. Because you're extra hungry and your hunger cues are thrown off, it's possible to eat more food than you actually need. Instead of losing weight, this can backfire and actually make you gain weight.

Skipping meals can also cause anxiety. A 2018 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health found that teens who skipped breakfast were more likely to feel depressed and stressed than those who ate breakfast (via EatingWell). When your blood sugar is low, it causes your body to produce cortisol — a stress hormone — which can make you feel irritable and moody.

Going without a meal or two also puts you at higher risk for developing an eating disorder, such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder, according to a 2021 study published in Eating and Weight Disorders – Studies on Anorexia, Bulimia and Obesity. Researchers found a connection between dieting, skipping meals, and the risk of eating disorders in both males and females.