Post No.: 0320
Although you will lose weight if you skip meals and if you ultimately reduce your total daily calorific intake, and if your physical energy expenditure levels remain the same or increase – skipping meals tends to make us crave more calorie-dense foods and make us want to overeat during the next meals to compensate for that feeling of incredible raging hunger, which means that we won’t likely lose weight overall.
Being hungry can also make some people feel irritable, stressed and more likely to snap (hangry) because hunger is an unpleasant feeling. And if prolonged enough, stress can itself produce many physical symptoms that are bad for one’s health! This means that regularly skipping meals that were never pre-planned to be skipped is not good for one’s health in other ways too.
One meal that’s not recommended to be skipped is breakfast. Breakfast gets the metabolism going. (Sumo wrestlers are said to purposely skip breakfast to reportedly slow down their metabolism – but their aim is to pack on weight!) Protein can help us feel fuller (and in the right amounts can also help us keep awake better) compared to other types of macronutrients, thus a breakfast with a decent amount of protein is a good idea. Fibre is also a key way to feel fuller for longer so increase your soluble fibre (e.g. oats, beans) and non-soluble fibre (e.g. whole wheat, brown rice) intake. We need both types and an array of different sources of fibre. This fibre will dissolve in or absorb water or otherwise simply pass out in your stools.
Blended food can make us feel fuller for longer too because it passes through the gut more slowly, so consuming thick soups will make you feel relatively more satisfied for longer. Or perhaps simply thoroughly chew your food before swallowing it! The water content of soup itself also lowers the calorie density of soup. In soups, this water is so thoroughly mixed with the food that the stomach takes longer to process it all, meaning that the stomach stays physically fuller for longer compared to a meal with exactly the same contents but with the water drank separately, where the water just drains through the stomach quickly, which in turn means that the stomach won’t feel full for quite as long. (Likewise, a thin liquid diet won’t make us feel full for long.)
Because of the relatively low calorie density of soups and other foods with a high water content (e.g. whole fruit) – for the same amount of calories, a low-calorie density meal also seems visually much larger in volume and weight too when presented in the bowl or on a plate, and we first eat with our eyes (including deciding portion sizes and even how something will taste, such as red colours evoking berry flavours in drinks even if it’s just red due to food colouring). The quantity of food visually appears more satisfying if we eat low-calorie density foods, and this is one reason why eating whole fruit compared to just drinking fruit juice is comparably better.
But on the other paw, it may be different with calorie-dense foods that are hard to break down, such as peanuts, quinoa and corn kernels, for instance. When these are not chewed down enough with our teeth (or otherwise blitzed down) – because the stomach and intestines cannot break them down much further, they will get somewhat passed straight out through our stools, meaning that the nutrients and calories won’t have been accessed from them. This is therefore great if you are trying to lose weight, but then it’s strongly arguably a waste of furry nutrients and food.
Calcium (from dairy sources at least) supposedly prevents fat from being absorbed into the body because it instead binds with fat so that it can be excreted as waste. Calcium also helps lower the levels of hormones that tell the body to store fat. (We looked at hormones and their effects on appetite in Post No.: 0242.) If one is not vegan, it’s still best to choose low-fat dairy options though (e.g. low-fat yoghurt). Alginate, if consumed just before meals, is also currently being researched to see if it lowers fat absorption. Alginate is thought to affect the function of lipase (the enzyme that breaks down lipids in our bodies) and allows lipids to pass through the gut without being digested.
Early studies are showing that, if you’re otherwise healthy, eating most of your daily carbohydrates in the evening as opposed to in the morning is fine or even better for your glucose response. But whatever you do, try not to consume too much carbohydrate in the evenings if you’ve had a lot earlier in the day, and try not to consume too much carbohydrate the next morning if you’ve had a lot the night before.
As a recap, unplanned or unscheduled skipped meals can be a problem because of the way we might overcompensate with consumption during the next meal. However, planned regular fasting periods may be beneficial. Examples of intermittent or periodic fasting include having a 14 to 16-hour contiguous time span per day without eating anything, or alternating normal and lower calorie days every day if one is only a little bit overweight, or the 5:2 diet, which involves 5 normal days of eating and only consuming about a quarter of the amount of calories on the other 2 days each week. This type of planned intermittent fasting is proving to be a beneficial approach if one struggles to keep one’s weight down.
Fasting is possibly how human ancestors typically lived – periods of feasting after a successful hunt followed by periods of fasting. This suggests that one-off binges or feasts (e.g. at Christmas time) don’t cause noticeable weight gain or health problems, whereas consuming the equivalent of just one extra chocolate biscuit every single day for a period of months will cause noticeable weight gain and potential health problems. This may explain why some people who seem to binge on certain (special) occasions don’t become overweight – it’s because that doesn’t represent how they eat during most other days. This is maybe also why short-term diets or ‘detoxes’ don’t tend to lead to lasting, long-term weight loss habits and results.
Nowadays in the ‘developed’ world at least, most people feast all of the time and there are no periods of fasting at all, hence possibly contributing to the high obesity rates in the modern world. It should not be about short-term diets but life-long everyday healthy lifestyles. Indeed, no one ever becomes obese overnight, no matter how much they manage to consume during one day (e.g. check out some competitive eaters! Although no doctor will recommend doing what they do). People always gradually become obese over many months or years of over-consuming relative to their physical activity levels. Gradual changes are often very hard to intuitively detect though – this is a blessing and a curse of the tremendous human ability to adapt.
Intermittent fasting might help periodically remind us what real hunger feels like so that we don’t end up snacking when we merely ‘think’ we’re hungry or do so out of habit. Like with skipping meals though, you’ve got to make sure you don’t overcompensate with a binge later – overeating during the non-fasting periods needs to be avoided when purposely fasting.
Fasting may also stimulate autophagy (the body’s natural process of ‘cleaning up’ dead cells and recycling bodily proteins); although more research is needed with human subjects to be sure. Fasting isn’t for everyone though because it can be tough to stick with it, and again it’s going to be self-defeating if one is going to gorge on the non-fasting days, or if one already overly restricts one’s caloric intake due to an eating disorder. You can lose weight via fasting – but it’ll still need a good amount of discipline. The support of others will also help (e.g. other people not snacking in front of your face and presenting temptations!)
A ketogenic diet to promote ketosis (a metabolic state where some of the body’s energy supply comes from ketone bodies in the blood, which contrasts to a state of glycolysis where blood glucose provides the energy) and to simulate fasting by virtually cutting out all carbohydrates (but making up the calories via fats and protein sources) may help those with certain types of epilepsy (and possibly some other neurological disorders too) – but it’s not necessary nor sustainable for otherwise healthy people.
Overall, it seems that fasting brings some health benefits, including possibly increased longevity and disease prevention too. However, as of posting, the science is still currently ongoing within the whole area of fasting. Some tentative conclusions are being taken as concrete, and some short-term findings are being taken as long-term, in the clickbait media – so keep referring to reputable science news sources and health professionals for any updates. Like most of the posts in this blog, this is a springboard for encouraging further study or research. You might also want to consult your doctor if you have any specific health requirements (diabetes is an obvious one) or before attempting anything drastic.