What Happens to My Body When I Skip a Meal?

And most importantly, does it mean I have an excuse to eat more later?


There are times in life when everything else — meeting a deadline, running urgent errands, drinking 17 beers — takes precedence over eating the bologna sandwich you packed for lunch. But what happens to your insides when you deprive them of a meal?

For starters, when you have an empty stomach, the amount of glucose circulating through your bloodstream dwindles. Unfortunately, your brain is dependent on glucose, and a shortage can leave you stressed and hangry, so make sure to avoid sensitive topics until you fill that belly.

Skipping meals on a regular basis can also slow your metabolism, as your body grows accustomed to surviving with less food. The bad news is, a slow metabolism can cause weight gain and make it harder to lose weight in the future. In which case, much like how getting sick isn’t a good weight loss plan, neither is skipping a meal.

On the upside, you might be happy to learn that missing a single meal here and there, rather than skipping lunch on the daily, is more or less inconsequential. “Our bodies aren’t meant for constant grazing — like a cow — but rather to eat, not eat for a while, and then eat again,” explains primary care physician Marc Leavey. “For a month, Muslims observe Ramadan and don’t eat from sunrise until sunset. Because they follow a lunar calendar, if Ramadan falls in the winter, this could be just nine and a half hours. If Ramadan falls in the summer, that number arrives near 15 hours of fasting. But they do just fine with no physical changes. Observant Jews also follow a total fast for Yom Kippur and Tisha B’Av with nothing to eat or drink for 26 or 27 hours — again, without physiologic changes.”

But what about the people who claim your stomach shrinks when you skip a meal, which means you feel full quicker during your next munch session? “Sorry, none of these actions result in any shrinkage,” Leavey says. Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, adds that, “It’s not so much that your stomach physically shrinks — it’s just that your stomach sort of has a new set point at which it starts feeling full.” While this might sound like a good thing — training your body to crave less food — the better approach to dieting would be to gradually eat smaller meals, rather than haphazardly skipping them altogether. Again, skipping a meal outright slows your metabolism, which actually causes you to gain weight

Not to mention, skipping meals in an attempt to lose weight can potentially evolve into other, more severe disordered eating habits. As Michael Doehla, a nutrition specialist with the National Academy of Sports Medicine, explained to The List magazine, “One skipped meal every now and then leads to a skipped meal every day, which leads to skipped meals multiple times per day. At some point anorexia may be diagnosed and the individual would have to undergo treatment to not only literally save their life, but to then work to repair their relationship with food.”

So just be careful about that, okay?

Now that I’ve already missed lunch, though, should I gorge on a whole load of food during my next meal to make up for those lost calories? Maybe just a little, according to Hunnes. “If you normally have a 500-calorie breakfast and an 800-calorie lunch and dinner, if you miss breakfast, you might eat a 1,200-calorie lunch and miss out on the other 100 calories.”

Sounds like we’re having an extra serving of mashed potatoes tonight, my dudes!