Whether you are on the go or trying to lose weight quickly, skipping meals can seem like an easy or necessary way to meet your deadline or shed some pounds. However, you can experience adverse side effects to skipping meals, due to a decrease in your blood sugar levels. If you have severe effects, such as loss of consciousness, you may require immediate medical attention.
Your body uses a series of metabolic processes to maintain normal blood sugar levels. When you skip a meal, your body thinks it is in starvation mode, which is a survival mechanism that triggers your body to slow your metabolism. This reduces the rate at which you burn calories in your body, which can keep you from losing weight. Also, your lower blood sugar levels can signal your brain that your body is hungry, increasing your hunger levels. At your next meal, this can make you eat even more, which rapidly increases your blood sugar levels, setting you on a blood sugar roller coaster of ups and downs. Also, because your metabolism was slower, your body will take longer to digest this larger meal.
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While you may be able to skip a meal from time to time, this can be harmful if you have diabetes. This is because as a person with diabetes, your body has difficulty maintaining blood sugar levels. If you skip a meal, your body has to compensate for the low blood sugar level. Your body may try to compensate for your low blood sugar levels by releasing stored glucose. If you were skipping meals to lose weight, the surge in blood sugar can actually cause you to gain weight. Also, when you are trying to maintain consistent blood sugar levels, skipping meals can make this difficult, notes dietitian Jill Weisenberger in "Diabetic Living."
When you skip meals, your lower blood sugar levels cause your body to release hormones that narrow your arteries, which increases your blood pressure, notes Health Services at Columbia University. As a result, you may experience some adverse symptoms of low blood sugar. This includes headache, fatigue, nausea, constipation and nausea. If you continue to skip meals, you can lose consciousness or have seizures because your body does not have enough energy to function properly.
If you skip a meal and begin to experience adverse symptoms due to low blood sugar levels, drink or eat something that can quickly raise your blood glucose levels. Examples might include orange juice, a regular soda or a piece of hard candy. In about 10 minutes, your glucose levels should start to increase and you will start to feel better. However, if your symptoms are severe because you have skipped several meals, you may require medical attention to boost blood sugar levels.
- "The New York Times"; The Risks and Rewards of Skipping Meals; Tara Parker-Pope; December 2007
- HealthCastle.com; 10 Diet & Nutrition Myths Debunked; Gloria Tsang, RD; November 2005
- Go Ask Alice!; Skipping Meals Leads to Headaches?; May 2006
- Fit Launch; Are There Effects to Skipping Meals? The Importance of All Meals; Lara Engler; 2008
- "Diabetic Living"; The Dangers of Skipping Meals When You Have Diabetes; Jill Weisenberger, RD, CDE
- KidsHealth; When Blood Sugar is Too Low; January 2010
Is this an emergency? If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, please see the National Library of Medicine’s list of signs you need emergency medical attention or call 911.