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Can skipping a meal lead to diabetes and fat around abdomen?

We are often asked to not skip meals; ever wondered why? It has been said that skipping meals can alter our blood sugar levels and make us put on weight as opposed to doing the opposite.

So, if you are an otherwise-healthy person who is looking to lose weight, do not fall for fads that suggest you avoid eating food. Why is it so?

Explaining the connection between weight, blood sugar, and meals, nutritionist Nmami Agarwal explained in an Instagram post that eating irregular meals can affect our health. “The body gets surprised by too much food or no food at all,” she said in a video, adding that when we skip meals, our blood sugar levels drop, “which makes us overeat” during our next meal.

“This further makes our blood sugar levels rise quickly. There is a fluctuation — highs and lows — in your blood sugar levels [which can] put the body at risk of getting diabetes. And when you skip your meals and you overeat at the next meal, the excess calorie is converted into fat and stored,” she warned.

According to Agarwal, this can make you weight gain. “Now, the ideal thing that you can do for your body is to not skip meals and eat at a regular interval,” she said.

Concurring with her, nutritionist and chef Ishti Saluja told indianexpress.com that when people focus on weight loss, they often skip meals. “Yes, a calorie deficit does lead to weight loss, but it also leads to nutritional deficiencies, muscle loss and worst of all, hormonal imbalance,” she said, adding that the body perceives the lack of food as a “sign of stress” and so, it “releases stored energy to go on with the day”.

“But, that energy does not match up to the physical activity that is required to use that released energy, so it gets stored back as fat along with the added food that has been consumed throughout the day. This back and forth of energy going up and down due to stress and skipping meals leads to insulin resistance, among other hormonal imbalances. It causes stubborn weight around the abdomen and lower abdomen area, energy fluctuation and mood swings,” she explained.

Eating small and frequent meals can help us control our blood sugar, weight and prevent and manage diabetes. (Photo: Getty/Thinkstock)

Saluja said cortisol — a stress hormone — dysregulation is another common side effect. “Ideally, it should be at its highest level when you wake up in the morning, and should gradually go down by the time you hit the bed. But, when a person has imbalanced cortisol levels, these timings go haywire and it leads to people waking up groggy; they have a burst of energy in the evenings, making them struggle to fall asleep.”

Dr Varsha Gorey, senior clinical dietitian, HOD, dietetics department at Apollo Hospitals Navi Mumbai summarized this by stating that when we starve or fast, we feel low on energy. “Having a long gap [between meals] can cause an energy deficit, fatigue and dehydration. When we skip a meal and then eat, we tend to either eat too much, or the wrong kind of food, or the carbohydrate content is very high, which can lead to a sudden rise in the blood glucose level. This can make us feel lethargic. Occasionally, it is fine, but if it becomes a habit, it will impact your weight.”

The importance of healthy nutrition

Dr Gorey told this outlet that we should have small and frequent meals — “at least four meals which are breakfast, lunch and dinner, and two mid-morning and mid-evening snacks (like fruits and nuts)”. “Whenever you have a meal, focus on the proteins first, followed by fiber, and then carbohydrates. If we follow this pattern, it can help us control our blood sugarweight and prevent and manage diabetes,” she concluded.

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