What really happens to your body when you skip meals

When your car runs out of gas, where can it go? No where. When your cell phone runs out of juice, who can you call? No one. When a light bulb burns out, can the lamp still be used? Absolutely not.

Our bodies react the same way when we don't provide them with a proper source of energy. While these are great analogies for what happens to your body when you don't give it enough food, I can provide some personal insight because I've experienced the consequences of skipping meals firsthand. So I'll start with my own experience, and then I'll go into the science so you have a solid understanding of what really happens to your body when you skip meals.

My Story

I graduated college and entered "the real world." When I got my first part-time job in my field, I learned what it meant to work eight-hours straight in the fast paced world of my chosen career. The first week, I was out and about every afternoon, then running back to the office to meet a deadline, not even thinking about how I barely ate breakfast because my hair and makeup took precedence (of course), and skipped right past lunch in order to finish all of my work. That's the time I hit my downward spiral, starting a routine of skipping meals.

My body revolted, and let me tell you — "hangry" isn't just a word I use to describe my boyfriend when he gets into one of his moods. It's uncontrollable.

While I spent as much time at the gym as I could, building a strong, healthy body, skipping meals meant my body started to feed on my muscle. Slowly but surely, I felt a difference in my day-to-day attitude. I wanted to sleep more, I had frequent headaches, I felt tired all of the time, I wanted to go to the gym less and less. Not to mention, all of my clothes started to look like sacks draping over my body (although, Kayne would have been into it).

I still remember the day my baby sister came up to me and asked why my face was so white. This was mid summer and I'm full Italian, so there was absolutely no reason for it. I remember all of the times my boyfriend commented, saying I needed to "get some meat on your bones." When I used to look fit and athletic, and then I just felt weak and impaired… it took a toll on my mind.

I was miserable, but I couldn't figure out how to get my eating habits back on track and still manage my hectic schedule. I learned the hard way that my extra-grande-mocha-whatever-you call-it caffeine source could not fill the void of a well balanced meal. The worst part was that the longer it took for me to get my eating habits back on track, the more my stomach shrunk, which made it even harder for me to get the nutrition that I needed.

Getting back on track hasn't been easy. It takes will power and planning. I just hope that by reading this, you realize that skipping a meal is never the answer, whether you're trying to lose weight, or simply don't prioritize nutrition, as I did. The day you start skipping meals is the day your body will begin responding like this:

Unhealthy weight loss

"One of the most common misconceptions about skipping meals is that by skipping meals, you save on calories and ultimately lose weight. Unfortunately, it's not that simple," says Lindsay Salvatore, R.D., a dietician in southern New Jersey. When you skip meals, your body goes into shock, storing all food you consume and turning it into fat. And it starts with your muscle.

"Going long periods without any food can [also] cause muscle breakdown aka catabolism. Long term damage can be lowered muscle mass, which can increase fat stores, which can lead to a number of health issues," says Michael Doehla, a nutrition specialist with the National Academy of Sports Medicine. So, despite seeing weight loss, more fat is being produced to protect your body from the loss of muscle.

And then unhealthy weight gain

Unfortunately, once the damage is done, it's not just a quick fix. According to Salvatore, "when you start to eat normally again, you gain weight in the form of fat, so you're really setting yourself back." Skipping meals can lead to overcompensating and overeating, which according to a study published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, means weight gain. The American Heart Association has found that it's common for those who skip meals during the day to eat larger meals in the evening, which can cause higher BMIs. Overeating also causes sugar levels to spike. Your body will crash instead of feeling better, like you think it will. The insulin response to bring your sugars back down to a healthy level causes it to overcorrect by bringing it down as fast as you brought it up.

Your brain turns into a fuzzy tv screen

You lose your ability to work properly, and can feel lightheaded and unfocused — seemingly out of no where. Your body needs essential nutrients to produce brain power, and without those sugars, electrolytes and sodium everything can get foggy. "Vitamins and minerals play a huge part in our everyday functions that without them we feel sick all the time with headaches or stomach aches or many other common ailments," warns Salvatore. "When you're tired due to skipping meals, you lack the mental motivation and physical motivation to be active and make healthy food choices. People who skip meals will often make up for calories in the form of unhealthy foods later in the day, only making them even more tired and unmotivated."

Who wants to look frail and pale?

You can't hide the fact that you have unhealthy eating habits, and according to an Australian study, those who skip meals consume way less vitamins and minerals as they need. Those vitamins and minerals not only help with weight gain and loss, as mentioned before, but they also provide the shine and bounce in your hair and the glow in your skin – among other things. If you're not eating enough fats and proteins throughout your day, your body can't even use some of the vitamins you may intake when you attempt to make up for skipped meals.

Queue potentially severe outcomes...

It's important to note that skipping meals in an effort to lose weight can potentially lead to an eating disorder. As you adjust to the day-to-day lifestyle of skipping meals, it rewires your brain and eventually it's no longer a priority to eat at all. "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," explains Doehla.

According to the National Eating Disorders Association, many young adults end up with eating disorders after looking for an alternative weight loss option. As already stated, skipping meals is not a proper way of dieting or weight loss. A recommendation on the NEDA's website states that the AAP (The American Academy of Pediatrics) is, "discouraging dieting, skipping of meals or the use of diet pills; promoting a positive body image by promoting a balanced diet and exercising for fitness rather than weight loss."

So, if you just don't have time, make time — plan your meals in advance. If you want to lose weight, hit the gym, eat multiple small meals a day, give your body the nutrients and energy it's craving. You'll find the outcome makes you feel happier, energized, and gives you the results you want to stay healthy.