Routinely refusing meals can lead to diminish health, research shows.
More and more, research is linking what’s happening in the physical body to mental well-being. Exercise, sleep, gut balance and other factors seem to play an important role in how a person feels. Now, researchers are suggesting that skipping meals is one of the factors that has a significant impact on not only physical health but mental wellness.
Skipping meals could be an attempt to lose weight, a result of not being hungry, or simply an oversight due to a busy day. Whatever the cause, health experts say it is important to keep in mind that when people skip meals, they are not only bypassing calories but important nutrients as well. Nutrient deficiencies, while rare, have been shown to have negative impacts on mental health.
When a person eats foods they take in calories, about one-fifth of which are used by the brain throughout the day. And since the brain and mental health go hand-in-hand, it goes without saying that mental health is benefiting from food intake. On the other hand, skipping meals can keep the brain from functioning at its best and as a result, the mind can suffer. In fact, a 2020 study published in the journal Innovation in Aging found that skipping meals was associated with anxiety and depression in older adults. However, it is not just older adults who should be concerned. These same symptoms have been found in adolescents as well as “extreme dieters.” Skipping meals has also been linked to lower ability to concentrate, inattentiveness, and memory issues.
The proof is in the “pudding” (pun intended). Nutrition experts say eating a variety of foods throughout the day will have a positive effect not only on our bodies but on our brains. For instance, some carbohydrates increase levels of serotonin, the “feel-good hormone.” Lower serotonin has been linked to depression and anxiety. Protein-rich foods help to increase levels of dopamine and other chemicals linked to mental well-being, and certain “healthy” fats also have a positive effect on brain function. On the other hand, deficiencies in nutrients such as thiamine (vitamin B1) and folate (vitamin B9), for example, have been linked to depression, poor concentration and other mental health deficiencies. It is important to note that vitamins and minerals from food sources are better absorbed by the body than those that are obtained by taking supplements. And a wide variety of foods is usually sufficient to give our bodies the nutrition they need, health experts say.
Skipping the occasional meal is most likely harmless. For people who are skipping meals to restrict their food intake, the consequences could range from mood swings, to high stress, to low energy and low concentration throughout the day. And frequent meal skipping could be a sign of developing a serious eating disorder such as anorexia or binge eating, which are both very destructive to both the mind and body.
Nutrition experts advise people to think of food as fuel for the body. Just as a car will not run without gas, human beings can’t function properly without three well-balanced meals every day.