Study finds skipping meals could lead to weight gain

The body gains belly fat, increasing the risk of diabetes and heart disease

A new study suggests skipping meals can lead to increased fat around the abdomen and an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

For the study, published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, researchers from Ohio State University (OSU) compared mice that were given a single daily food ration with those put on a diet with half the calories. They found that the mice with the lower-calorie diet ate their food all at once, while the others continued to eat throughout the day. After six days, the mice were fed the same amount as the control group, but maintained their gorging behavior, Catharine Paddock writes for Medical News Today.

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During the first part of the experiment, mice on the calorie-restricted diet lost weight. But they began to regain weight when their daily calorie intake equaled that of the control group—eventually catching up to the other. However, the gorging mice were found to have more fat around the abdomen than the control group.

Metabolic harm

Martha Belury, a professor of human nutrition at OSU and lead author of the study, says abdominal fat is associated with insulin resistance and is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. "[Y]ou definitely don't want to skip meals to save calories because it sets your body up for larger fluctuations in insulin and glucose and could be setting you up for more fat gain instead of fat loss," she explains.

According to Belury, the liver becomes less sensitive to insulin when the body gets its calories from a single large meal. As a result, it produces glucose unnecessarily, which leads to excess sugar in the blood that is stored as fat. 

The researchers found several markers of insulin resistance in the mice who ate only once a day, such as elevated glucose levels, increased inflammation, and the activation of genes associated with the storage of fat. "These mice don't have type 2 diabetes yet, but they’re not responding to insulin anymore and that state of insulin resistance is referred to as prediabetes," Belury says.

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Belury says the study is a reminder that skipping meals is not an effective way to preserve metabolic health or lose weight. "This does support the notion that small meals throughout the day can be helpful for weight loss, though that may not be practical for many people" (Caldwell, OSU release, 5/19; Paddock, Medical News Today, 5/21).

The takeaway: A new study suggests skipping meals promotes insulin resistance, excess abdominal fat, and prediabetes.

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