We’ve all been there. A full day of errands takes us away and we forget to eat. Or we intentionally skip meals to try to lose weight. Whatever the reason, skipping meals can do more damage to your body and mind than you expect. Let’s talk about why not eating could be harming your mental well-being.
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5 reasons skipping meals is bad for your mental health
Our diet affects much more than our physical body. Research shows that skipping meals is linked to symptoms of anxiety and depression in older adults. Here are the common reasons why skipping meals can be bad for your mental health.
It impacts your mood
According to the University of Michigan School of Public Health, skipping a meal can cause blood sugar to crash and lead to mood swings. Another study published by Cambridge University Press showed that people who skipped meals were more likely to develop mood disorders. In particular, the study suggests that delaying breakfast can have serious consequences for your mood in the long run. Eating regularly throughout the day is generally better for your mood than skipping your first meal to reduce your calorie intake or speed up your morning routine.
It may reduce your ability to concentrate
Your brain requires calories to function well. As Western Oregon University points out, the brain uses 20% of the calories you eat each day, despite the fact that they account for only 2% of your body weight. When you don’t eat enough, cognitive functions ranging from attention to problem solving start to suffer. Your ability to concentrate can also be affected by skipping meals.
Signs of a lack of concentration can include feeling like you have “brain fog”, loss of short-term memory skills, difficulty remembering where things are, and the inability to complete tasks within a normal time frame of time. Eating regularly can allow you to avoid an afternoon slump and stay focused on the tasks at hand.
Higher symptoms of anxiety and depression
Skipping meals can be aand other mental health problems. In a study of adolescents, researchers found that young people who skipped breakfast were more likely to report experiencing stress and depressive moods. While skipping a single meal is unlikely to cause long-term problems, food and depression may be linked if you have a habit of skipping meals.
Not eating enough can also lead to anxiety. Another study found that 62 percent of people identified as extreme dieters suffered from depression and anxiety. If you’re cutting calories for other health benefits, make sure you’re eating enough to give your body a steady stream of the nutrients it needs.
It could lead to messy eating
Skipping breakfast from time to time doesn’t mean you have an eating disorder or will develop one. However, intentionally repeatedly skipping meals can increase your risk of developing an eating disorder. According to Better Help, if you start looking for reasons to skip a meal, you might want to talk to a mental health professional.
People who skip too many meals may be at risk for anorexia, which is characterized by eating as little as possible, or orthorexia, which involves making strict dietary rules for oneself. Consider talking to a professional and limiting triggers like social media, which could be compounding your negative thoughts about eating and body size.
Practical advice to avoid skipping meals
It can be difficult to eat on a strict schedule when life is so unpredictable. Yet it’s important to know that you deserve to eat no matter what, and your body needs fuel to function properly. Let’s talk about some ways to prioritize food so that you’re less likely to skip meals and experience mental confusion, anxiety, and other side effects.
- Plan your meals in advance: If it’s convenience that’s keeping you from eating lunch every day, a meal prep program can help. You can start by packing enough food on Sunday evening to have lunch all week. Or make a plan for which days you will eat at home and which days you will eat out. This takes some of the stress out of planning same-day meals.
- Keep snacks around: Try keeping protein bars or snacks handy. While snacks aren’t exactly the same as eating a meal, they can help you through until your next meal.
- Set a timer on your phone: When in doubt, keep it simple. Set a timer on your phone that reminds you to eat every three to four hours. Over time, your body will begin to remind you when mealtime is right around the corner. You can adjust the timers as needed based on your daily schedule.
- Make meals simple: Speaking of simplicity, you don’t have to be a gourmet chef every night of the week. You may skip meals because the thought of preparing meals is too overwhelming. You can start with simple one-pot recipes.
- Having a responsible partner: It may be helpful to find a friend or family member to lean on. Ask your spouse or friend to text you around noon to see if you’ve had lunch. When we feel accountable to an outside source, we can often motivate ourselves to change a bad habit better than when we’re working on it ourselves.
- Prepare cooking fun: Sometimes we consider cooking a daunting task, but there are ways to make it more enjoyable. You can play your favorite music while preparing your favorite dish. If you have a partner, you can make it a date night.
- Subscribe to the delivery of a meal kit service: If cooking isn’t your thing or you don’t have time. A meal kit delivery service is a great way to have tasty and nutritious meals delivered directly to your door.
While you’re here, learn more about the mental health benefits of journaling, how paint colors can promote happiness, and six thinking exercises to improve mental health.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a doctor or other qualified healthcare professional with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.