Between rushing to work, running an extra meeting, and getting the kids home from soccer practice, it suddenly dawns on you: you haven’t eaten in hours. We’ve all been there. Some people also deliberately skip meal times to lose weight. The truth is, achieving optimal health means eating consciously and regularly. Skipping meals can negatively affect both your physical and mental health.
Let’s talk about the reasons why skipping meals can harm your mental well-being.
For more on maintaining mental health, here are tips on how to do a digital detox for your mental health and seven ways to support a partner with anxiety.
Why 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 affects your mood
According to the University of Michigan School of Public Health, skipping meals can cause your blood sugar to crash and lead to mood swings. Another study published by Cambridge University Press found that people who skip meals are more likely to develop mood disorders. Specifically, the study suggests that delaying breakfast can have serious consequences on your mood in the long run. Eating regularly throughout the day is usually better for your mood than skipping your first meal to cut calories or speed up your morning routine.
It can reduce your ability to concentrate
Your brain needs calories to function well. As Western Oregon University points out, the brain uses 20% of the calories you take in each day, despite the fact that they only make up 2% of your body weight. When you don’t eat enough, cognitive functions ranging from attention to problem solving begin 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, trouble remembering where things are, and an inability to complete tasks within the normal amount of time. Eating regularly can help you avoid an afternoon slump and stay focused on the tasks at hand.
Increased symptoms of anxiety and depression
Skipping a meal can be aand other mental health problems. In one study of adolescents, researchers found that young people who skipped breakfast were more likely to report experiencing stress and depressed moods. While skipping one 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% of people who were identified as extreme dieters had 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 nutrients it needs.
It can lead to eating disorders
Skipping breakfast once in a while does not mean you have or will develop an eating disorder. However, repeatedly intentionally skipping meals can put you at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder. According to Better Help, if you start looking for reasons to skip meals, you may want to talk to a mental health professional.
People who skip too many meals may be at risk of anorexia, which is characterized by eating as little as possible, or orthorexia, which involves creating strict eating rules for themselves. Consider talking to a professional and limiting triggers like social media that can compound your negative thoughts about nutrition and body size.
Practical tips to avoid skipping meals
It can be challenging to eat on a strict schedule when life is so unpredictable. Still, 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 you’re less likely to skip meals and experience brain fog, anxiety, and other side effects.
- Plan your meals in advance: If convenience prevents you from eating lunch every day, a meal prep schedule can help. You can start by making enough food on Sunday night to have lunches for the week. Or schedule which days you will eat at home and which days you will eat out. This takes some of the stress out of meal planning on the same day.
- Keep snacks around: Try to keep protein bars or snacks on hand. Although snacks aren’t exactly the same thing as a meal, they can fuel you 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 around the corner. You can adjust the timers as per your need based on your daily schedule.
- Make meals simple: Speaking of simple, you don’t have to be a gourmet chef every night of the week. You may skip meals because the thought of preparing food is too overwhelming. You can start with simple one-pot recipes.
- You have a responsible partner: It can help to find a friend or family member to lean on. Have your spouse or friend text you around noon to check if you’ve had lunch. When we feel accountable to an external source, we can often motivate ourselves to change a bad habit better than when we work on it ourselves.
- Do some cooking fun: Sometimes we see cooking as a chore, but there are ways to make it more enjoyable. You can play your favorite music while making your favorite dish. If you have a partner, you can make it a date night.
- Subscribe to meal kit delivery service: If you don’t like cooking or don’t have time. A meal kit delivery service is a great way to get delicious and nutritious meals delivered straight to your door.
While you’re here, learn more about the mental health benefits of journaling, how paint colors can promote happiness, and six mindfulness 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 physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have about a medical condition or health goals.