Listen, there is not a girl in this world who hasn’t run out the door without breakfast or chosen to spend lunch-hour finishing last night’s homework instead of eating a lame cafeteria meal. And you know what? That’s probably NBD, because life is hectic. And sometimes, you’re legit not hungry. But when your decision to bypass breakfast or ditch out on dinner is maybe driven by a sneaky little diet thought (“well, cutting a few calories can’t be SO bad…”) — your one-time choice could spiral into a habit that can hurt you. “Skipping meals isn’t just a gateway to eating disorders like anorexia — it’s also one of the biggest predictors of overeating and unhealthy weight gain,” explains Kimberli McCallum, MD, a psychiatrist in St. Louis. Here’s *exactly* how your body rebels as you push it closer and closer to starvation mode — and why eating healthy meals/snacks when you’re hungry is the only way to go.
1. Your brain turns into MUSH.
Let’s say that last night you made acquaintance with a delicious pepperoni-and-pineapple pizza … and consequently pushed it a slice (or two) past your usual limits. So to compensate, you think: “Bright idea 💡, I’ll skip lunch!” But even after missing a single meal, your body is all like, HELL NO. And your blood sugar takes a dramatic nosedive — dragging your ability to think straight right along with it. “Your brain runs primarily on glucose,” explains Kristin Kirkpatrick, RD, manager of wellness nutrition services at the Cleveland Clinic. “When there isn’t enough sugar in your blood to pull from, you lose your ability to focus.” In other words, it’s not *just* those hunger pangs and visions of French fries keeping you preoccupied in Spanish class. Your brain straight-up can’t function. If you fall deeper into a diet, it gets even worse.
2. Feeling hangry is very, very real.
Ever notice how you get stabby when you’re starving? Much like your concentration, your mood plummets along with your blood sugar — turning you into a snap-at-everything mess who also lacks the literal brainpower (see above) to realize she’s being a beast. But it gets even worse if you continue missing meals. That’s because fasting kicks your body into survive-at-all-costs mode, triggering the primitive stress response you needed to outrun predators back in the day. “You start to feel jittery and anxious, and your big picture thinking turns off,” says Dr. McCallum. This flood of stress hormones translates into MAJOR outbursts and deep depressions in situations where you’d normally just shrug off the drama or disappointment. Basically, you become the moodiest, least-fun version of yourself.
3. You’re soooo much more likely to overeat.
Ironic, huh? But let us introduce you to the fast-now, binge-later effect: When you deny your body food, it only wants it more — making your appetite totally OOC the next time you give in and chow down. Keep your body happy, however, and your hunger cues won’t rebel. It’s as simple as that. (And the research proves it!) “Studies show that having protein earlier in the day, for example, helps you ward off cravings and eat less later,” says Kirkpatrick.
4. Fact: You’re more likely to gain weight, too.
Yup, the overeating thing has something to do with it. But the real danger kicks in as you move from skipping a meal here and there to severely restricting yourself. At that point, you actually start messing with your metabolism…and storing everything you eat as fat. “Our bodies are programmed to survive at all costs,” explains Kirkpatrick. “It dates back to caveman days: If a caveman was in the forest and all his food ran out, his body would lower his metabolism — so he wouldn’t need as many calories to stay alive.”
5. You feel BLEHHHH.
You may *think* you’re hiding your unhealthy habits, but when you’re on a dangerous diet, your body is going to tell the world what’s up. “Any time you’re significantly reducing calories, you’re alsoreducing the essential nutrients you need to keep your hair shiny and your skin radiant,” explains Kirkpatrick. And taking vitamins down in pill form won’t help, either. You’ll still be lacking protein, which is pretty much the building block of your prettiest parts. (Plus so many vitamins are fat-soluble, which basically means your body can’t use them if you aren’t getting enough fat in your diet.)
6. Say it with us now: Bloated like whoa.
We’ll keep this one short and to the point: Chronic dieting can lead to chronic constipation. (#NOPE.) “Eventually, the gut stops working as well,” warns Dr. McCallum. That’s because eating regularly is what pushes waste through your system, more or less. Bottom line: Don’t mess with 💩.
Read more: Why should you eat 6 small meals a day?