What do you notice happens to you when you go too long without eating anything?

Maybe you’re the sort of person who doesn’t tend to eat breakfast or food. And then you had a really busy day, so you didn’t get time to stop for lunch. You barely had time to think about food all day. Do you walk through the front door when you get home and then what happens?

Skipping meals is a very common pattern of eating, especially for people who are trying to lose weight. For some people, it’s skipping breakfast, others it’s lunch. Some people skip both and hope to save all their calories for the evening when they can finally relax and enjoy eating. We can totally see how people have come to think this way. After all, it makes sense given all the messages out there about calories in and calories out. People often assume that if you skip a meal, that saves on calories. And so it should result in weight loss. Right. But what does your experience tell you? Our experience certainly tells us that this is not right.

What happens when we skip meals?

Skipping meals can lead us to feel out of control around food. One common thing that happens when people skip meals is that they end up eating in ways that they later regret. We’ve been there, too. Coming home after a day when there hasn’t been enough time to eat lunch, we have consciously been trying to restrict our food intake to the bare minimum.

When we get home, what happens?

We go straight to the fridge and eat whatever we can get our hands on, often without taking the time to put things on a plate or sit down at a table.

Why do we do this?

We know that when we go too long without food, our bodies go into something that we refer to as starvation mode, and that in this starvation mode, a body’s main job is to try and get us to eat. A little reminder, this is normal and a helpful survival mechanism we’ve inherited from our evolutionary past, our hunger hormone, ghrelin increases. So we feel hungrier, our senses become heightened, so food smells and tastes more delicious. And when you become preoccupied with thoughts and cravings about food.

And what do we tend to crave when we are really hungry?

We don’t know about you, but for us it doesn’t tend to be cucumbers and carrot sticks. Our bodies want energy and fast, so we are designed to crave foods like carbohydrates, fats and sugars that will deliver this energy as quickly as possible. We also know that when we in this starvation mode, our conscious brains are not in control.

No amount of willpower is going to win when we are really hungry, when we sit meals and our hunger builds. All efforts to eat in a conscious way go out of the window. The part of the brain responsible for making decisions is impaired, and we become more impulsive, meaning we are more likely to act in ways that might not benefit us in the long run. Not only does it affect the type of food we choose to eat, it also affects the way we eat.

People often describe the feeling that they lose control around food after not eating for a prolonged period of time. This can look like eating a lot of food in a short space of time, sometimes described as bingeing or eating quickly with a sense of urgency, and sometimes eating foods that you don’t even enjoy.

This, in turn, can lead to feelings of guilt and shame. Which in turn can lead to patterns of eating as a way to cope with these feelings. Of course, not everyone goes through all of this in exactly the same way.

But does any of it sound familiar?

It’s really common for people to blame themselves when this happens, for not being strong enough or having enough willpower. But we want to say again how important it is that, you know, eating in this way is our bodies normal response to being deprived of food.