Why Skipping Meals Can Backfire

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A new study suggests that skipping meals can mess with a body's metabolism, and lead to an increase in belly fat.

To find out what would happen during fasting, researchers looked at two groups of mice; one was allowed to nibble on food throughout the day, while the other had its food restricted. Researchers fed the latter group only once in the beginning of the day, causing the mice to binge during feeding time and then fast until they were fed again. After five days, the gorging mice were no longer restricted and food was provided throughout the day. By that point the mice couldn’t stop binging and ate their meals all at once. Even though both mice ate the same number of calories, the fasting and binging mice gained more fat around their middles — considered the equivalent to human belly fat.

Making matters worse, the gorging mice developed insulin resistance — a marker associated with heart disease and prediabetes. After a meal, insulin helps remove sugar from the blood and then store that energy in various places around the body. But for mice that gorged, their bodies became programmed to store that energy into fat as soon as they got it.

"That’s a good response if you’re in the middle of a desert and you won’t have any food," says Belury, who thinks the reason for this reaction could be evolutionary.

More frequent meal eating keeps the body from getting accustomed to an emergency-like response. While everyone is different, Belury says the rodent model mimics what researchers have reported in humans.

ALSO: Why Experts Think You Should Eat More Fat

Belury says eating something healthy is probably better than nothing at all. Next time you're slammed at work, keep your insulin levels from going haywire and grab a handful of nuts or pack a healthy snack.

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