So many people I know are regularly in the habit of skipping meals, most commonly, breakfast. Granted, most of us lead busy lives and have a lot going on in the morning – I get it, I too have been guilty of skipping breakfast here and there!
We tend to think that our busy lifestyles justifies the decision to starve ourselves, however, you may change your mind when you find out the long-term health implications. Skipped meals can be detrimental to hormone balance, overall health, and fertility.
Skipping Meals Affects Your Body in 4 Main Ways:
1. Weight Gain or Inability to Lose Weight
When you skip a meal, you’re directly affecting two key hormones: insulin and cortisol. Your cortisol increases because your body thinks it’s starving, which triggers a stress response. Over time, increased cortisol can lead to weight gain, particularly in the abdominal region. Not only is this weight difficult to take off, it is also hormonally active, meaning that it’s the perfect place to store excess hormones such as “bad” estrogen.
Cortisol blocks the release of leptin from fat tissue and reduces the production of dopamine. These hormones are involved in decreasing hunger and cravings. Leptin and dopamine send a signal to your brain that you’ve had enough food and it’s time to start burning fat. If the production of these two hormones is inhibited by too much cortisol, you will continue to feel hungry, and crave foods like cheese, nuts, chips, and alcohol.
Women who are overweight, with a BMI of 30 or more, generally have the most trouble conceiving. Research shows that these women can be up to 43% less likely to achieve spontaneous pregnancy, as it has been suggested that leptin disruption may interfere with fertilization.
2. Insulin Dysregulation
The meal that you consume after a skipped meal can spike your insulin in two ways…
First, via increased cortisol, which can also raise blood sugar. Second, people tend to “fast and feast” meaning that after a skipped meal, they go for an easily available carbohydrate-heavy meal, since carbs fuel the brain and muscles.
Long-term insulin dysregulation is a huge problem for women who are trying to conceive and is one of the key symptoms of Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). PCOS also happens to be one of the main causes of infertility today and often arises when women have recently transitioned into a more “Western” diet. A study published this year showed that the only therapy that restored normal glucose tolerance in subjects with PCOS was intensive lifestyle modification [Chaffin, 2014].
3. Estrogen Dominance
As we’ve established, cortisol increases when you skip meals. Where does the cortisol come from? It’s made from another hormone called progesterone. Some of you may know that a woman’s menstrual cycle heavily depends on the healthy balance between estrogen and progesterone. If you continuously skip meals, you use up a lot of your progesterone to create cortisol. This results in estrogen dominance and can present as a variety of symptoms including PMS, irritability, breast tenderness, bloating, headaches, anxiety, decreased libido and of course, an irregular cycle. This makes it difficult to know if you’re ovulating on time or whether or not you’re ovulating at all. The first step to conceiving is ensuring a regular cycle, and unfortunately, this can be compromised by skipping meals.
4. Thyroid Dysfunction
Another consequence of increased cortisol is the fact that it directly inhibits something in your brain called the hypothalamus, which can inhibit the release of thyroid hormone. Over time, this can result in suboptimal function of the thyroid gland, or symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Both infertility and miscarriage are more common when the thyroid gland is not functioning properly. There is a 30-40% increased need for thyroid hormone during pregnancy, so women with an existing thyroid condition (even one that’s subclinical) should seek treatment prior to conception.
Having a lot on your plate metaphorically, doesn’t mean it’s ok to literally leave food off your plate and make a habit of it. At the end of the day, it’s all about valuing your nutrition levels and daily food intake.
Take small steps daily to ensure that your body is healthy and well prepared for a healthy baby:
- Plan meals ahead of time, to ensure you always have something nutrient dense to eat.
- Plan your day, so you have time to eat each morning – get up earlier if you have to.
- Pack your own lunch to avoid grabbing something quick and processed.
- Pack nutrient dense, whole food snacks to ensure regulated hormone levels.
- Make what you eat a priority, it is the fuel for your body.
Kresser, Chris. Intermittent fasting, cortisol, and blood sugar. 2010
Van der Steeg, Jan Willem. Study Shows Obesity Connected to Fertility Problems in Ovulating Women. 2007
Rind, Bruce. Estrogen dominance. 2009
Smarter Health. Why you shouldn’t skip meals. 2012
Walton, Alice. Why is skipping breakfast so bad for our heart health? 2013
Lyttleton, Jane. Treatment of infertility with Chinese medicine. 2013
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