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Why Skipping Meals Endangers Hormone Balance & Disrupts Fertility

Why Skipping Meals Endangers Hormone Balance & Disrupts Fertility

Today I will - Take time to enjoy each meal. -Make a conscious effort to eat at least 3 meals a day. - Choose healthy, whole foods.

Today I will – Take time to enjoy each meal. -Make a conscious effort to eat at least 3 meals a day. – Choose healthy, whole foods.

What did you have for breakfast this morning? Did you skip lunch yesterday because you were too busy at work? Have you ever wondered how skipping meals daily affects your long-term health and possibly even your chances of getting pregnant?

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 justify 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 and 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.

Final Thoughts

Having a lot on your plate metaphorically, doesn’t mean it’s okay 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 in order 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.

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  1. Avatar

    I’ve read a lot of good research that regular intermittent fasting (up to 16 hours, say from 8pm to 12 noon) was a panacea for health and weight loss. Yet this is equivalent to skipping breakfast. Is it perhaps different if done mindfully, so that there is no feeling of starvation due to blood sugar peaks and troughs?

    • Dear Elaine,

      While fasting may be beneficial for some, here and there, or for weight loss, we don’t necessarily advocate fasting for women or men battling infertility. We want to encourage the body back to optimal health by providing nutrients regularly versus depriving it of them. I am just not sure there is a way to both fast and prevent blood sugar peaks and troughs.

      With that I am sure there are women/men who fast and have no fertility health issues or effects. We have to leave the choice up to each individual who is interested or considering fasting.

  2. Avatar

    Interesting article. I recently took off weight after finding out that I developed hypothyroidism after my second child. However, I would still consider my tummy to be a ‘problem area’. I regularly skip breakfast (as a form of intermittent fasting) so I will experiment with incorporating breakfast in my routine. What is your opinion of a longer 24 hour fast, perhaps once a week or every other week? I find that it benefits my digestive system and was interested in your thoughts.

    • Dear Kristin,

      Our team agrees that 24-hour fasts here and there are fine for a quick reset, especially for digestion. That said, we aren’t proponents of not eating at all. We feel it’s better to still consume water (with fresh lemon), herbal teas, broths and or fresh-squeezed juices so that nutrition is still coming in… so that the day isn’t completely void of nutrients.

      We find that water fasts alone usually cause more detoxification than many are able to deal with. We also find that for people with blood sugar issues, that it can be helpful to break the fast with light dinner of steamed vegetables and brown rice.

      Fasting for too much longer than 24 hours without protein can be hard on the liver.

  3. Avatar

    thanks i skipped but because i read u r article, i immediately ate an egg!