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Stop Skipping Meals. Your Mental Health Depends on It

Stop Skipping Meals. Your Mental Health Depends on It

We’ve all been there: The day gets away from us and we’re so busy, tired or unmotivated to remember to eat. Or we intentionally skip mealtime to try and lose weight. Whatever the reason, skipping meals may be doing more harm to your body and mind than you expect. Let’s talk about the reasons why not eating could hurt your mental well-being. 

For more information about supporting mental health, here are tips for how to do a digital detox for your mental health and seven ways to support a partner with anxiety

5 reasons that skipping meals hurts your mental health 

Our nutrition affects much more than our physical body. Research shows that skipping meals is linked to anxiety and depression symptoms in older adults. Here are common reasons that skipping meals may be harmful to your mental health. 

It impacts your mood 

According to the School of Public Health from the University of Michigan, missing a meal can cause your blood sugar to crash and lead to mood swings. Another study published by Cambridge University Press showed that people who skipped meals were more likely to develop mood disorders. Specifically, the study suggests that delaying breakfast can have serious consequences on your mood in the long run. Eating regularly throughout the day is generally better for your mood than skipping your first meal to reduce your caloric intake or expedite your morning routine. 

It could reduce your ability to concentrate

Your brain requires calories to function well. As Western Oregon University points out, the brain uses 20% of the calories you eat each day, despite the fact that it only represents 2% of your body weight. When you don’t eat enough, cognitive functions ranging from attention to problem solving start to suffer. Your ability to concentrate may also be affected by skipping meals.

Signs of a lack of concentration can include feeling like you have “brain fog,” losing your short-term memory skills, having trouble remembering where things are and inability to finish tasks within a normal time frame. Eating regularly may allow you to avoid an afternoon slump and remain focused on the tasks at hand. 

Higher anxiety and depression symptoms

Meal skipping can be a trigger for anxiety and other mental health issues. In one study of adolescents, researchers found that young people who skipped breakfast were more likely to report experiencing stress and depressive moods. While skipping a single meal is unlikely to cause long-term problems, food and depression may be linked if you have a habit of skipping meals. 

Failing to eat enough can also result in anxiety. Another study found that 62% of people who were identified as extreme dieters had depression and anxiety. If you’re cutting calories for other health benefits, make sure you’re eating enough to give your body a steady stream of the nutrients it needs. 

Man sitting at kitchen table with hands on face showing distress.

Aleli Dezmen/Getty Images

It could lead to disordered eating 

Missing breakfast from time to time doesn’t mean you have an eating disorder or will develop one. However, repeatedly skipping meals intentionally may put you at a higher risk of developing an eating disorder. According to Better Help, if you start looking for reasons to skip a meal you may want to talk to a mental health professional. 

People who skip too many meals could be at risk of anorexia, which is marked by eating as little as possible, or orthorexia, which involves creating strict eating rules for yourself. Consider talking to a professional and limiting triggers like social media, which could be compounding your negative thoughts about eating and body size. 

Practical tips to avoid skipping meals 

It can be challenging to eat on a strict schedule when life is so unpredictable. Yet it’s important to know that you are deserving of eating, no matter what, and your body needs fuel to function properly. Let’s talk about some ways to prioritize food so you’re less likely to skip meals and experience brain fog, anxiety and other side effects.  

  • Plan your meals in advance: If it’s convenience that’s keeping you from eating lunch every day, a meal prep schedule may help. You can start by making enough food on Sunday night to have lunch all week. Or make a schedule for which days you will eat at home and which days you’ll eat out. This takes some of the stress out of planning meals the same day.
  • Keep snacks around: Try keeping protein bars or snacks on hand. While snacks are not the exact same thing as eating a meal, they can tide you over until your next meal. 
  • Set a timer on your phone: When in doubt, keep it simple. Set a timer on your phone that reminds you to eat every three to four hours. Over time, your body will start to remind you when mealtime is around the corner. You can adjust the timers as needed based on your daily schedule. 
  • Make meals simple: Speaking of simple, you don’t have to be a gourmet chef every night of the week. You may be skipping meals because the thought of meal prep is too overwhelming. You can start with simple, one-pot recipes.
  • Have an accountability partner: It might help to find a friend or family member to lean on. Have your spouse or friend text you around noon to see if you’ve eaten lunch. When we feel accountable to an outside source, we can often motivate ourselves to change a bad habit better than when we’re working on it alone. 
  • Make cooking fun: Sometimes we view cooking as a daunting task, but there are ways to make it more enjoyable. You can play your favorite music while making your preferred dish. If you have a partner, you can make it a date night.
  • Subscribe to a meal kit delivery service: If cooking isn’t your thing or you don’t have the time. A meal kit delivery service is a great way to get tasty and nutritious meals delivered right to your door.

While you’re here, learn more about the benefits of journaling for mental health, how paint colors can promote happiness and six thought exercises to boost mental health