How Skipping Meals Can Make You Gain Weight

01/26/2017 01:21 pm ET

Do you often forget to eat because you’re too busy? Do you skip meals to control your weight (be honest)? Have you tried a 400, 800, or very low calorie or no carb diet only to not lose a pound or gain back more than you lost? Do you hardly eat anything but you’re still battling fat? It’s so frustrating!

If you’ve been starving yourself at the altar of a new diet and a pair of super skinny jeans only to not be able to get into them, this article is for you. You’ll gain a whole perspective on how to lose weight without ever feeling like you’re starving again.

And that’s actually the secret.

Your Brain on Low Fuel

Your brain works full time to keep you safe and smart. Even at rest your personal think tank is gobbling up 20% of all your calories. Add in active thinking, stress, and other real life factors, and you can bump that number right up.

Bottom line: Your brain needs to be fed.

When your brain isn’t getting the fuel it needs, which comes entirely from your food, it goes into a crisis of epic proportions. It sends out a red alert making you feel awful – shaky, irritable, unable to focus, you may even have cold sweats, with mad cravings for anything with sugar, fast burning carbs, or fat. Your brain is screaming, “Feed me now.”

When you’re on a super-calorie-restrictive diet, or skipping one meal too many, your primitive brain thinks, “Wait, maybe she’s not eating because there’s not enough food out there. Whoa, famine!” To protect you, your body gets the message, in the form of a hormonal messenger called cortisol (which is produced in your adrenal glands) to store every extra calorie. On goes the belly fat and up goes your cholesterol – your body’s way of storing energy.

The more you go through cycles of skipping and eating, losing and gaining, and the more you push your body to be skinnier than your body is meant to be, the more you will hold onto weight.

Wait, There’s More

That’s not all that happens. Here’s some more of the tricky stuff your survival mechanism does to keep your brain fed:

  • You start to crave sugar, carbs, and fat
  • Your brain actually makes sugar, fat, and carbs taste especially good so you eat more! You’re like, “OMG, this is the best muffin I’ve ever tasted…and I’m starving (nom nom nom)” And you feel like “Ahhhh,” because your brain is actually sighing, a sigh of survival relief.
  • Your brain hits the binge fest button so you really can’t eat just one. Rats who were put on low calorie diets and then exposed to Oreos chowed down every one in sight. Ever feel that way when you haven’t eaten enough? Then you’re like, “You know what, screw this diet anyway – forgot it.” And you eat the whole bag. And then get mad at yourself. No fun.

Cortisol overrides your willpower. No matter how much your thinking mind is saying, “Eat the salad,” your primitive brain is saying “I need energy and I need it now,” and you grab the muffin. Or chocolate bar. Or bag of chips.

And It Gets Even More Interesting

  • Your ancient brain, being the wise ruler she is, decides it’s best to conserve energy by turning down your natural thermostat. What’s that? Your thyroid! Under-eating can cause you to develop hypothyroidism – and that for sure makes you pack on weight. And feel tired. And lose hair. And more…
  • That belly fat you sock on isn’t just a flubby muffin top. It’s a full-on factory producing chemicals and hormones that confuse your hunger and fullness signals, making you eat more and still not feel full. It’s also pumping out loads of chemicals called cytokines that cause inflammation, depression, and chronic disease.
  • As if that’s not enough, all that extra cortisol messes with your sleep. On average, lack of sleep makes you 5 pounds heavier. Fatigue also ups sugar cravings and leads to all kinds of metabolic, mood, immune system, and cognitive problems. Night shift nurses as a result, for example, have higher rates of obesity, diabetes, autoimmune disease, and cancer. This is big scary stuff!

So You’re Saying I Can Eat More and I’ll Lose Weight?

Yes. If you’re skimping on energy intake, you have to eat more to lose weight, but you also have to eat the right foods, and at the right time. And you have to get your body out of survival mode.

That’s exactly what I teach your how to do in my new book, The Adrenal Thyroid Revolution, where I give you a whole plan, based on eating to keep your brain and body happy and out of survival mode. It’s a game changer because it tells you exactly what to take out of your diet and exactly what to include, and not only that, what to eat at what times of day, to help you reach your personal best weight and health.

Out of Survival Mode and Into Your Favorite Jeans

Below are my top 6 secrets for keeping your brain out of survival mode to get your body – and weight – back on track:

  • Kick the Crap Out of Your Kitchen - Look, there’s no way around it. Sugar, processed foods, cookies, candy, soda – they’ve all got to go. They trick your brain into thinking it’s got fuel, only to disappoint with a quick energy burn that leaves you tired, depressed, and hungry, creating a vicious cycle of going in for more and continuing to come up empty. Eat only real food that gives you real energy. You’re too good for crap.
  • Never Get Too Hungry - Never let yourself get to the point where you’re so hungry that you’re shaky or cranky or jittery or you can’t focus or concentrate or you feel like you could just eat an entire box of anything right now that’s filled with carbs or sugar or fat. That’s low blood sugar, which is the primo signal to your brain to go into survival mode.
  • Cycle Carbs - Carbohydrates have become the modern villain. And the bad kinds like processed flour really are bad for you. But super low carb diets over time have been shown to rebound on women, leading to imbalances in our cortisol, while having some healthy kinds, like whole grains and starchy vegetables (sweet potatoes, winter squash, even modest amounts of white potatoes baked or roasted as long as not slathered in sour cream!) can keep your cortisol in a healthy rhythm, especially when you cycle them at the right time of day.
  • Get Enough Sleep - We need 7-8 hours of sleep each night to keep our cortisol in healthy balance, keep weight down, and curb the cravings. The top 3 things you can do to improve your sleep? Get to bed at the same time each night and wake up at the same time each day. Turn off all electronics ideally an hour before you try to go to sleep, because the blue light disrupts melatonin production, the counterbalance to cortisol which also helps us detox our brains and hormones while we sleep. And skip the alcohol in the evening – even a glass of good red wine has been shown to cause sleep disruptions, especially in women. Sleep is better, I promise.
  • Indulge now and then - I know this might surprise you, but remember, restriction increases your likelihood of binging. It’s just a fact. So indulging now and then is a long-run success strategy. I have only three rules: Only indulge in things that are real; don’t beat yourself up after – enjoy it with no guilt, shame, or blame; and don’t eat anything that makes you feel sick. Consider 2-3 squares of chocolate in the afternoon fair game.
  • Worry less about being fat. And love your body more. Seriously - I know this may be really hard to do, but studies show that the more we worry about being fat, the more likely we are to get fat. And the more we give ourselves a break from the worry and show ourselves some love, the more likely we are to lose weight. So while this may sound like ho hum, new age-y advice, the reality is that enjoying your food with a healthy dose of self-love is an important ingredient in getting the body, weight, health and with it the life – that you really want.

Join me in the revolution to take back your health. Let's do this!

References

Aamodt, Sanda. Why You Can’t Lose Weight on a Diet – The New York Times. Retrieved January 18, 2017.

Aschbacher, K., S. Kornfield, M. Picard, et al. 2014. “Chronic stress increases vulnerability to diet-related abdominal fat, oxidative stress, and metabolic risk.” Psychoneuroendocrinology 46:14–22. Retrieved August 16, 2016. http://dx.doi.org/doi:10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.04.003.

Dallman, M. 2003. “Chronic stress and obesity: A new view of ‘comfort food.’” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 100 (20): 11696–701.

Macedo, D. M., and R. W. Diez-Garcia. 2014. “Sweet craving and ghrelin and leptin levels in women during stress.” Appetite 80:264–70.

Morse, D. R., G. R. Schacterle, L. Furst, M. Zaydenberg, and R. L. Pollack. 1989. “Oral digestion of a complex-carbohydrate cereal: Effects of stress and relaxation on physiological and salivary measures.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 49 (1): 97–105.

Pecoraro, N., F. Reyes, F. Gomez, A. Bhargava, and M. F. Dallman. 2004. “Chronic stress promotes palatable feeding, which reduces signs of stress: Feedforward and feedback effects of chronic stress. Endocrinology 145 (8): 3754–62.

Spiegel, K., R. Leproult, M. L’Hermite-Balériaux, G. Copinschi, P. D. Penev, and E. V. Cauter. 2004. “Leptin levels are dependent on sleep duration: Relationships with sympathovagal balance, carbohydrate regulation, cortisol, and thyrotropin.” Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 89 (11): 5762–71. doi:10.1210/jc.2004–1003.

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