It’s official, we mustn’t skip meals. Research in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, compared mice that nibbled their food throughout the day with mice that ate their food in one session and then fasted for the rest of the time.
They found the mice that ate all their day’s food in one session and fasted in between, developed insulin resistance in their livers, an indicator of pre-diabetes and more fat in their abdomens. When the liver becomes less sensitive to insulin, it keeps producing glucose when it is not needed, so the blood ends up with too much sugar and the excess is stored as fat.
Over the period of the experiment the researchers measured various metabolism indicators in the mice. They found that at first, as they were on calorie restriction, the intervention mice lost weight compared with the controls and as they were given more and more calories, their weight returned to match the controls.
By the end of the experiment, the gorging mice had accumulated heavier amounts of abdominal fat. In humans, carrying excess belly fat is linked to insulin resistance and higher risk of developing type 2 Diabetes and heart disease.
The authors of the research say their findings support the idea that eating small meals throughout the day can help lose weight, although that may not be practical for everyone. They also commented: “You definitely don’t want to skip meals to save calories because it sets your body up for larger fluctuations in insulin and glucose and could be setting you up for more fat gain instead of fat loss.”
The researchers also looked at what was happening in the liver. When insulin levels fall, for instance, when we are asleep, the liver pumps glucose into the blood to feed the brain. When we eat, the pancreas pumps out insulin to move glucose from the blood to the cells that need it for energy. This rise in insulin instructs the liver to stop pumping glucose.
The team found glucose was lingering in the blood of the intervention mice; suggesting the liver was not receiving the insulin message that tells it to stop producing glucose.
We have long assumed that we need to cut calories in order to help lose weight and that’s not true. This research now suggests that how we eat and consume those calories may be even more important than our total calorie intake.