Why People With Diabetes Should Avoid Meal Skipping

Trying to lose weight? Meal skipping is not the answer

Skipping meals is not the answer to weight loss. In fact, skipping meals is one of the worst things you can do when it comes to weight management, especially if you have diabetes.

The diet market in the U.S. is a powerful force—reaching an estimated value of $78 billion in 2019. If you are a constant "dieter" and are still not getting the results you need, you might be lured into trying the next step. Why not skip meals to shed pounds? You'd save money and lose weight, right?

Family outside enjoying a meal together
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The Negative Effects of Skipping Meals

With diabetes, it is important to eat regular, balanced meals to help stabilize your blood sugars. In the short run, skipping meals can lead to low blood sugar if you take certain medications. And later in the day, overeating to compensate for hunger can lead to high blood sugar. Neither of these is healthy, and both can be dangerous.

Low Blood Sugar

Skipping meals can be especially detrimental to your health if you have diabetes and take insulin or oral diabetes medications that increase insulin secretion.

If you take insulin or oral diabetes medicine that tells your pancreas to make insulin, your blood sugar can drop when you don't eat. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar)—defined as anything less than 70mg/dL—must be treated with 15g of fast-acting carbohydrate to bring blood sugars to a safe level. With hypoglycemia, you'll feel crummy, and the extra calories you'll need to correct your low sugar can make you gain weight.

Frequent bouts of low blood sugar are dangerous and can cause weight gain.

High Blood Sugar

Skipping a meal doesn't justify eating a bigger meal later, either. For example, if you skip lunch, you shouldn't go overboard at dinner.

When you ingest a large meal, rich in carbohydrates, your body has to release a big surge of insulin to keep your blood sugar under control. When you have diabetes, this mechanism doesn't always work well. The pancreas is either unable to keep up with the glucose load or the insulin that you are making isn't being used the way it should be. The result is hyperglycemia (high blood sugar, which may leave you feeling tired and irritable.

Frequent high blood sugars are dangerous for your health.

Should you force yourself to eat?

If you aren't hungry and you didn't already take insulin or a medication that increases insulin release, you shouldn't force yourself to eat. Maybe you haven't been very active, or perhaps your last meal was filling, and your body is telling you that you don't need to eat. If in doubt, you can check your blood sugar to see if it's too high or too low.

Will Meal Skipping Help With Weight Loss?

I bet you've heard before that skipping meals can lead to poor food choices at the next meal. It's true. Oftentimes, when we skip a meal, we become so hungry that at the next opportunity to eat we eat the wrong foods and too much of them.

Overeating at meals can result in weight gain and high blood sugars. The key to losing weight is to stick to a healthy eating plan that is within your calorie budget.

Getting Your Key Nutrients

It's important goal is to get the nutrients you need from your meals. Eating a variety of foods daily will help you to reach the recommended daily intake of vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, etc.

Skipping meals reduces your intake of quality foods, which can leave you susceptible to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. People with diabetes are at increased risk of catching infections, and fueling your body with the right foods can help to boost your immune system. 

Meals and Your Mood

Do you ever get irritable when you are hungry? This is most likely a result of low blood sugar. Low blood sugar is especially dangerous in people with diabetes. It can make you feel confused, anxious, and angry.

Eating regular meals provides your body with the fuel it needs to give you sustainable energy. Your body is like a car—it needs fuel to go. Without the proper fuel, you cannot function at full capacity. 

A Word From Verywell

Skipping meals is not the solution to weight loss or blood sugar control. If you have diabetes and are trying to lose weight, the key to successful weight loss and blood sugar control is to eat regular meals rich in fruits, vegetables, healthy carbohydrates, fiber, and lean protein. Aim to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, and nourishing snacks daily, and spread your carbohydrate servings throughout the day.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. ResearchandMarkets. United states' $71B weight loss market - many companies accelerate the move to virtual delivery in order to survive the COVID-19 crisis.

  2. Evert AB, Dennison M, Gardner CD, et al. Nutrition therapy for adults with diabetes or prediabetes: A consensus report. Diabetes Care. 2019;42(5):731-754. doi:10.2337/dci19-0014

  3. American Diabetes Association. Hypoglycemia (low blood sugar).

  4. Bumbu A, Moutairou A, Matar O, et al. Non-severe hypoglycaemia is associated with weight gain in patients with type 1 diabetes: Results from the Diabetes Control and Complication TrialDiabetes Obes Metab. 2018;20(5):1289–1292. doi:10.1111/dom.13197

  5. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. What is diabetes?

  6. Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Protect your health with immune-boosting nutrition.

  7. University of Michigan Public Health. Is your mood disorder a symptom of unstable blood sugar?

  8. American Diabetes Association. Get smart on carb counting.

Additional Reading

By Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN
Barbie Cervoni MS, RD, CDCES, CDN, is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes care and education specialist.