—Jenna S., Elgin Community College, Illinois
While skipping meals shouldn’t become a habit, as long as you usually fuel your body with healthy choices, a few skipped meals here and there isn’t likely to cause serious health problems or nutrient deficiencies in the long run.
That said, you might experience some negative effects of skipping meals in the short term. A depleted supply of glucose available to your brain and nervous system can result in:
- Impaired focus and concentration
- Reduced energy levels
- Change in mood
- Feeling foggy, sluggish, or “hangry” (hungry + angry)
- Overeating later in the day
What does the research say?
A regular pattern of skipping breakfast and lunch, and eating just one big meal a day, results in an increase in diabetes risk indicators, according to a study published in the journal Metabolism.
On the flip side, a different study published in International Journal of Obesity suggested that intermittent, planned fasting on a specific schedule may reduce the risk of diabetes.
What should we make of this? My best advice is to make time to eat healthy meals regularly. If you expect to be busy, plan in advance.
How to realistically plan ahead
1. Stock up on easy-to-carry items
Your options include sliced whole-grain bread and deli meat for sandwiches, cheese or hummus and crackers, fresh fruit slices, trail mix, and yogurt. Bring these to class on your long days. Eating a healthy snack could improve your concentration and mood.
2. Prep meals ahead of time
For example, big batches of pasta with steamed vegetables and cheese, or stir-fried rice with vegetables and chicken. These meals can last a few days and leftovers can be portioned out and frozen.
3. Keep a supply of ’emergency’ healthy frozen dinners
This is for when you’re at home working on a project or lose the time studying and don’t have time to prepare a balanced meal. Your best bet is to freeze your home-cooked leftovers whenever you have them so you always have something healthy you can pop in the microwave. If this is unrealistic for you, keep a few store-bought options on hand. Look for those with short ingredient lists and ingredients you can pronounce.
If you’re having trouble figuring out ways to fit healthy eating into your busy life, you might benefit from meeting with a dietitian. Check with your school’s wellness center to find help and advice on how to improve your eating style for optimal well-being.