The answer to which meal is best to skip for weight loss is none
While many patients seeking weight loss think the fewer meals/calories the better, the science of weight loss is showing that skipping meals can negatively impact metabolism and weight loss. The answer to which meal is best to skip for weight loss is none.
As one example changes in consumer behavior over the last few years, the American Psychological Association showed that more than 60% of Americans reported an undesirable change in weight during the COVID pandemic, with 42% reporting weight gain.2
This certainly helps explain the recent drop in revenue for the weight loss industry, as many people were just too overwhelmed with other necessities, such as work and childcare. The revenue recovery for 2021 in the industry may also explain the struggles patients are having losing that excess weight, particularly when it comes to quick fixes, such as skipping meals.
However, research has shown that skipping meals can not only slow down weight loss, but may even reverse any progress, as well as slow down metabolism.
Meal skipping is only half the equation
The theory behind skipping meals to lose weight would seem sound at first. The body needs to burn off more calories than it takes in for weight loss to occur. If only two meals per day are consumed, rather than three, fewer calories are taken in.
However, consuming fewer calories per day is only one part of the weight loss equation. Exercise to help burn fat and is also necessary to optimize weight loss.
Meal skipping and metabolism
Reducing caloric intake over time will lower metabolism and it may not help with weight loss. Instead, the body may go into what is known as starvation mode, in which it will burn not just fat, but muscle.
Because the body requires muscle mass to burn calories, such a reduction will slow the metabolism, thereby reducing weight loss. In one study from the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, a reduction of caloric intake over the course of 12 weeks can reduce metabolism by as much as 24%3, making the answer to the question “Which meal is best to skip for weight loss?” to be “None of them.”
Which meal is best to skip for weight loss?
Skipping meals may also make it difficult to maintain weight loss over the long term.
A study published in the journal Eating Behaviors examined factors associated with successful maintenance of weight loss goals among a general population sample of young adults.4 The study showed that only a few of the study subjects were able to maintain their weight loss over the course of 10 years (28.6% of women and 23% of men), and net weight loss was rare (7.5% and 3.8%, respectively).
Irregular eating, such as skipping meals, was associated with weight gain for both men and women.
Both the marketing research and consumer surveys show that people are eager for weight loss products to help them get rid of the extra pounds they put on during the pandemic last year. However, the research shows that quick solutions, such as skipping meals may produce initial gains, but do not work over the long run. Instead, your patients should be encouraged to combine healthy eating with a regular exercise plan to best meet their weight loss goals over an extended period of time.
- Weight Loss Services in the US – Market Size 2002-2027. IBIS World. Updated July 13, 2021.
- Slightly More Than 6 in 10 U.S. Adults (61%) Report Undesired Weight Change Since Start of Pandemic. American Psychological Association. February 2021.
- Burgess NS. Effect of a very-low-calorie diet on body composition and resting metabolic rate in obese men and women. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 1991;91(4):430-434.
- Kärkkäinen U, Mustelin L, Raevuori A, et al. Successful weight maintainers among young adults: A ten-year prospective population study. Eating Behaviors. 2018;29:91-98.