Skipping Meals May Give You A Bigger Belly And Diabetes, New Study Suggests

Breakfast | Dr Siew's Site
Breakfast helps kick start your metabolism for the day

Your grandmother was right when she told you not to skip breakfast. This important meal helps kick start your metabolism after a night’s fast, and also helps to keep the hunger pangs at bay later in the day, which may, in turn facilitate weight loss.

The Study: Bingeing Promotes Abdominal Fat Deposition

Abdominal Fat Skipping Meals | Dr Siew
Skipping meals may give you a bigger belly (Pic from Kaebrezal)

Now, a new study on mice may shed even more light on the detrimental effects of skipping meals. In the study, mice were divided into 2 groups. One group was allowed to nibble their food throughout the day: which is normal rodent behavior, while the other group was put on caloric restriction where they were fed once every 24 hours. Over time, the once-a-day mice were given more food to match the caloric intake of the other group. However, they continued to gorge all their food over 4hours, compared to the other group which ate throughout the day.

At the beginning, the mice which ate once a day lost weight, due to the caloric restriction. At the end of the experiment, they regained their weight to match the other group when the calories.  In addition, the once-a-day mice also developed more fat around their abdomens, and increased resistance to insulin in their livers.

Why Does Binge Eating Cause Increased Abdominal Fat and Insulin Resistance?

In mammals, insulin is produced in our bodies to regulate the uptake of glucose by the tissue and cells. Glucose, in turn, produces energy required for daily metabolism. When we consume food, our pancreas starts producing more insulin as blood sugar levels rise– and this increases the amount of glucose taken up by our cells, which is then stored as glycogen (a complex carbohydrate) and fat in our tissues.

Small, regular meals allow our blood sugar levels to remain constant: our bodies produce insulin steadily through the day. Large meals, however, cause a spike in blood sugar levels, with a corresponding sudden and large release of insulin. Over time, our bodies can become less sensitive to the effects of insulin, through changes in gene expression of the insulin receptors – this is known as insulin resistance: and it is the basis of how Diabetes develops.

With decreased sensitivity to insulin, sugar levels in the blood remains higher. This is made even worse after a large meal (as seen in the mice in the experiment), and the blood glucose levels surge. Our bodies do not need so much gloccose to function, so all the excess is converted into adipose tissue (fat), and stored for future use. You guessed it right: most of this extra fat is deposited in the abdomen, giving us bellies.

Mice and Humans Aren’t The Same, Right? Or Are They?

a cute little mouse
How different are mice and men?

While we differ greatly from our rodent friends, we have much in common. Our metabolic processes are surprisingly similar: hence the extensive use of mice in medical studies. The physiologic responses in mice give us a good idea of how the results may be in similar situations in humans. Of course, their biological systems are far simpler, and further research will always have to be made before any conclusions to the complex disease processes in humans can be made. This was demonstrated in a study in Feb 2013 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Nonetheless, this study is something which should make us sit up, take notice and perhaps, think about how we eat. We have always known that small, regular meals are better than skipping meals and having a single large one for weight loss and heart health. This study may be the first step in scientifically proving it!

Short-term food restriction followed by controlled refeeding promotes gorging behavior, enhances fat deposition, and diminishes insulin sensitivity in mice – Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry