Can you skip meals with diabetes?
The practice of intermittent fasting has garnered a lot of media attention in the last several years, prompting many people to ask questions about the safety and/or the health benefits of skipping meals.
For diabetics, however, the answers are more complicated.
While some studies suggest that short periods of fasting (14-24 hours) can actually improve insulin levels, people with current blood sugar problems should never attempt to skip meals unless under the supervision of a doctor.
Skipping meals can lead to serious consequences for diabetics, some of which may lead to dangerous health complications.
Low Blood Sugar
The most obvious side effect of skipping meals when you have diabetes is low blood sugar. Not eating can disrupt the balance between nutrient absorption and insulin levels, which can dramatically lower blood glucose levels.
Signs of low blood sugar include fatigue, dizziness, anxiety, heart palpitations, headaches or difficulty with speech.
Left untreated, low blood sugar may require hospitalization, as it can bring on seizures.
Skipping meals might seem like a good way to reduce overall caloric or carbohydrate intake, but it may also cause overeating in general.
It's not unlikely to consume more calories and overcompensate by indulging after skipping breakfast and not eating until lunch, for example.
For diabetics, it's usually a better strategy to prevent hunger to begin with, which leads to balanced blood sugar levels, more stable energy and reduced cravings.
Some diabetes medications may be required to be taken with food. Skipping meals, therefore, increases the odds that medication won't work as effectively as possible or that it could cause adverse side effects.
Going for long periods of time without food can also cause the formation of gallstones, as the body prepares to expel excess fat to use for energy.
Since diabetics are already more likely to have high cholesterol, which increases the risk of gallstones, skipping meals could worsen the problem or bring on the discomfort associated with a gallbladder attack.
To avoid long periods without food, make sure you bring a variety portable snacks wherever you go - those with a high-protein profile and also some with carbohydrates, in case of a blood sugar emergency.