Many people skip meals in an attempt to lose weight and excess fat in the body, but findings of a new study have revealed why this is not a good idea.

Research showed that while eating smaller meals can be a good way to lose weight, skipping meals increases a person's odds for abdominal fat because fasting sets off a process in the body that causes fat to be stored around the middle. Skipping meals can also place people at risk for diabetes.

For a new study published in The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, researchers compared mice that were allowed to nibble food all day to their counterparts that only ate food in one session then fasted for the rest of the day.

They found that the animals that ate all their day's food in just one session and fasted for the rest of the time had more fat in their abdomens. They also developed insulin resistance in the liver, which indicates pre-diabetes.

"This does support the notion that small meals throughout the day can be helpful for weight loss, though that may not be practical for many people," said Martha Belury from The Ohio State University. "But you definitely don't want to skip meals to save calories because it sets your body up for larger fluctuations in insulin and glucose and could be setting you up for more fat gain instead of fat loss."

A liver that has become less sensitive to insulin keeps producing glucose whether or not it is needed, so the blood gets too much sugar. The excess gets stored as fat, causing a person to put on weight around the belly, which is not only unsightly but also associated with unwanted health consequences such as increased odds for heart disease.

"Our findings highlight the intraday differences in gene expression in gorging mice before and after feeding that confound comparisons with mice fed ad libitum, or nibbling," the researchers wrote. The present study also provides evidence that weight regain following food restriction is associated with cumulative metabolic and behavioral abnormalities in mice.

The researchers noticed that the mice that gorged on food and fasted had higher levels of inflammation as well as higher activities in genes known to promote the storage of fatty molecules and fat cells in the abdomen. The researchers attributed this to spikes and drops in insulin level.

Photo: Emilio Labrador | Flickr

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