Can Not Eating Make You Feel Sick
Can Not Eating Make You Feel Sick? We’ve all heard that not eating is a surefire way to lose weight, but what happens when you actually go without food? Can you get sick from not eating? If you’re one of those people who just doesn’t like to snack or eat at night, we spoke with Dr. David G. Leffell, M.D., director of the Mayo Clinic Center For Weight Loss Medicine to find out if your body would rather starve than feel nauseous. Here’s what he had to say.
First off, how does not eating affect us? According to Leffell, there are two main effects — dehydration and loss of appetite. When people deprive themselves of food over long periods of time, they often become dehydrated. This leads to headaches, fatigue and irritability. The second effect is related to metabolism. A person who goes too long between meals may start losing muscle mass because their bodies aren’t burning as many calories. In addition, some studies have shown that people who skip meals tend to crave carbohydrates more than others do.
The next question is whether skipping meals will make you physically ill. It depends on what sort of illness you’re talking about. Skipping meals won’t hurt you if you live on fruits, vegetables, lean protein, healthy fats and water, which are known collectively as macro-nutrients (protein, carbs, fat, minerals). However, skipping meals and depriving yourself of foods high in fiber, calcium, iron, vitamin D and B12 could lead to nutritional deficiencies. Also, going so long between meals could result in metabolic problems such as hypoglycemia, low blood sugar. Low blood sugar makes you sleepy, weak and confused.
So what should you eat if you’re trying to cut back on calories? Well, according to Leffell, cutting down on sweets and alcohol is probably a good idea. Most importantly, stick to whole grains, fruits, veggies, fish and lean proteins like chicken and turkey. Leffell recommends incorporating more complex carbohydrates — starches and fibrous vegetables — into your diet. Complex carbohydrates break down slowly, providing longer-lasting energy and helping you avoid hunger cravings. They also keep you feeling fuller for longer. Finally, eat smaller portions throughout the day.
For most people, starvation mode kicks in after 24 hours of no food intake. But here’s where things can really get dangerous. Hydrochloric acid is produced by our stomachs to aid digestion. Normally, this substance travels through the small intestine and mixes with bile before entering the stomach. Once there, it breaks down starches and digests proteins. Afterward, it enters the large intestine and gets rid of any remaining nutrients.
But if you don’t eat anything for days at a time, the hydrochloric acid builds up in your stomach. At first, it stays put, but eventually, it moves up to the top of your chest. That’s why when you finally decide to chow down, you end up with heartburn, indigestion, acid reflux and nausea. Fortunately, it typically takes less than a week for the stomach acid to move up to the esophagus, causing symptoms like acid regurgitation, heartburn and nausea [Source: WebMD].
However, even though this situation sounds pretty awful, it isn’t necessarily a sign that you need to be snacking every three minutes. “It’s important to note that the amount of hydrochloric acid present in the stomach is tightly regulated by our brain,” says Leffell. “Our brains send signals to adjust gastric secretion based upon the presence of food and other factors.” So while it might seem counterintuitive, you shouldn’t always assume that you need to eat something in order to prevent feelings of sickness. Instead, eat regularly and healthily to maintain proper levels of digestive enzymes and hormones.
According to the National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine, 50 percent of American adults are overweight. Obesity accounts for $147 billion in annual healthcare costs in the United States alone. Nearly 60 million Americans are obese.