Missing meals leads to more tummy fat and increased type 2 diabetes risk

by Barbara Hewitt on May 21, 2015

Skipping meals can result in abdominal weight gain associated with insulin resistance which can increase the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, new research has found.

In the study, mice that ate all of their food as a single meal and fasted the rest of the day developed insulin resistance in the liver, a precursor of diabetes.

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Skipping meals can result in abdominal weight gain associated with insulin resistance and diabetes

With the liver not responding to insulin signals to stop producing glucose, the extra sugar in the blood is picked by adipose cells of the abdomen and stored as fat, the Ohio State University study points out.

The researchers conducted a study on mice in which one group consumed their day’s food in one single meal, fasting for the rest of the day while a control group of mice had unlimited access to food.

These mice were initially put on a restricted diet and lost weight compared to controls that had unlimited access to food. However, the restricted diet mice regained weight as calories were added back into their diets and nearly caught up to controls by the study’s end.

But fat around their middles, the equivalent to human belly fat, weighed more in the restricted-diet mice than in mice that were free to nibble all day long. An excess of that kind of fat is associated with insulin resistance and risk for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

‘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, professor of human nutrition at the Ohio State University and senior author of the study.

‘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,’ she added.

Belury and colleagues were able to tie these findings to the human tendency to skip meals because of the behaviour they expected to see, based on previous work, in the mice on restricted diets. For three days, these mice received half of the calories that were consumed daily by control mice. Food was gradually added so that by day six, all mice received the same amount of food each day.

However, the mice that had been on restricted diets developed gorging behaviour that persisted throughout the study, meaning they finished their days’ worth of food in about four hours and then ended up fasting for the next 20 hours.

‘With the mice, this is basically bingeing and then fasting. People don’t necessarily do that over a 24 hour period, but some people do eat just one large meal a day,’ said Belury.

The study explains that the gorging and fasting in these mice affected a host of metabolic measures that the researchers attributed to a spike and then severe drop in insulin production. In mice that gorged and then fasted, the researchers saw elevations in inflammation, higher activation of genes that promote storage of fatty molecules and plumper fat cells, especially in the abdominal area, compared to the mice that nibbled all day.

‘Under conditions when the liver is not stimulated by insulin, increased glucose output from the liver means the liver isn’t responding to signals telling it to shut down glucose production. These mice don’t have type 2 diabetes yet, but they’re not responding to insulin anymore and that state of insulin resistance is referred to as prediabetes,’ said Belury.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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