Will skipping breakfast and lunch lead to weight loss?


I have a friend who wants to lose weight. She thinks that if she skips breakfast and lunch, she will lose weight. Can this harm her or not? I know it's bad for her, but she doesn't understand.

— Trying to be a good friend

Dear Trying to be a good friend, 

It can feel scary when your friend is telling you that they want to skip breakfast and lunch to lose weight. While it may seem like skipping breakfast and lunch can be harmful to someone, that might not always be the case. One reason your friend may be skipping breakfast and lunch is because they’re engaging in what’s called Intermittent Fasting (IF). Intermittent fasting is an approach that involves taking periodic breaks from consuming food and implementing fasting and eating windows based on a person's preference. There are various types of intermittent fasting. It’s possible your friend opted for time-restricted eating. This approach involves selecting the most ideal fasting period for a person’s lifestyle such as opting to extend the fasting period experienced when sleeping by skipping breakfast or lunch (depending on when you wake up). Another common type of intermittent fasting is alternate day fasting, which as the name suggests, involves alternating fasting and non-fasting days. 

Another reason for your friend’s eating schedule could be that they're just not hungry in the mornings or around lunch time. While skipping breakfast and lunch isn’t always harmful, it can become harmful when the person is struggling with an eating disorder such as Avoidant-Restrictive Food Intake Disorder (ARFID). ARFID, which was previously known as ‘selecting eating disorder’, is characterized as a lack of interest in consumption of food. This includes aversion to specific foods based on the elements or characteristics in the item (e.g., cutting out foods high in carbohydrates or dairy for no medically necessary reason). 

The line between an eating disorder and intermittent fasting can be fine. In fact, a recent study revealed that intermittent fasting may be associated with behavioral signs of eating disorders in adolescents and young adults. There’s also research, however, indicating that following an intermittent fasting program, under the supervision of a medical care provider, can be beneficial. By choosing to fast for longer periods of time, the body is able to burn through the calories consumed and begin burning fat instead. Research suggests that those following an IF plan approved by a medical professional may experience a variety of benefits including weight loss; increased protection against chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, age-related neurodegenerative disorders, and inflammatory bowel disease.  Intermittent fasting may also show improved effectiveness of cancer treatment in patients undergoing chemotherapy. 

With that in mind, restrictive eating can quickly become a slippery slope, so it’s important to understand when someone might need help. Although IF can be a helpful tool to lose weight and fight chronic diseases, if done incorrectly it can be dangerous and potentially fatal. If a person is at risk for an eating disorder, has type 1-diabetes, is pregnant, or under the age of 18, IF isn’t recommended. Some negative side effects of an IF plan can include fatigue, dizziness, upper abdominal pain, extreme hunger, headaches, and mood imbalance. 

It may be beneficial to have a discussion with your friend about the reasons why they want to skip some meals. If they haven’t done so already, you might even suggest they consult with a medical professional or a dietitian to help guide them in this process. If you feel your friend could have an eating disorder and may benefit from some additional, external support, you might direct them to websites like the National Eating Disorder Association. Your concern and thoughtful questions show you care about your friend, and it might be reassuring to them to know they have your support during this time.  

Last updated Aug 25, 2023
Originally published Dec 06, 2002

Submit a new comment


This question is for testing whether or not you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

The answer you entered for the CAPTCHA was not correct.