Why Skipping Meals Can Make You Fat, and Why Poverty May Worsen Obesity

Restricting food intake is generally the first thing people do when they want to lose weight — but doing so can lead to weight gain, and new research on the subject may reveal the reasons behind the paradox of a correlation between poverty and obesity.

Researchers from the Food and Brand Lab at Cornell University looked at eating habits after fasting, and it turns out that carbohydrate cravings may play a large part in why people overeat, specifically when they are trying to curb weight gain.

In a study to observe behaviors in very hungry people, students who participated were divided into two groups. Both groups were invited to a buffet-style lunch, but one half of the students were asked to fast for 18 hours just ahead of the lunch. The other half were not advised to fast.

In the fasting groups, students were far more likely to eat bread before a meal, and far less likely to start with vegetables — the non-fasting group began with veggies about half the time, versus 25% in the students who had fasted.

Subsequently, starting with a food made students about 47% more likely to consume a larger quantity of the food, and not eating veggies first made students likely to eat 20% less of them. Dr Aner Tal led the study, and told the New York Times:

“[Carbs are] a quicker, higher-energy source,” he said. “You’re essentially maximizing calories per time, so you replenish your deficit faster.”

burger king fries

Tal explains mindful eating and planning can negate the effect of tasty, tempting carbs:

“I think this emphasizes the importance of controlling your environment as far as the types of foods you’re exposed to when you’re hungry and how much of them you can get… Because otherwise, you will mindlessly choose foods that are less healthy for you.”

The study, which was published in the medical journal Archives of Internal Medicine, may provide some clues as to why people who are “food insecure” may load up on carbs and subsequently struggle with weight despite limited access to food.