If you think skipping lunch will get your body beach ready for summertime, think again.
A new study out of Ohio State University reveals that opting out of meals can actually contribute to weight gain, particularly in that troublesome belly area.
The study, published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, used mice to test two forms of eating. One group of mice were given all their food at once and then fasted the rest of the day. The other mice were free to graze throughout the day.
While they initially lost more weight than the unrestricted group, the mice on the restricted diet developed insulin resistance in their livers, which leads to excess glucose production that is stored as fat, researchers wrote. Insulin resistance often hints of pre-diabetes, according to the study.
When researchers reintroduced calories back into the mice’s diets, the animals gained all the weight back, and retained the fat around their middles. Ultimately, the mice that fasted had more belly fat than the mice that could eat freely throughout the study.
“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 senior study author and OSU health nutrition professor Martha Belury in a release. “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.”
Belly fat is dangerous for multiple reasons, one being that excessive amounts can put you at risk for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, colon and breast cancer and dementia.
“It’s the most harmful fat you can have on your body,” Dr. Peter LePort, director of the Memorial Care Center for Obesity, told Yahoo Health.
So what’s the best way to go when you want to trim your midsection?
Exercise, diet, sleep and stress management, says Dr. Kristen Hairston, assistant professor of endocrinology and metabolism at Wake Forest School of Medicine.
It’s important to incorporate 30 minutes of moderate activity into each day, she told WebMD. When it comes to diet, adding fiber and protein to your palate could reduce that pesky pouch. Research has shown those who got at least six to seven hours of shuteye a night gained less belly fat over five years than those who didn’t.
And finally, find a productive way to blow off steam. Relaxing your mind and body can lead to lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, which is linked to belly fat, according to Prevention.