Why Skipping Meals Can Lead to Compulsive Eating

February 4, 2017

Skipping a meal may sound like a key to weight loss, but you're actually sabotaging your efforts. Learn how missed meals can lead to compulsive eating.

Many people think compulsive eating is an emotional problem, when actually it is a biochemical problem and we’ll be sharing what causes it to really spin out of control. Plus, we have ideas to avoid those situations all together!

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DAR:  Welcome to Dishing Up Nutrition. I'm Darlene Kvist, licensed nutritionists and certified nutrition specialist and hosts of Dishing Up Nutrition, brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness, a company providing life-changing nutrition education and life-changing nutrition counseling in a variety of settings to a variety of people.

BRENNA: You can come to our office or we can come to your office. We can come to your shop, your school, or even into your living room.

DAR: Nutrition education can be for you, your child, your family, your friends, or your coworkers.

BRENNA:  At Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we believe nutrition, the food you put in your mouth, is the key to your health.

DAR: You know, as a nutritionist, the clients we might see on any given day could be a child with autism, a teenager with acne or anxiety, a mother with depression or hot flashes, a grandparent with aches and pains, or even clients with compulsive eating problems.

BRENNA: And today we're going to address that compulsive eating. If you have a health issue that you would like us to talk about, you can also request other topics for future radio shows.

DAR: So, I'd like to share something that I think many of us can learn from. On Monday I had a client share an interesting comment. She said communication is more than talking. It is also listening. That's kind of an interesting thing to think about. You know, our goal at Nutritional Weight & Wellness is to first listen, then ask you some questions, and then listen to some more. So, today I have Brenna Thompson joining me. She's going to be listening yet and she's going to be asking questions. And then she's going to be listening some more. So welcome to you today. Good to have you here.

You know, as nutritionists and Dietitians at Nutritional Weight & Wellness, we listen a lot during a consultation. So, Brenna, tell our listeners how long it takes us to meet with a typical client for an initial consultation.

BRENNA: What always surprises my friends and family members when I tell them that it takes about two hours to meet with somebody. When people come to the office, they get an initial consult of two hours. So, we're really listening to what our clients have to say and then we clarify what we heard. It all takes time to really know what a client's goals are and what we can help them with.

DAR:  When they first come in, a lot of times people really honestly don't know what they're looking for. They don't even know their goal until we spend enough time to kind of dig it out and kind of talk about it and think about it and agree upon it, and they say, “Oh, yeah, that's truly what I want to do.”

BRENNA: Yes. Because maybe they'll say, “I want to get healthy. I want to feel better.” And what does that mean?

DAR: Exactly. So, today our topic is all about compulsive eating. So some of the questions we might ask is when did it start? What is it that causes you to eat compulsively? If you're a compulsive eater, have you ever thought, “What causes me to eat compulsively?”

BRENNA: They may not know.

DAR:  So, that's another time we have to dig down and find out.

BRENNA: Find that trigger. When you come in for an appointment, you may tell us you're a compulsive eater. What does that statement tell us about how we can help you? Not Enough. We need more information. So, I might ask you, when do you find yourself compulsively eating? Is it before breakfast? Before lunch? Is it at snack time? Do you compulsively eat when you go shopping or after you go shopping?

DAR: You know, we know most people don't compulsively eat all the time. Wouldn't be possible. So, we're looking for the biochemical reason that sets you up to eat compulsively. And yes, I did say the biochemical reason. Perhaps that's a really new thought for many and you know, actually we were supposed to have another dietitian joining us this morning. Alyssa O'Brien was supposed to be on this morning but she's home in bed with strep in a hundred and one or a hundred and two temperature and feeling really sad that she's not here today.

BRENNA:  And we're really sad that she can't be here today.

DAR:  And she's actually writing a blog about compulsive eating and how skipping meals can lead to compulsive eating. We’ll have that out on our website.

BRENNA: Now, let's ask our listeners this question that really surrounds our topic today. Have you ever struggled with compulsive eating? Especially if you've skipped a meal? Maybe you skipped lunch and at 3:00 PM your body isn't a seriously low blood sugar situation. You feel it as you're driving home, so you reach into your desk or you get home and you reached into the refrigerator or the pantry and there's that old stale box of girl scout cookies.

DAR: And we both are pointing to an old, stale box of Girl Scout cookies here in the studio.

BRENNA: Yes, and I was looking at it and I thought, “Oh, there's refined palm oil and high-fructose corn syrup and artificial flavors in it. I don't ever put those in my cookies.” So, you start with one girl scout cookie and then you're still hungry because one doesn't satisfy, so then you eat another and another and another until all of them are gone. Or at least one sleeve of girl scout cookies is gone.

DAR: And so, what you are is a compulsive girl scout cookie eater. I think a lot of people can relate. Or perhaps you went to the gym for workout and you didn't take a snack and when you get home you see that big bag of pretzels. You say to yourself, “I'm just going to eat a couple of pretzels before I start making dinner.” And then suddenly the entire bag of pretzels is gone. So, what happened? Well, compulsive pretzel eating. That's what.

BRENNA:  Or maybe this is you. You've been running errands all morning and now you're at the fabric store and you just realized you not only skipped breakfast, but now you don't have a snack with you, either. You start to feel anxious, maybe you have a headache and you're irritable. They're taking too long to check you out. So, you desperately looking around for a quick pick me up and you spot the bag of M&M’s and a Snickers bar. And you say to yourself, “Well, should I get one bag of M&M’s or two?” Maybe you're thinking one bag of M&M’s is not going to work. So, you buy two bags of M&M’s and maybe two Snickers bars just in case. Compulsive M&M and snicker bar eating. Any of you listeners know what that's like?

DAR:  I bet a lot of them are listening and saying, “Oh yes, I can relate.” So, Dr. Daniel Amen. You know I love the things that he writes. He's the author of Making a Good Brain Great and many other books, says that low blood sugar leads to low blood flow to the brain, which leads to poor decision making. Listeners, can you see how skipping meals could be the cause of your compulsive eating? It's a pretty easy thing to remedy if that's the cause.

BRENNA: Yes. And I think we will continue talking about this more when we come back from our first break. You are listening to Dishing Up Nutrition brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness.


DAR: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. Some of our listeners share that they are addicted to sugar. So, are you aware that sugar stimulates the reward center in your brain? Very much like nicotine, cocaine, heroin, and alcohol. Sugar stimulates the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine, just like alcohol does, just like nicotine does, just like cocaine does, and heroin. Unfortunately, the more we use sugar, the more we use nicotine, the more we use alcohol, heroin, cocaine, the less dopamine is produced, which causes the dopamine receptors to decline. They kind of just vanish off the cells.

BRENNA: Therefore, we want more sugar, more cocaine or alcohol, nicotine, more heroin to get the same pleasure response as before.

DAR: We've seen people that start with one or two cigarettes and pretty soon they're smoking four packs. Perfect example.

BRENNA: They’ve built up a tolerance. Most alcoholics in recovery believe and understand that they can't drink just one glass of wine, much less a few glasses of wine. The same holds true for those who are addicted to sugar.

DAR: And Brenna, I think that's a tough one for people that are addicted to sugar, to cross that line and say, “I can't actually start.”

BRENNA: A sugar addict can't have just one caramel or just a few M&M’s or one piece of a chocolate bar or a cupcake at the birthday. So, the first bite leads to another bite and then another bite and then the whole pan of brownies.

DAR: So, now, back to our topic of compulsive eating. So, you can kind of see that the simple habit of eating breakfast and having a snack may be the solution to avoiding your out of control, compulsive eating. That sounds pretty simple.

BRENNA: Sounds simple. Sometimes hard to do. And today we would like for people to call in and share their compulsive eating story or if they're struggling with compulsive eating, maybe we can kind of help guide them a little bit. Start to get them off of that roller coaster and we can help you see if it's related to a blood sugar problem, which it usually is.

DAR: So, some people think compulsive eating is an emotional problem when actually it is a biochemical problem. And the major cause, I know this was shocking to people, is skipping meals, which can lead to blood sugar crashes. A part of it is also is really a self-care problem. For whatever reason, so many people just don't care enough about themselves to take the time to feed themselves in a timely manner. That's kind of an interesting thought.

BRENNA: And I see it a lot with moms. They are so busy taking care of everybody else, they forget to eat.

DAR: Well, you know, I was sharing before we went on air that this morning, you know, I had my protein shake because I have to do an errand right after this show this morning. And I was going to put into my car and low and behold, I was driving down the road and my protein shake is on the counter at home, in the kitchen. Not a good place for it. So, we all do it. But at least I knew that I would need something.

BRENNA: Yes. So, after I started working at Nutritional Weight & Wellness, I realized that eating low-fat foods, processed carbohydrates and not enough protein just wasn't good for me. To really be able to function effectively, I need animal protein, healthy fats, and vegetables several times a day. So, now as I pack my food each morning, my goal is to make sure that I take at least one meal and two snacks. Some days it's more like two meals and one or two snacks, just depending upon what the work schedule is. So, if you ask me if I feel better, the answer is yes, I absolutely do. I am a new person. And it's sad to think that I wasted so much time feeling kind of lousy.

DAR: Well, Brenna was eating breakfast this morning before we went on air. And she was eating some meat.

BRENNA: I had some salami and vegetables. I had my bag of vegetables, I had some cheese and then I had some of the Nut Thin crackers.

DAR: So, we recognize a cause of compulsive eating is skipping meals. So, you have to ask yourself, how do you change that habit? Is it a lack of focus? Is it a bad habit you still have from childhood? Is it a diet habit you developed to save calories? Oh, I think that's where a lot of women are. Or could it be just that you don't plan ahead and you skip meals and you end up having low blood sugar. I think sometimes this happens to people. They kind of think, “OK, well then I can justify over eating junk food because my blood sugar is down.”

BRENNA: Or, “I saved all my calories and now I'm going to eat it all.” And are we actually have a caller. Good morning, Joel. You have a question for us?

CALLER: I just wanted to say I'm glad that you guys talked about the whole alcoholic/addict thing. I’ve been in recovery for over 10 years now from addiction and I've had to find ways to not only know that one drink is too much or one dose of a drug is too much but having to realize that food also is part of that too because of my personality. I just have an addictive personality. What I've learned is that I've had to find certain things, because no matter what I do, I'm always going to get addicted to something because it's just part of my personality. But it's also part of, as you said, my biochemistry. So, I use actually exercise and working out and, in a way, I’ve had to regulate that. I've ended up spending three hours in the gym. Now, am I doing any good for my muscles? Probably not. Probably destroying myself. So, I’ve had to learn to be able to do that. And so, if that helps listeners, I can say that you’ve just got to find that balance and it just, it takes some time, takes discipline. But, over 10 years in recovery has helped me realize that even losing a couple pounds now because I'm trying to keep weight for the military is just a lot easier when I'm able to not put in these processed foods. As an army recruiter, I'm always on the go and I always have to be able to know that I still need to eat. So, finding those healthy snacks, avocados and hummus.

DAR: You know, I think you have a great point because I think you know, you understand your brain chemistry. And I believe and I find that when I'm working with people, you know, making an appointment once a month with a nutritionist at least once a month after you get into that recovery place because you need support and direction and encouragement all the time and new ideas. Because you're doing a great job, but you can see how you can bend over and become compulsive over even exercise. So you're doing a great job. So, thanks for the call. If you're into sugar or alcohol, you've got to have support to keep those good habits going.

BRENNA: Thank you, Joel. Have a great day.

DAR: So, that's interesting because that's exactly the point that we were trying to make. You always have to have that food ready and prepared. And you know what also I find that people that have a little bit of this compulsive habits are actually, once they get into the routine, they're very good about it.

BRENNA: Yes, but we can't let them get out of that routine. And we do need to go to our second break. You are listening to Dishing Up Nutrition.

February is national heart disease prevention month. Many people believe that heart disease is a cholesterol problem, so they take a cholesterol lowering medication. They often experienced side effects like muscle cramps, muscle weakness, loss of muscle mass, numbness and muscle spasms. These are chronic symptoms of a medication depleting the nutrient CoQ10.

DAR: And I don't think a lot of people realize that some of these cholesterol medications can actually have those kinds of side effects. Fatigue, I hear that from a lot of my clients. Muscle aches. And they've never had them before. So, a little bit more information about CoQ10. CoQ10 is actually made in your liver. It's a nutrient and it gets blocked by these cholesterol medications. So, what does CoQ10 do? It gives your cells energy and it is one of the main nutrients for your heart. So, if you're on a cholesterol-lowering medication and feel sore and achy, you know, I always recommend to my clients, take at least a hundred milligrams of CoQ10, but 200 will work better. And you'll feel better again, but if you are not feeling better within about a month and you're taking it, then I would suggest making an appointment with one of the nutritionists at Nutritional Weight & Wellness.


DAR: Welcome back to Dishing Up Nutrition. Because this is national heart disease prevention month, I want to share some other basic information about nutrients that can become depleted with certain heart and blood pressure medications. I bet people haven't even thought that some medications you're taking might deplete some nutrients. So, we know that many people take a diuretic type of medication to lower blood pressure and they don't realize that many of the nutrients are depleted. And some of these are really critical nutrients. So, magnesium gets depleted, potassium gets depleted, calcium can be depleted, and what happens it leaves your muscles with cramps and spasms. Another one that can get depleted is zinc, and then that makes you more susceptible to catching the virus that's always going around.

BRENNA: And B6 and B1 can be depleted, which can affect your mood and your energy level. If you need blood pressure medication, I encourage you to work with a nutritionist at Nutritional Weight & Wellness to make sure that you stay balanced so that you don't become depleted in these nutrients, and certainly we know that if people are low in magnesium and calcium, they're at higher risk for having high blood pressure.

DAR: And osteoporosis and aches and pains and muscle cramps and chocolate cravings. All those. So, if you want to work on lowering your blood pressure naturally or preventing depletion of nutrients while you're on medications, then give our office a call to schedule an appointment with a nutritionist.

DAR: Sounds great. So, let's go back to compulsive eating a little bit.

BRENNA: Yes. So, in order to control compulsive eating, you have to plan and prepare snacks and meals. Just like Joel who came on air before our break talked about. He's always packing the fruits and the vegetables and the hummus and the avocados. So, we have to plan and prepare snacks and meals and eat every two or three, maybe at the longest, four hours. If we're not eating frequently as we teach in our Nutrition 4 Weight Loss classes, then we want you to tune in to your reasons for lack of self-care. Have you thought about that? Maybe you're not planning and preparing because it's a lack of self-care. So, here's some reasons our clients have shared with us.

Number one, you don't have time to put together snacks. “I don't have time to do any of this.” And then another one I've heard is “No one ever taught me to plan and prepare snacks.” I heard that one this week. Maybe you think to yourself, I'm not good enough to take care of myself. Now that really gets down to the deep level of that spirit, your soul, your being. Another one that I hear, “I can't focus long enough to take care of myself and prepare snacks. I have ADD. I'm all over the place. I can't focus.” Or, “My family comes first, so I don't have time for myself.”

DAR: We hear that one a lot. But when you stop and think about that, probably that's the person that's taking care of everyone and they have to take care of themselves first in order to take care of other people.

BRENNA: Those are our clients who are taking care of their parents that might be elderly. They're taking care of their kids. Everybody.

DAR: Here's another one that we hear. “I'm too depressed to plan and prepare. I'm too depressed to take care of myself.”

BRENNA: But in order to get out of that depression, we have to do that. And I really liked what Dr. Kelly Brogan said in her book, A Mind of Your Own. She said that we have known our body has an inner intelligence and is attracted to foods that our body needs for nutrition. And kids are really good at that a lot of times. And she goes on to say it tells us exactly what, when, and how much to eat. We all have this inner wisdom or intuition, but processed foods are engineered to disrupt your body's wisdom, so you eat more and more of the wrong foods. Skipping meals also disrupts your body's wisdom.

DAR: That's a very interesting comment that we have an inner intelligence and we’re attracted to the foods that our body needs for nutrition. Nice. I wish I had written that. So, how do you break the habit of, “I don't have time to make a snack?” Well, here's an idea. I might suggest making a protein shake like I did this morning, or actually I did that last night. I made four last night. If you’re going to make one, you might as well make three or four. Then you are set for three or four snacks. And you could find our protein shake recipe on our website. It's easy.

BRENNA:  Yes, I love making protein shakes and my favorite is blueberry. Yes, those brain berries. So, how to break the habit of not planning because no one taught me? Well, I suggest signing up for the Nutrition 4 Weight Loss classes. They're starting next week and we teach you so many quick snack ideas. We provide the education so that you can just start preparing.

DAR: And you just have to start with one and maybe make that one snack and you have it all week. The same snack. Doesn't have to be complicated, but it works.

BRENNA:  Well and that's what my husband has been doing for the last like seven years that we've been married. His morning snack is plain yogurt with almonds for his healthy fat and then he likes raisins. So, we don't have to think about it. That's a habit.

DAR: So, then another question is how do you break the habit of thinking I'm not good enough to plan and prepare for myself? I'll do it for others, but not for myself. How do we get around that one? This is an interesting belief or thought. I believe a lack of self-care is actually the result of poor brain chemistry from a lack of good nutrition to the brain. And here's some suggestions. I give my clients who for whatever reason are unable to plan and prepare for themselves, and I know this might stretch some people, but here we go. Hire a friend or family member to prepare the snacks and meals you aren't able to prepare. I think this is money well spent to support your brain chemistry and get you on track.

BRENNA:  Well, and you might be paying a friend or family member to help you prepare your meals, but then at least you're not paying the Mcdonald's drive thru. So, you could also maybe go to your local co-op or your grocery store that has some balanced meals and snacks. Maybe you go up to the deli counter and ask them, “Hey, can you slice me some deli turkey and put it into two or three-ounce snack size bags?” And so then it's already bagged up individually for you. All you have to do is add a quarter cup of almonds and maybe you grab some clementines and there you go. Perfect snack, simple, good for your brain. So, get the help that you need until you're able to plan and prepare for yourself. Planning and preparing all starts in the brain.

DAR:  So, I think Brenna, let's take a quick break.

BRENNA: You are listening to Dishing Up Nutrition brought to you by Nutritional Weight & Wellness. We're discussing how skipping meals can lead to compulsive eating. Many of our listeners know I love to cook and that my husband and I cook and eat a lot of grass fed beef at our house, so I just wanna share an important cooking tip for that grass-fed meat. You need to lower the temperature. So, grass-fed meat, particularly the beef, has less fat in it because the cow is out roaming around a lot longer and then when we don't feed it grains that last 30 days it doesn't accumulate as much fat on top of its muscle or even in between its muscle fibers. And it's the fat that really insulates that meat. And that means that we would have to cook grain-fed meat. The regular beef that we get from the grocery store typically either at a higher temperature or longer than grass-fed meat that has less fat. So, it's less insulated.

DAR: So, Brenna, I think a lot of the listeners may not even know what we mean when we say grass fed beef or grass-fed animals. Really break that down. What does that mean? It seems simple to us, but if you've never heard this term before, what does it really mean?

BRENNA: So, if you're looking for a grass-fed steer, grass-fed beef, then it means that the cow has been out eating grass up until the point that it's been slaughtered. Typically, what happens, most cattle are fed grass, hay, out roaming around until about the last 30 days that they're alive. And then they're shipped to a feed lot where they are fed corn, soybeans, silage, and sometimes even broken-down Snickers bars.

DAR: Right. And we know that those grains like corn puts fat on the animal. And grass is lean. It takes a lot of energy to chew up and digest that grass. But corn, it's inflammatory and it puts weight on the cows very quickly so that they get fatter before slaughter.

DAR: Kinda like corn chips do to people. Or too much popcorn. All those things. So, I think maybe we explained what that really means versus a typical animal. I mean, beef that is sold in a typical grocery store that is not grass-fed is corn fed.

BRENNA: It is corn finished, grain finished. It’s just conventional beef. You buy your ground beef and that's probably what it is unless it specifically says on the label, grass-fed, grass-finished.

DAR: And so, it's going to have more fat. The corn fed. And it is also possibly more inflammatory because it has other additives from the corn.

BRENNA:  It’s going to have residues maybe from, especially if the corn was GMO and sprayed with the glyphosphates, the RoundUp. So, those residues get stuck in that beef fat and then we eat it and it affects our metabolism.

DAR: So, good answers.

 Thanks for listening to Dishing Up Nutrition.

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