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The Dangers of Skipping Meals with Diabetes and Tips to Get Back on Track

Diet and Nutrition

May 10, 2024

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Photography by Yuki Kondo/Getty Images

Photography by Yuki Kondo/Getty Images

by Sarah Garone


Medically Reviewed by:

Imashi Fernando, MS, RDN, CDCES


by Sarah Garone


Medically Reviewed by:

Imashi Fernando, MS, RDN, CDCES


If you regularly miss meals and live with type 2 diabetes, it’s a habit worth changing. Here’s why, plus how to get on track with scheduled mealtimes.

Skipping meals occasionally happens to the best of us. Maybe your alarm didn’t go off in the morning, and all you could do is get yourself out the door on time, let alone grab a healthy breakfast.

Or perhaps work had you powering through your lunch hour deep in meetings and emails and — whoops! — now it’s 4 p.m. and you haven’t eaten in 8 hours.

Skipping meals here and there may be no big deal for some people. But for folks with diabetes, it can add up to trouble — both for blood sugar levels and the delicate balance of your medication. This is especially true for people who take insulin.

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What happens to the body when you skip a meal?

Missing meals with diabetes doesn’t just mean getting a little hungry. It can lead to several consequences.

Skipping meals affects how well your medication works

Consider the fine print on your diabetes medication or your doctor’s instructions. Do your meds need to go down the hatch with food?

Some diabetes medications, like alpha-glucosidase inhibitors, block the breakdown of starches. The American Diabetes Association (ADA) suggests they should be taken with the first bite of a meal.

These aren’t the only medications that work best with food. Without eating calories and carbs, others (like amylin mimetics and incretin mimetics) can stimulate more insulin than you need unless they’re taken alongside insulin or sulfonylurea, leading to low blood sugar.

In some cases, you might even experience other unpleasant side effects from taking meds without food. Metformin, for example, is known for causing diarrhea when taken on an empty stomach.

Blood sugar can dip dangerously low

Ugh, you know the feelings of hypoglycemia. Shakiness, anxiety, dizziness, nausea, and sweating are all signs of low blood sugar.

Though these can happen to anyone after not eating for a while, they’re especially common in people with diabetes.

If you’re on insulin or an insulin-stimulating medication, missing mealtime could cause your sugars to crash and burn to a seriously low level. The result: the notorious (and potentially dangerous) ick of hypoglycemia.

Excessive hunger can lead to bingeing

We all know what happens when we go without eating: We get hungry! And when we go too long between meals, we get really hungry.

Excessive hunger can trigger binge eating. When we’re ravenous, we may be more likely to grab anything that sounds appealing, such as high calorie, high carb, or highly processed foods (and overdo it on portions while we’re at it).

Afterward, we can get down on ourselves with feelings of guilt, leading us to restrict ourselves. Eating at regularly scheduled times can prevent this vicious cycle.

You might be more likely to gain weight

It’s logical to think that skipping meals could help you lose weight, but this strategy tends to backfire.

In a 2021 study following more than 26,000 university students over a 3-year period, those who missed dinner had a higher incidence of weight gain, overweight, and obesity than those who stuck to regular evening meals.

Other research has linked skipping breakfast with obesity and overweight.

Your best bet: Stick to regular meals that are both portion-controlled and nutrient-rich.

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Tips to overcome the cycle of skipping meals

1. Schedule your day around mealtimes

Sure, other things in your day are important — you’ve got kids to pick up from school or can’t-miss professional obligations. But if you keep a personal calendar, block off “sacred” time daily for meals.

It’s a daily reminder of the nonnegotiable nature of eating.

2. Set alarms on your devices

Ding, ding, ding! It’s mealtime!

Sometimes, in the midst of a busy day, the only thing that can keep us mindful of meals is a literal (21st century) dinner bell. Try setting alarms on your phone, computer, smartwatch, or another device to give yourself a visual and auditory invitation to eat.

3. Make mealtimes convenient

With type 2 diabetes, you might skip meals when you feel like you can’t create something healthy. (“Why eat if you can’t eat right?” you might think.) But rather than not eating at all, a better plan is to make healthy eating as convenient as possible.

When you grocery shop, try stocking up on quick-prep, diabetes-friendly foods. Snag easy options like bagged leafy greens, fresh fruits, quick-cooking whole grains (like minute brown rice or whole wheat couscous), canned fish and beans, and single-serve Greek yogurt cups.

4. Try meal prep

Whether portioning out individual lunches for the week ahead or simply cooking a big batch of shredded chicken on a Saturday, any effort to meal prep can equip you to work in more regular meals.

Do some experimenting with planning and prep to see what works for you.

5. Talk with your doctor

If you’re finding that you’re skipping meals often, mention it at your next office visit. It’s important to establish an eating pattern that works best for you and your lifestyle based on your doctor’s suggested treatment plan.

At the end of the day, diabetes is one part of your life. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to your eating habits and exercise.


Ditching dinner or bypassing breakfast might seem like an inconsequential blip in your day, but with type 2 diabetes, it can be a serious matter.

To get into a better mealtime pattern, prioritize nourishing yourself regularly, such as every 3 to 5 hours. Your blood sugar will reap the benefits.

If your eating patterns don’t fit your needs, mention it at your next doctor’s visit. Your meal timing is important, but it should also factor in your lifestyle, what your individual treatment goals are, other conditions, and more.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to meal planning, but with a few changes and help from your doctor, you can be on the best path for you.

Medically reviewed on May 10, 2024

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About the author

Sarah Garone

Sarah Garone is a nutritionist, freelance writer, and food blogger. Find her sharing down-to-earth nutrition info at A Love Letter to Food or follow her on Twitter.

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