By Nancy Gottesman

While you can probably get away with missing one or two meals a week, you shouldn't make it a regular habit.

Studies have shown that, compared to people who eat three meals regularly, people who skip meals are at increased risk for developing higher insulin and cholesterol levels, metabolic syndrome, a larger waist circumference and lipid (blood fat) disorders -- all of which raise your risk for heart disease and diabetes.

In addition, skipping meals is more likely to thwart, rather than speed up, any effort to lose weight.

Your body is pretty smart.

It knows when you're skimping, thanks to a built-in survival mechanism that dates back to the times when our primitive ancestors didn't have enough to eat. During lean days, weeks and months, the body would essentially shift into hibernation mode, conserving fat stores to help prolong survival.

So "when you skip breakfast or nibble on a few lettuce leaves for lunch, your body begins to slow down its metabolism [the rate you burn calories]," explains Amy P. Campbell, a registered dietitian and manager of the clinical education programs at Harvard's Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. "A few hours later, your brain receives powerful and persistent hunger signals urging you to eat, rather than using your fat stores to fuel itself."

End result? You'll end up devouring a lot more than you intended by the time dinner rolls around. So try to maintain a regular meal schedule. Says Campbell: "Your body needs fuel for you to feel well and stay healthy, just as your car needs gasoline."


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