A former patient of mine said I should make this suggestion as my COVID tip for the week. “If you are gaining weight, make sure you ‘social distance’ yourself from your refrigerator.”

A shout out to the Pitt County fair that held a Fair Food Drive through last weekend. I didn’t get to go but I hope those who did had a good time. What would the fall season be without turkey legs, cotton candy, roasted corn, funnel cakes, deep fried Oreos, deep fried snickers, other fried delicacies and more. If you indulged, make sure you eat extra fruits and vegetables this week! Remember to wear your masks, washed your hands and wait 6 feet.

Q I am interested in trying intermittent fasting, is there anything wrong with skipping a meal?

A Asia Gorman, an East Carolina University senior dietetic student has this information to share with you. To eat or not to eat … that is the question. If you are thinking about intermittent fasting, let me break it down for you because there are common misconceptions about what it really means.

Intermittent fasting is a popular form of dieting which is defined as avoiding eating for certain periods of time. To some people this can mean skipping conventional mealtimes such as breakfast or lunch. Missing meals might but doesn’t always lead to a decrease in calorie consumption. There are times people are so hungry the next time they eat, they do overeat. But let’s assume the person really does eat fewer calories as a result of skipping meals, it is possible that the quality of the diet might suffer.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans is used as a reference for diet quality, and the Healthy Eating Index (HEI) is used to measure how well a person’s diet follows the guidelines. The HEI gives scores out of 100 for diet quality, and the higher the score the better the quality of nutrients in the meals. Researchers at USDA found that those skipping breakfast might eat 252 fewer calories and those skipping dinner 350 calories in the day. Skipping breakfast or lunch decreased diet quality about 4.3 percent which is about 2.2 points using HEI. By comparison skipping dinner reduced diet quality only 2.6 percent or 1.4 points.

That means that eating breakfast and lunch are more important to get the nutrients you need. That’s because breakfast and lunch for most people includes fruits, whole grains, dairy, in addition to empty calories. Most of us have developed an eating pattern that we typically follow like eating three meals and a couple of snacks per day. There are different types of intermittent fasting, too, not all actually include skipping meals.

The most common ways people fast include complete alternate-day fasting, modified fasting regimens, time-restricted feeding, and religious related fasting. Complete alternate-day fasting is alternating between fasting and non-fasting days. Modified fasting regimens are days where consumption of 20-25 percent of energy intake is allowed during scheduled fasting periods. There is a popular approach called the 5:2 diet which is based on the modified fasting regimen. The person using that approach fasts two days per week while eating as much as they need to feel satisfied the other five days.

Time-restricted feeding is consuming as much as a person wants or feels that they need during a time frames. Time restricted fasting might include eating fewer than three meals a day. Fasting for religious purposes is specific to the spiritual or religious rituals of the holiday. For example, a person might refrain from eating meat during a fasting day or eat only after sundown.

If you try intermittent fasting, you need to bring a new level of awareness about the foods and beverages you consume when eating to ensure you get the nutrients you need. It does not mean you can just eat mindlessly on the non-fasting days. Researchers found that it may mean that the individual needs to place more importance on feeling full or eating healthy foods rather than just eating foods that taste good to them. The experts still don’t know the full benefits and risks of intermittent fasting.

Skipping a meal may result in positive benefits like caloric restriction which may seem great when your main goal is to lose weight. But consider that, unless you choose carefully, the negative effects of skipping meals on diet quality may outweigh the benefits of the weight loss. It would be a great idea to work with a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist to find the eating pattern that helps you attain and maintain a healthy weight and meet your health goals.

Professor emeritus Kathy Kolasa, a registered dietitian nutritionist and Ph.D., is an affiliate professor in the Brody School of Medicine at ECU. Contact her at kolasaka@ecu.edu.