The Absolute Worst Things You Can Do on an Empty Stomach

From the time you get up in the morning to the time you get to crawl back into bed at night, your busiest days may be so jam-packed with activities that you forget to do the most important thing of all — eat. While running around from place to place might mean you’re sacrificing meals, you’ll want to be careful.

Missing out on your lunch may just seem like an inconvenience, but depending on what you have lined up for the day, forgetting about your growling stomach could result in health troubles down the road. Eating three square meals a day has always been the standard, and eating five to six smaller meals a day may be even better for digestion, but skipping meals could leave you tired, anxious, and even nauseous. Here are the five worst activities you can do when you haven’t eaten.

1. Grocery shopping

woman grocery shopping

Grocery shopping while hungry will cause you to buy more calories. | iStock.com

If it feels like your cart piles up higher than normal with cakes, cookies, and other junk foods when you go to the grocery store on an empty stomach, you’re not imagining things. A study involving 68 participants tested this idea. When they arrived, half of the participants were told they could eat as many wheat crackers as they wanted, while the others were offered none. The participants were then asked to grocery shop online, where high-calorie foods, such as cakes and cookies, were offered in addition to healthier fare like fruits, veggies, and lean meats.

On average, the hungrier participants purchased the high-calorie foods, while the group that was able to eat chose healthier options. While you may think you’ll still reach for the fruits and veggies on an empty stomach, this research suggests your willpower may not be as strong as you think. Bring a healthy snack with you to the grocery store to avoid temptation.

2. Take medication

Aspirin bottle spilled over

Taking pills before eating can cause some nasty health problems. | iStock.com

There’s a reason your container of pills suggests taking your medication with food. While some medicines are better on an empty stomach, those that suggest eating before consuming can save you from feeling nauseous later. Medical Daily explains nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin, may cause gastrointestinal distress or bleeding if taken on an empty stomach. Narcotic pain relievers may also cause nausea and vomiting, so it’s best to take them with food. Certain medications may also constipate you, and eating foods loaded with fiber ahead of time can help relieve this issue.

3. Train hard at the gym

Male athlete performing a plank

Working out hungry can ruin your workout. | iStock.com/MeikePetri

There are two camps to this debate — some say it’s great to exercise on an empty stomach, as you’ll burn more fat directly instead of the carbs you’ve just eaten. This sentiment makes some sense, but doing high-intensity cardio on an empty stomach can actually result in a sub-par workout or even loss of muscle. Men’s Fitness says that when you exercise on an empty stomach, your glycogen levels are low. If you’re demanding a lot out of your body during an intense training session, you won’t have enough glycogen to fuel your efforts, and this is when you start to burn muscle instead of fat.

Exercising after eating enough calories, carbs, and protein will give you that fuel you need to work hard, and you’ll see the results far quicker than working out on an empty stomach.

4. Drink coffee

coffee mug surrounded by beans on a table

Drinking coffee on an empty stomach can cause heartburn. | iStock.com

If your morning ritual involves getting out of bed, throwing clothes on, and tipping the hot coffee into your mug, then you’ll want to have a piece of bread or a banana as well. PositiveMed explains your stomach acid levels increase when you consume coffee without breakfast. This can result in heartburn and indigestion that lasts throughout the day, and repeated episodes of increased stomach acid can lead to stomach ulcers, irritable bowel syndrome, and acid reflux disease.

If you’re feeling extra anxious and stressed after your morning cup of coffee, this also may be an indicator  you haven’t eaten enough. The caffeine in coffee is already known to increase stress in some cases, and because the digestion process in your body can actually help calm your nerves, the anxiety-inducing effects from caffeine can actually feel worse on an empty stomach. Try eating a bit of breakfast.

5. Drink alcohol

alcohol bottles

Drinking on an empty stomach is never a good idea. | iStock.com

The age-old adage you should only drink after you’ve eaten is completely true, and in this case, food can save you from becoming too intoxicated too quickly. With no food to act as a buffer, alcohol is absorbed into your bloodstream at a much faster rate, meaning you start to feel fuzzy sooner than if you’d had something to eat.

The New York Times suggests eating foods high in protein, fat, and dense carbohydrates to slow down the alcohol absorption process when you’re in for a long night of drinking. Studies have even suggested eating before drinking was the difference between being under the legal blood-alcohol limit for safe driving and being too intoxicated to get behind the wheel. The body also absorbs alcohol faster when warmed or combined with mixers, so definitely avoid these types of drinks if you’re going out on an empty stomach.