Everything you know about breakfast is a lie, it isn’t the most important meal of the day. Now I know what you might be thinking, “…but my ma told me it was.”
You may have also heard that if you don’t have breakfast that you and the world around you will fall apart but as long as you have a bowl of cereal, or two slices of toast, or even a pain au chocolat that everything will be fine (these are pretty much labeled as ‘excellent’ choices for breakfast by the NHS despite their heavily unbalanced nutrition content).
Why? Because without anything at breakfast our metabolisms slow down, we will get fat and our health and our cognitive function declines. Eating ANYTHING at breakfast is better than nothing, right?
So sit back and let me tell you why breakfast is not the most important meal of the day.
But first, let’s look at the research and thoughts as to why eating breakfast is a good thing because it does exist.
The problem is that the research is observational but either way it shows that breakfast skippers tend to have a higher BMI and have a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those that eat breakfast.
But why do the observations show that? Because breakfast skippers in general have worse health seeking behaviours and smoke more, consume more alcohol, drink more sugar-sweetened beverages and even sleep less.
Or maybe breakfast skippers are looking at ways of losing weight which conflicts the results.
Just like those observational studies found on diet drinks, you know where they found an association of those with a higher BMI drinking more diet drinks.
They were trying to lose weight people! The reality is that when replace sugar and calorie filled drink with their diet drink counterparts, it has resulted in a modest 2.5% reduction in weight (this is another story for another time).
And here is another example of an observational study.
That’s right the more times Nicholas Cage stars in a film, the more people die by falling into a swimming pool.
I think it is fair to say that observational studies can be taken with a pinch of salt.
So let’s look at stronger evidence.
Does Skipping Breakfast Slow Down Metabolism?
Well fortunately for us, there is one study that clearly demonstrates that skipping breakfast does not slow down metabolism compared to those that eat breakfast.
However, it does show that skipping breakfast may lead to a reduced level of activity throughout the day compared to those that eat breakfast but they also consumed more calories to compensate for this.
Weighing this up demonstrates that it doesn’t slow down metabolism at all but it may make you less active if you aren’t conscious about it.
Does Skipping Breakfast Make Us Fat?
No it doesn’t, as a matter of fact the research demonstrates that skipping breakfast leads to a decreased consumption of energy intake.
So what does that mean?
Well weight is dictated by energy balance (calories in vs calories out) and if we are consuming less calories, it’s likely going to be a much better course of action to prevent weight gain. Not only that but it may even lead to an easier maintenance of weight or better yet, weight loss (if that’s what you are looking for).
And no starvation mode isn’t a thing and doesn’t cause us to gain or hold onto fat either, when someone starves this is the result as seen in the Minnesota Starvation Study.
Anyway, the non-breakfast group consumed 247kcal (on average) less over 24h than the breakfast group.
Over a course of a week that decrease of 1750kcal in energy intake, may lead to the loss of 0.5lb of fat per week (if someone was previously eating a calorie intake that lead to weight maintenance).
Not only that, the study that tested whether or not breakfast lead to a reduction in metabolism also showed that it won’t make us fat because the non-breakfast group consumed 539kcal less! Although remember the breakfast group did expend more energy (an extra 442kcal). This on a whole balances each other out but it would be fair to comment that technically, the non-breakfast group would have a slight advantage for weight and fat loss.
The only ‘negative’ from this research is that, breakfast skippers eat more later in the day but over the course of the day, they eat less. And weight always comes down to how much we eat, not when (this concept is still alien to many, eating past 9pm doesn’t make us gain weight, eating too many calories over the day/week/month does).
And considering most dietary lapses come in the evening (it would be ideal to have a greater calorie buffer so we can eat more later in the day with less consquence), I think skipping breakfast is likely to yield better overall compliance in dieting strategies for those looking to lose weight.
Do those that eat breakfast lose more weight than those that skip it?
Fortunately for us, there are three fantastic studies that have looked at breakfast or no-breakfast for weight loss.
The first study had 283 participants complete the study, these participants were randomised into different groups.
- Control – Told to ‘Eat Healthy’
- Breakfast Group – Must Eat Pre 10am
- Non Breakfast Group – Must Eat Post 11am
Over the course of the 16 weeks it would be fair to say that all groups weren’t very successful at losing an appreciable amount of weight.
I mean imagine dieting for 16 weeks and only losing 0.61-0.76kg, it would make me sob! And even though the ‘Eat Healthy’ and ‘Breakfast’ groupa lost more weight. Is 0.1-0.15kg something to worry about over 16 weeks? Or anything to suggest that breakfast is the most important meal of the day? I think not.
This is the problem with some weight loss research, they aren’t well controlled and participants left to their own devices will do what they want.
You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.
The second study and one of my favourites looked at stratifying 52 moderately obese adult women based on their baseline breakfast-eating habits. Basically this means that they had half the habitual breakfast group switch to a no-breakfast treatment and the other half stick with eating breakfast. They also did it the other way round (half the habitual ‘no-breakfast’ group ate breakfast, the other half stuck with ‘no-breakfast).
After 12 weeks, they found that those that make the most substantial changes to there eating habits lost more weight than those that didn’t. Basically if those that ate breakfast switched to not eating breakfast they lost 2.7kg more compared to those continuing to eat breakfast (8.9kg vs 6.2kg).
The same was seen in the habitual no-breakfast group, those that regularly skip breakfast when told to eat breakfast ended up losing 1.7kg more than those that continued to skip it (7.7kg vs 6.0kg)
Alternatively though, the third study shows that when they placed 49 women who didn’t eat breakfast into two groups; one of which was to start eating breakfast before 8:30am and the other group to eat 0 calories before 11:30am. They saw that the breakfast eaters ate on average 266kcal more than those that continued to not eat breakfast.
Because of this increase in calories, the breakfast group ended up gaining 0.7kg whereas those that continued to not eat breakfast maintained their weight. So in this instance, messing up their life and dietary structure didn’t provide any benefit.
I’m not saying that skipping breakfast is necessary, all I’m saying is it isn’t the most important meal of the day. Most of the thoughts around ‘breakfast being the most important meal of the day’ are all based on folklore and not on evidence.
The evidence, my experience and working with certain individuals have demonstrated that skipping breakfast can be a viable strategy for those that are looking to lose weight, tone up and get healthier.
Because let’s face it, most people aren’t willing to get up any earlier to make a nutritious breakfast that may be centered around; salmon, eggs and vegetables.
And for that reason it may be much more appropriate for many people to be conscientious breakfast skippers so they aren’t reaching for nutritionally unbalanced meals like; cereal, breakfast bars, toast, bagels and the rest.
The reality is that eating nothing can be a much better approach than eating anything at breakfast.
The one man band at Sean Armstrong Fitness.
He primarly coaches women who are looking to lose weight, tone up and become awesomer.
He has recently grew a beard, do you think scribbling one on my picture would look reasonable enough? He is also an avid fan of eating pizza, ice cream and talking about himself in the third person. You should probably come and say say hello to me. Did I mention that I love Pizza and Ice Cream?
If you have any questions about health, exercise and nutrition then feel free to leave any comments below or contact me at email@example.com