“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”
This is touted so often these days it’s become almost Gospel.
An unwritten rule of nutrition essentially.
Hell I think I’ve probably told many people and clients this same line.
But is there any evidence to back up this claim?
What if it actually came down to personal preference as to whether you ate breakfast or not?
First off let’s look at the arguments for consuming breakfast.
It keeps you full until lunch and thereby reduces over-eating
It is often claimed that by eating breakfast we are more likely to have energy through our morning’s and stay full until lunch. \
By missing breakfast we leave ourselves open to snacking on high calorie foods and temptations.
If this happens then we would end up eating more junk food, and consequently more calories.
So in this instance consuming breakfast would be the better option for health and weight management.
Well yes, this can be the case, depending on what we eat for breakfast and how we deal with hunger/temptation before lunch.
If we consume a small, and nutrient lacking breakfast (small bowl of cereal for instance), then actually we may still be hungry only an hour into our day. Before you know it, your hand is in the biscuit tin to go with your mid-morning brew.
If we were to consume a slightly bigger, more balanced breakfast (containing some protein as well), then we would be more likely to be full until lunch and avoid temptation.
In a lot of observational studies, it is shown that those who consume breakfast are associated with better health.
However, this is generally because the breakfast-eaters are generally more ‘health-seeking’ individuals who also exercise regularly and have lots of other healthy habits.
It’s also true that most work places don’t exactly have the healthiest options available for people who need breakfast on the go. Think high calorie breakfast bars, crisps, and other such delights you’d find in a standard office vending machine.
But what if skipping breakfast was part of a plan, and by knowing this plan we then stayed strong until lunch, and didn’t consume calories in that time. Would it still be a negative thing to skip breakfast?
Skipping meals causes the body to go into starvation mode
This is another argument from the pro-breakfast crowd.
Well it can be said with certainty that this is not the case.
For one, there was a study done by Stewart & Fleming in 1973 in which they took a 27-year-old male through a 382-day supervised fast, in which he only had water and vitamins. And the result?
The man lost 125.2kg overall, an average of 0.33kg a day.
I can hear you screaming at the screen now, “But he must have wrecked his metabolism and put it all back on!”
Nope, 5 years later and he weighed 89kg, which was only a few kg above where he finished the fast.
Also, when studies use doubly labelled water to assess total 24-h energy expenditure they find no difference between nibbling and gorging.
Bellisle et al (1997) also concluded that:
“There is no evidence that weight loss on hypo energetic regimens is altered by meal frequency”.
Essentially meaning as long as you’re in a calorie deficit (consuming less calories than you burn) you will lose weight even if you skip a meal.
But I thought eating breakfast boosted your metabolism?
This is another myth from the unwritten rules of nutrition.
The research does not support this claim. In one study comparing 3 meals a day to 6 meals a day, Cameron et al. (2010) concluded that:
“increasing meal frequency does not promote greater weight loss”.
So, skipping meals doesn’t lead to starvation mode, and eating more meals doesn’t boost your metabolism, so what really are the benefits to consuming breakfast?
Well, as I alluded to above, eating breakfast can stop you from over-eating in the day if your response to missing breakfast is to binge on snacks.
It can also be a great way to get in extra nutrients for your body, and improve your health.
However, skipping breakfast on purpose, and then eating lunch and dinner as normal, can be a very easy way to lower your calorie intake without having to think about it.
This is therefore a great strategy for those who are looking to drop weight without following a complicated plan or without feeling too deprived.
By skipping breakfast and still eating your normal sized meals for the rest of the day, you’re dropping calories without feeling deprived.
You will also be eating larger, more socially acceptable meals when you are eating. Rather than eating small amounts for each meal (which may be necessary to create a caloric deficit for weight loss).
This last point is what I hammer home often. In order to lose weight, you must be in a caloric deficit, and skipping breakfast can achieve this.
Skipping breakfast may also be a great tool if you’re very busy and don’t have time to prepare anything suitable/healthy.
You’re better off eating nothing than eating crisps and chocolate in the car on your way to work.
Another positive for not consuming breakfast would also be if you weren’t hungry. Eating when not hungry is a fast way to over-consume and therefore put on weight. If you wake up and you’re not hungry, don’t eat!
The decision to eat or not is completely up to you and your goals.
You can do either and still be extremely healthy and lead a fulfilling life.
If you like eating brekkie, and this stops you from snacking on high calorie foods and over-eating, then go for it.
However if you’re too busy, always consume food on the go that’s less than ideal, or want an easy way to lower calories, then skip it.
This fits in perfectly with the research by Dhurandar et al. (2014) who concluded:
“A recommendation to eat (or skip) breakfast had no discernible effect on weight loss in free living adults who were attempting to lose weight”.
So remember; next time someone tries to convince you that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, you’ll know for sure that it’s not.
Questions welcome in the comments.