Continuing my myth-busting series, I’m tackling the breakfast myth. This comes in a few different forms. Variations include: You have to eat breakfast if you want to lose weight; breakfast is the most important meal of the day; skipping breakfast slows your metabolism down.
So here I am, trying to sort the wheat from the chaff.
We’ve all known somebody who says eating breakfast is essential to weight loss. That it’s the most important meal of the day. That if you don’t eat breakfast the world is going to come crumbling down around you in a big pit of slowed metabolism and hangry meltdowns. Heck, maybe you even are that person. I know I was.
Eating breakfast isn’t essential to weight loss. This is a myth that got me in the past and I am openly admitting I was wrong – there’s no magic metabolic effect from eating breakfast compared to not eating breakfast. It doesn’t make a difference.
In fact, skipping breakfast could be beneficial in weight loss in certain individuals by reducing the window for eating and thus reducing the total calories consumed over the day. This obviously becomes moot if you skip breakfast and then eat all of the chocolate and the biscuits and any other high-calorie snack you can get your hands on throughout the morning because you can’t contain the hunger until lunch. Because ultimately, weight loss is down to energy balance; and without a caloric deficit, you’re not losing weight.
There’s a 2013 study by Levitsky et al that looked at the effect of consuming breakfast on subsequent energy intake. People who habitually ate breakfast and those who skipped breakfast were recruited for two studies: the first examined the effect of having participants eat either no breakfast, a high carb breakfast of 335 kcal or a high fibre breakfast of 360 kcal on three occasions and measured ad libitum intake at lunch. The second study used a larger carb breakfast of around 624 kcal vs no breakfast and subsequent food intake was measured for the day. All foods were weighed before and after consumption by Cornell Human Metabolic Research Unit.
In the first study, participants ate about the same amount of food at lunch regardless of which breakfast group they were in. This resulted in fewer calories consumed in total for the No Breakfast group.
In the second study, skipping breakfast increased the amount of food eaten at lunch by an average of 144 kcal compared to the Big Breakfast group– but this was not enough to eliminate the caloric deficit caused by skipping breakfast. As a result the group who skipped breakfast consumed around 400 fewer calories over all throughout the day.
What this means
Skipping breakfast isn’t going to make you fat. If anything, it can be used as an effective tool for reducing caloric intake throughout the day. So if you’re trying to lose weight, not eating anything until lunch time could be a useful tool.
But to be honest, the science is all a bit inconclusive. This study didn’t look at many people and there are other studies, such as that from Astbury et al 2011, that show the opposite.
Ultimately, it probably doesn’t really make much difference whether you eat breakfast or not when it comes to weight loss (or to generally being healthy). All that really matters is that you achieve energy balance for weight maintenance or energy deficit for weight loss. So either you are eating the amount of food your body wants to stay the same or you are eating less food to lose weight. If your goal is to gain weight, you should probably eat breakfast so you don’t run out of time getting all those calories in.
So you can either eat breakfast or not eat breakfast, it doesn’t matter. Do whatever makes you happy. Are you hungry when you wake up? Eat breakfast. Are you just eating because you think you have to to get that magical metabolic kick-start? Don’t bother. I came across this great article from Steve Dawson explaining why this myth is moot and to do what you want. Take a look if you want some extra references – he mentions a study I haven’t covered.
In summary: Do what you want. (Just don’t eat too much/little depending on goals.)
Personally, breakfast is my fave. Sometimes I eat it three times a day.