For years, we have been told that eating breakfast supports weight loss, boosts energy and prevents overeating, presumably because not eating breakfast after fasting through the night leaves us famished and more likely to overeat later in the day. Recent studies and randomized trials have cast doubt on the theory that eating breakfast has any protective effect on weight gain. As reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the effect of eating breakfast on obesity is only presumed true and is not justified by scientific evidence. This means that the widely held belief that eating breakfast initiates weight loss, while skipping breakfast causes weight gain, is based on overstated or misconstrued studies.
It appears that the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines that state “not eating breakfast is associated with weight gain,” is based on scientific speculation and may be completely unfounded. This recommendation was based on observational studies that now draw extensive criticism from statisticians. According to S. Stanley Young, former director of bioinformatics at the National Institutes of Statistical Sciences, “over 90% of claims” produced from observational studies “fail to replicate,” meaning that they can’t be replicated later by more exacting clinical or randomized controlled studies. At the time of the recommendations, research was indeed limited and more research has since been conducted.
Recent scientific experiments at Cornell University showed that in some, but not all, cases people who skipped breakfast did consume more calories at lunchtime. However, those additional calories did not exceed the calories they would have eaten at breakfast time and still resulted in lower caloric intake overall. The Cornell researchers concluded that skipping breakfast could actually lead to weight loss and had little to no effect on weight gain. In short, it appears that what has been touted as the most important meal of the day is simply just another meal. A study by Columbia University researchers concluded that obese people who skipped breakfast daily for 4 weeks resulted in a reduction in body weight, simply by reducing caloric intake.
Unless you have a medical condition, such as diabetes or hypoglycemia, and need to eat small, frequent meals to keep blood sugar levels stable, the question of whether to eat breakfast or not remains open and largely comes down to personal choice. While researchers’ recommendations remain divided amongst those who support eating breakfast and those who don’t, there remains little evidence of the benefits of eating breakfast in a well-nourished person. A Harvard Medical School study concluded that those who ate whole grain cereals for breakfast had lower rates of diabetes and heart disease as compared to those who ate nothing. But it could be that it’s the whole grains that are heart healthy and not the timing of the consumption of those grains.
Clearly all breakfast foods are not created equally. If your idea of breakfast is a bowl of sugar laden cereal and a big glass of juice, you’d likely do less overall harm by skipping it, as sugary foods do little to satiate hunger and may result in cravings that could increase your daily caloric intake. If you eat a nutrient dense breakfast that contains protein, healthy fats and dietary fiber and you are happy with your weight, there’s no need to make any changes. The same applies if you opt to skip breakfast altogether, as the stronger evidence from randomized controlled trials show no link between skipping breakfast and weight gain, nor do they show a difference in reported energy levels. If you’re hungry, eat, and if not, you no longer have to worry about weight gain if you decide to wait until lunchtime to have your first meal of the day.
Belief beyond the evidence: using the proposed effect of breakfast on obesity to show 2 practices that distort scientific evidence. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24004890
Myths Surround Breakfast and Weight. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/09/10/myths-surround-breakfast-and-weight/
Should you, or Shouldn’t You, Skip Breakfast? http://health.usnews.com/health-news/blogs/eat-run/2014/08/27/should-you-or-shouldnt-you-skip-breakfast
Should I Eat Breakfast When I’m Not Hungry? http://www.eatingwell.com/nutrition_health/nutrition_news_information/should_i_eat_breakfast_when_i_m_not_hungry
The science of skipping breakfast: How government nutritionists may have gotten it wrong. http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2015/08/10/the-science-of-skipping-breakfast-how-government-nutritionists-may-have-gotten-it-wrong/