From an early age we are lead to believe from numerous sources that eating breakfast is important to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. We’re told it can help to reduce obesity, as it is important for the regulation of energy intake. But is this fact or fiction?
How many of you recall your own mum telling you when you were a kid…
‘You’re not going out until you’ve eaten your breakfast’
Or maybe you have a Personal Trainer who has told you…
‘Don’t skip meals, especially breakfast. If you skip it your metabolism slows down, which means you are not burning calories as effectively as you could. If you do this your body puts you in starvation mode, so next time you eat you will store more of the food than normal. You’ll basically get fat’
I’ll openly admit I have quite possibly told clients that before, but it’s just not true. There’s no evidence to back it up. Does that make me a bad trainer? No. It just makes me once ill informed.
Now before I go all science spend a minute to think about all the adverts on TV for breakfast cereals. Think about the way they are designed to entice you into believing that you have to eat your breakfast. Think of the slogans they use to reel you in.
Do you remember Tony the Tiger of Frosted Flakes fame?
His catchphrases were ‘They’re Gr-R-Reat’ and ‘They bring out the tiger in you’.
Really? Do they really bring out the tiger in you?
How about Shredded Wheat. When growing up did you try to eat three of them because the marketing bet you that you couldn’t.
For me the concept that breakfast is the most important meal of the day is up there with wisdom such as…
‘If you go out with your hair wet you will catch a cold’
‘Don’t sit on that cold wall to long, you’ll get piles’
Or my personal favourite…
‘Don’t make faces because if the wind changes it will stick like that’
Now we all know that they’re not true. Well I hope we do anyway! There is absolutely no evidence to back-up those claims. So what about breakfast? Is there any scientific evidence to back up the claim that breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.
The simple answer is no. Well nothing that is significant in categorically confirming it is, and like so many things in the fitness industry you find a lot of contradictions when you start to dig around and look for the facts.
Research has shown that skipping breakfast can result in you consuming more calories throughout the rest of the day (1). So you could say that this would mean you would gain weight if you skipped breakfast. But then research has also shown that skipping breakfast can leave you in a calorie deficit for the day (2). Now wouldn’t that be perfect if you are looking for weight loss.
So here you have two separate studies coming to the complete opposite conclusion. The truth is the fact lies somewhere in the middle.
Now being the curious guy that I am, I wanted to get an idea of peoples consumption of breakfast. So I set a poll up on my social media feeds asking that very question – ‘What did you have for your breakfast this morning?’
Interestingly out of the 21 people that answered the poll only one indicated that they skipped breakfast. The most votes went for a bowl of porridge closely followed by a hot meal. Now I don’t find this result overly surprising when the general consensus among most leading authorities, like the NHS and the BHF, is that porridge or a protein packed breakfast like eggs are the favoured go to recommendation, and that skipping breakfast is somewhat frowned upon.
One of the largest research studies to date on ‘Breakfast recommendations’ (3) found no significant effect on weight loss between 3 randomly assigned groups – a control group, a group told to eat breakfast and a group told to skip breakfast. After 16 weeks the researchers came to the conclusion that skipping breakfast had no discernable effect at all on weight loss.
Now take that in. 16 weeks. That’s 4 months!
4 months and they found no significant difference in weight loss between the groups. That’s pretty damming evidence right there. So what we now know we can say from scientific evidence is that skipping breakfast with regards to weight loss appears to make little difference. But, it may be an effective way to reduce daily energy intake (calorie intake) in some adults.
So should you eat breakfast or skip it?
The fact is that it is an entirely personal preference. Do YOU eat breakfast because you believe it is the most important meal of the day, regardless of whether you are actually hungry?
Or do YOU eat breakfast because you simply couldn’t function without it. After all you don’t want to go to work feeling all ‘hangry’.
So ask yourself this the next time you wake up in the morning.
Am I hungry?
If you are, eat breakfast. But if you wake up and you’re not hungry, you know what don’t eat breakfast. Just be sure to make some good food choices later in the day.
1. Astbury NM, Taylor MA, Macdonald IA. Breakfast consumption affects appetite, energy intake, and the metabolic and endocrine responses to foods consumed later in the day in male habitual breakfast eaters. J Nutr 2011; 141:1381-9.
2. Levitsky DA, Pacanowski CR. Effect of skipping breakfast on subsequent energy intake. Physiol Behav 2013; 119:9-16.
3. Dhurandhar EJ, Dawson J, Alcorn A, Larsen LH, Thomas EA, Cardel M, Bourland AC, Astrup A, St-Onge MP, Hill JO, Apovian CM, Shikany JM, Allison DB. The effectiveness of breakfast recommendations on weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014; 100(2):507-13