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Eating breakfast won’t help you lose weight, but skipping it might not either

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A new study has debunked the notion that breakfast is essential for weight loss, and this is good news for health-conscious individuals. The breakfast cereal aisle is usually crowded with sugary carbs in various flavors and shapes, all disguised as healthy food. Eating breakfast is not associated with weight loss or eating less, which raises the question, can skipping breakfast help in weight loss?

A Plethora of Studies on Breakfast and Weight Loss

Several intermittent fasting studies have shown that extending the overnight fast is linked with weight loss and improved metabolism. Overnight fasting of at least 16 hours enables blood sugar and insulin levels to decrease, allowing fat stores to be used for energy. This makes physiological and logical sense as the body cannot burn fat if it's still receiving fuel. The belief that having a meal first thing in the morning revs up metabolism isn't based on reality.

The Misconception that Breakfast Is Essential for a Healthy Weight

Where did the breakfast myth come from? Was it based on any research? Yes, but not the right type of research. Observational studies only produce interesting observations. At the population level, people who regularly consume breakfast tend to have a healthier weight. However, this does not necessarily mean that breakfast has anything to do with it. People who regularly eat breakfast may also tend to have daytime schedules, higher socioeconomic status, or more consistent habits than those who don't. These are more critical variables associated with a healthier weight, and observational studies cannot reveal them.

What the Strongest Studies Say

To properly study the impact of eating breakfast on weight, researchers would need to conduct a randomized controlled trial (RCT) dividing participants equally into breakfast vs. no-breakfast groups and measure specific outcomes, like daily calorie intake and weight. RCTs are experiments that allow researchers to control for confounding variables and, thus, draw more reliable conclusions.

Researchers from Melbourne, Australia, conducted a meta-analysis of RCTs on breakfast and weight and/or total daily energy intake. They found 13 studies that met their criteria. Seven studies looked at the effects of breakfast on weight change, and after an average study length of seven weeks, participants who ate breakfast gained 1.2 pounds compared to those who didn't. This was true for both normal and overweight people.

Ten studies looked at the effects of breakfast on total daily calorie intake, and after an average study length of two weeks, participants who ate breakfast consumed 260 calories more than those who didn't. These results debunk the notion that skipping breakfast will cause people to binge later. While many studies suggest that eating close to bedtime is associated with obesity, this has nothing to do with breakfast.

Is Breakfast Really Necessary? What the Science Says

A recent study has debunked the long-standing belief that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. The cereal aisle of the supermarket, which is filled with sugary carbohydrates, disguised as health food, makes it apparent that the myth of breakfast being essential for good health is just that- a myth.

Is skipping breakfast linked to weight loss?

Research suggests that extended overnight fasting, such as intermittent fasting for at least 16 hours, is associated with improved metabolism and weight loss. This is because the body burns fat when blood sugar and insulin levels decrease. Having breakfast in the morning doesn't necessarily rev up the metabolism as previously believed.

Why has breakfast been considered important?

Observational studies had suggested that people who regularly consume breakfast are generally healthier and have a healthy weight. However, this association could have been influenced by other factors, such as daytime schedules or higher socioeconomic status.

What do randomized controlled trials say?

Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) are experiments where participants are evenly divided into breakfast and no-breakfast groups. RCTs help to control for confounding variables, making it easier to draw conclusions. Researchers analyzed 13 RCTs conducted in high-income countries that defined breakfast content and timing. The study found that after an average study length of seven weeks, participants who ate breakfast gained 1.2 pounds compared to those who didn’t. Additionally, after an average study length of two weeks, participants who ate breakfast consumed 260 calories more than those who didn’t. These findings suggest that skipping breakfast may not lead to overeating later in the day.

Are there any flaws in these studies?

The RCTs had their shortcomings as the participants were aware of their experimental group, the studies used various groups and featured different foods with varying follow-up times. Additionally, no RCT has compared high-protein, high-fiber breakfast with no breakfast.

What's the bottom line?

In conclusion, there is a lack of evidence to support breakfast consumption as a weight loss strategy, including in adults with overweight or obesity. However, if you enjoy breakfast and are healthy, then by all means continue with your breakfast routine. People struggling with metabolic medical issues can consider water, tea, or coffee as breakfast, followed by a healthy lunch. In any case, it's advisable to avoid eating close to bedtime and to give your body enough time between meals to burn fat.

Caroline Buckee

Caroline Flannigan is an epidemiologist. She is an Associate Professor of Epidemiology and is the Associate Director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics.

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