“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” We’ve all heard it before – typically as part of a monologue designed to convert breakfast haters into devout bacon-and-egg lovers.
But the reality is that breakfast has long been a point of contention among weight-loss warriors, doctors, nutritionists and researchers alike. Some say breakfast “jump-starts” your metabolism. Others say they just aren’t hungry in the morning. And an increasingly large cohort of intermittent fasters maintains that skipping meals (like breakfast) can result in weight loss, not gain.
[See: 8 Morning and Nighttime Rituals Health Pros Swear By.]
Breakfast: the Good, the Bad and the Controversial
As much as we’d love a definitive study that said, “Yes, breakfast helps everyone lose weight” or “No, breakfast is an act in weight-loss futility,” the fact of the matter is that we just don’t have that study yet. Maybe someday we will – but it likely won’t be soon.
It’s important to remember that, like nutrition research in general, our scientific exploration of the breakfast-weight connection is still young. And, unfortunately, nutrition research is far from perfect. Apart from the fact that food manufacturers fork over the funding for much of the nutrition research out there, it is extremely difficult (if not impossible) to carry out a perfect study to determine breakfast’s exact role in our weights, explains registered dietitian Wesley Delbridge, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. After all, how many people do you know who would want to spend weeks, months or even years on end in a lab having not only every meal, but everything they do, controlled? That’s what it would take for researchers to tease out breakfast’s exact role in weight loss.
But conflicting findings aside, the University of Missouri study raises an important part of the breakfast-weight connection: It’s not just breakfast that plays a role in weight gain or loss, it’s exactly what you eat. For instance, eating protein (no matter the time of day) is consistently linked to increases in levels of satiety hormones including peptide YY and GLP-1 as well as lower levels of hunger hormones including ghrelin, Delbridge says. (It’s also important to note that spreading your protein intake throughout the day, rather than consuming the bulk of it in the afternoon and evening, dramatically increases rates of muscle protein synthesis, even if you eat the same number of calories each day, according to research from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. That translates to a higher resting metabolic rate and lower body-fat percentage.)
[See: High-Protein Breakfast Ideas.]
“If my patients are generally not breakfast eaters, I usually ask them to monitor their intake later on in the day to notice whether or not they are ‘back ending’ their calories. If calories are being consumed closer to the end of the day, I would actually recommend adding something small, such as a Greek yogurt or hardboiled egg, at breakfast time in order to decrease the likelihood of overeating later,” explains Leah Kaufman, a registered dietitian with NYU Langone Medical Center’s Weight Management Program.
On the flip side, skipping protein in favor of refined carbohydrates like those found in cereals (even healthy-looking ones), muffins and syrup-drizzled waffles are quickly digested to promote fat storage as well as increased hunger at subsequent meals. “They do nothing more than add overall calories throughout the day, which can lead to unwanted weight gain rather than weight loss,” she says, noting that it would be better for them to skip the morning meal entirely than to eat unhealthy breakfasts just for the sake of eating them.
“Is breakfast the silver bullet that will cause you to lose weight? No, but eating a balanced breakfast that contains protein, fat and fiber-rich carbohydrates can affect your caloric balance to promote weight loss,” says registered dietitian and master of public health Kathleen M. Zelman, director of nutrition for WebMD. She notes that 78 percent of members of the National Weight Control Registry – which tracks more than 10,000 individuals who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept the weight off – eat breakfast every day.
So is breakfast necessary to lose weight? No. But, for most people, it certainly seems to help. And as long as your breakfasts are healthy, it definitely won’t hurt.
[See: The 10 Best Diets for Fast Weight Loss.]
Not Into Breakfast? Ease Into It
Breakfast skippers are famous for saying, “I’m just not hungry in the mornings” or “Eating as soon as I wake up makes me feel bad.” In their defense, it’s true: If you regularly don’t eat before noon, eating a big breakfast will be a shock to your system, and you’ll likely feel sick, Delbridge says.
These expert-approved guidelines will help you serve up your best breakfast ever and hopefully, over time, not only will you become a breakfast lover, you’ll feel your mid-day hunger and cravings subside, your energy levels improve and your weight-loss results improve.