Weight loss: How important is eating breakfast?

Every single day, people around the world sit at the table to enjoy what many consider to be “the most important meal of the day.”

Breakfast traditions vary: those from the United States and United Kingdom tend to favor eggs and bacon, whereas those in Italy and France often prefer croissants.

Regardless of what people choose to eat for breakfast, many people see this meal as an essential part of the day.

This is because it provides the body with the nutrients and energy needed to start the day. That said, the debate about breakfast’s role in health has been ongoing for years.

Breakfast myths debunked

A new study — the findings of which appear in the BMJ — saw no evidence to support the idea that eating breakfast is a good strategy for weight loss, or that skipping breakfast has the opposite effect.

Some previous studies have suggested that eating breakfast may help a person maintain a healthy weight. A team of Japanese researchers, for example, found that skipping breakfast was more strongly connected with obesity than eating dinner within 3 hours of bedtime.

We should interpret these findings with caution, however, due to study limitations. For example, the researchers did not take into consideration the types of food that people consumed for breakfast. Individual lifestyle and food choices play a significant role in weight management.

To find out more about the links between breakfast and weight change, a team of researchers from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, analyzed 13 randomized controlled trials — mostly from the U.S. and U.K. — from the past 28 years.

The findings debunked two myths:

  • Firstly, they found no evidence to suggest that eating breakfast may help with weight loss due to the efficient burning of calories early on preventing overeating later in the day.
  • Secondly, they found that skipping breakfast was not linked to people feeling hungrier.

No ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach

Participants were habitual and nonhabitual breakfast eaters with different body weights. The team found that the total daily energy intake was higher in people who ate breakfast than in those who skipped it. Also, people who skipped breakfast were, on average, 0.44 kilograms (0.97 pounds) lighter.

Some trials focused on the effects of either eating or skipping breakfast and any changes to body weight. Others looked at the impact that breakfast has on daily energy intake. Given the varying quality of the studies, the study authors warn that we should interpret the findings with caution.

Despite some limitations, the study authors explain that the evidence gathered by all the studies conducted to date does not support diets for adults that include eating breakfast as a good strategy for weight loss. The authors conclude:

Although eating breakfast regularly could have other important effects, caution is needed when recommending breakfast for weight loss in adults, as it may have the opposite effect.”

In an opinion piece linked to the study, Tim Spector — who is professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London in the U.K. — reminds us that eating or skipping breakfast may have different effects on different people because we all have a unique metabolism.

He says, “No ‘one size fits all,’ and prescriptive slow-moving diet guidelines filled with erroneous information look increasingly counterproductive and detract from important health messages.”

“While waiting for guidelines to change, no harm can be done in trying out your own personal experiments in skipping breakfast,” Prof. Spector concludes.

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