We Have Been Asking the Wrong Question about Breakfast

As a kid, you were probably indoctrinated with the same age-old nutritional wisdom that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

For a moment, forget the criticisms of your typical (unhealthy) breakfast and assume that everything you’re eating for your first meal of the day is healthy. Is breakfast essential? Is it the most important meal of the day? 

Or — are those even the right questions to ask?

With all of the recent focus on intermittent fasting, you might be left wondering whether skipping breakfast is good for weight loss, heart-healthy, or even beneficial for longevity.

In this episode of That’s Healthy, Right? host Adam Bornstein looks at the behavioral research to uncover the one question you need to answer that will determine if you should be part of the breakfast club. 

Have a question you want to be considered for the show? To submit a question, email a voice recording that you can do here to info@bornfitness.com.

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Resources:

Breakfast Is Not the Most Important Meal – Born Fitness

The role of breakfast In the treatment of obesity: a randomized clinical trial

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

The effectiveness of breakfast recommendations on weight loss: a randomized controlled trial — The American Journal of  Clinical Nutrition

The causal role of breakfast in energy balance and health: A randomized controlled trial in lean adults — The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

The Effects of Breakfast and Breakfast Composition on Cognition in Adults — Advances in Nutrition

‘Dessert with breakfast diet’ helps avoid weight regain by reducing cravings — Science Daily

[Transcript]

Adam Bornstein: Death, taxes, and “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”

Many might argue that those three things are about as much of a guarantee as you’ll find, but is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?

The idea seems to be backed by tons of research. Unlike many of the topics that we cover here that have a complete lack of science, there are a variety of studies that suggest that breakfast is associated with weight loss and a decrease in cardiovascular disease, a decrease in type 2 diabetes, and overall health behaviors.

But what’s interesting is if you talk to the leading scientists who study weight loss, they have a pretty big issue with the whole, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” hypothesis and that is that the majority of the research that focuses on breakfast is observational in nature.

That is, they’re not throwing people in a lab and comparing directly eating breakfast to not eating breakfast. They’re doing surveys or trying to find out how people react to, really, their preferences from a breakfast standpoint.

And when there was research that has directly compared whether eating breakfast or not eating breakfast is more impactful, you really don’t see much difference in terms of weight loss. 

In fact, a meta-analysis looked at ten different studies and found that the decision to eat breakfast really didn’t have that much of an influence on whether someone gained or lost weight.

And then another study put overweight women on a 12-week weight loss program and decided what would happen if someone did or did not have breakfast. And what was so interesting about this is that whether someone had breakfast or not, did not have an impact on their weight loss, but the changes in their behavior did.

So, if you took someone who previously ate breakfast and then had them stop eating breakfast, they lost more weight. And similarly, if you took someone who was not eating breakfast and then added breakfast, they also lost weight.

So it was almost the change of habit or routine that led to weight loss. And therein lies the real answer about understanding whether you should eat breakfast or not.

These same scientists that study weight loss for a living, in particular focus on breakfast, will tell you that the decision of whether you eat breakfast or not is really most dependent on your lifestyle, your day and whether you wake up hungry.

If you wake up hungry and you do not eat breakfast, the research will show that you are more likely to binge eat or overeat during lunch or dinner, which means you will take in more calories.

Similarly, if you are not hungry and you force-feed yourself, you might also end up eating more calories and at the end of the day, weight loss or weight gain is governed primarily by the number of calories you eat.

As well as the type of foods you eat – so the breakdown of proteins, carbs, and fats – has nothing to do with the timing of your meals or even the frequency, how often you eat your meals.

So, is breakfast the most important meal of the day? Only if you are ignoring what naturally feels best for you. So if you’re hungry, eat. If you’re not, feel free to avoid.