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One of our favorite times of the day is the early morning, simply because we love eating breakfast foods. In fact, sometimes we may only be motivated to leave our beds if it’s to start the day with a nice, fresh meal.
From a cultural perspective, eating first thing in the morning is something that has been drilled into many of our daily routines from an early age, with the popular belief being that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
It’s is frequently framed as the meal that sets the tone for the day ahead and, oftentimes, skipping breakfast is seen as a generally unhealthy practice.
After all, don’t those who skip out on their morning cereal, also miss out on important nutrients and energy, that will fuel them for the rest of the day?
Well, contemporary research suggests that this might not actually be the case. New data is showing that many “facts” about breakfast – like the supposed link between obesity and skipping breakfast – may not actually be true.(1)
Instead, a growing body of research seems to suggest that when you eat may be far less important than what you eat.
Why Do Some People Think Skipping Breakfast is Bad?
Traditionally, skipping breakfast has been linked with a number of negative side-effects like weight gain slowed metabolism, and lower energy. Additionally, it was also assumed that it was healthier to spread out your calories throughout the day, instead of leaving them all to be consumed in one giant super meal.
And it is true that some research has shown that individuals who consume breakfast daily, on average, have lower BMIs. However, many other studies tell a different story. In fact, numerous studies, such as one published by the Cambridge University Press, suggest that people actually consume fewer calories on average when breakfast is eliminated from the meal rotation.(2)
Even though consuming food first thing in the morning may help to keep you satisfied for the first few hours of the day, its actual metabolic effects may be less significant than researchers once thought.
In fact, numerous studies have shown that dieters who didn’t consume breakfast actually consume fewer calories on average than those who did, helping to cast doubt on the general benefit that eating first thing in the morning helps to reduce the chances of overeating later in the day.
Skipping Breakfast and Weight Gain
One might think that omitting breakfast leads to overeating later in the day, since a breakfast skipper may be starving by the time noon rolls around. If a commuter rushes out the door without having an energy bar or toast, then it is assumed that they’ll break down by midday, and end up eating a thousand-calorie muffin, or a pastry.
Many people tend to believe this habit will lead to large amounts of weight gain. There is also, perhaps, a psychology perception that someone who skips breakfast is not looking after their health like they should. A breakfast skipper isn’t thinking about what to eat, in the morning, so of course, they’ll also be thoughtless later on…right? However, this is not necessarily the case.
Take a look at this study published in Physiology & Behavior.(3) They gathered both breakfast-eaters and breakfast-skippers. The researchers gave some participants a high-carbohydrate breakfast, a high-fiber breakfast, and one group no breakfast.
Then, all study-participants tracked their caloric intake throughout their day. It was found that the dieters who skipped breakfast, ended up taking in fewer calories when compared to the breakfast consumers. Despite skipping the first meal of the day, they didn’t eat any more than anyone else – they weren’t any less hungry, and they ended up reducing their energy intake.
Overall, people save about 400 calories when they forgo breakfast. In other words, this study demonstrates that you are not necessarily hungrier when you skip breakfast.
If you want to lose weight by reducing your caloric intake, then skipping breakfast might actually be the way to go. This is also due to the fasting effect since your body will start to shift into fasting mode when you go 12 hours or so without eating.
Skipping Breakfast and Metabolism
Breakfast lovers will claim that an early meal gives your metabolism – the rate at which our body burns calories – a jumpstart. If your body has less energy, it could be reasoned, the metabolism will slow to conserve the little energy it has.
Eat a pile of eggs and hash browns first thing in the morning, they claim, and just watch the weight drop off, throughout the day! If you start your food intake early, your calorie-burning machine will work harder during the day. This fact might seem too good to be true, and research proves that it likely is.
Yet another study shows that daily energy intake and breakfast eating might not have as big a link as most initially believed. (4) Scientists measured the blood glucose in both breakfast eaters and breakfast skippers. This is relevant because measuring blood glucose is a helpful way to track a person’s metabolism.
The study found that people did eat larger meals if they went without breakfast, and over twenty-four hours a person’s blood glucose and their energy expenditure level increased. In other words, the dramatic shifts in glucose from these two larger meals forced the body to expend more energy between the longer time intervals between these big meals.
Our digestive and metabolic systems are actually far more complex than one would think. The research is showing that our bodies seem to be more adept at handling larger influxes of calories – rather than small snacks, spread throughout the day.
The Benefits of Skipping Breakfast
Ever thought about the etymology of breakfast? As the first meal in the day, it’s when you break your “fast” after not eating all night. What is fasting? It’s essentially a test of will, where people refrain from eating for a stretch of time.
Many people use intermittent fasting as an avenue for weight loss. The idea is to ride the wave of a person’s metabolic rate — their complete process of digesting and absorbing a meal. In other words, it’s like training your body to use your meals as efficiently as possible.
Some people doing intermittent fasting will have six small meals throughout the day, instead of three regular-sized meals. Others will have one large meal in place of lunch, dinner, and breakfast. Others will pendulum between these schedules.
The Leangains protocol has a person forgo breakfast and restrict any meals to eight hours spans within the afternoon. This leaves a sixteen-hour period between the next meal. Another fasting schedule commonly used is: ‘one day fasting, one day eating normally’. This is likely the most difficult type of intermittent fasting, as it constantly requires you to go 24 hours without food — it’s not for the faint of heart.
And lastly, another method has people consuming less than 700 calories, on two non-consecutive days of the week. During the other 5 days, you eat normally. Interestingly, all of these protocols commonly have you skipping breakfast. Perhaps it is not the most important meal of the day, after all.
Why have people turned to fasting as a way to finetune their bodies? First, you can look back towards our ancestors, who did not have access to a regular meal schedule or a 24/7 diner. Our hunter-gather ancestors intermittently fasted between catches, and perhaps our bodies react better to this schedule.
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It’s also been shown that when fasting, our bodies (on a cellular level) seem to repair things quicker. Hormones that aid in losing fat and gaining muscle respond more, and our insulin is better regulated. In fact, our genes even tend to fare better on a fasting eating plan. They generate more proteins, as well as brain-boosting benefits.
If you can do a longer fast, you might even get increased benefits. And the best way to increase the length of your fast is to skip breakfast – since you are technically fasting even while you sleep. It would be much harder — and go against your body’s natural cycle — to fast through lunch and dinner.
All of this comes together to help with weight loss and other health issues. In one study we see that alternating between a “fast day” and a “feed day” was just as good for losing weight, when compared to regular weight loss programs.(5) In fact, participants’ blood-levels in terms of glucose and insulin were far better.
Perhaps skipping breakfast trains your body to level out your blood sugar, instead of the rapid spikes little meals can give. It’s almost as if our bodies were programmed to handle fasting better, than a constant onslaught of snacks. Have you ever heard the old adage “quality over quantity?”
In yet another study, fasting was just as helpful in losing weight for overweight and obese individuals, compared to daily energy restriction.(6) In other words, it might be better to eat larger meals with longer spaced times between them, than to consume many smaller snacks. And this makes sense if you look at our ancestors’ eating habits, just a few thousand years back.
One lucky hunt might bring a great feast, that lasts an entire month. Our bodies are used to this flux of eating a lot and then fasting. Basically, skipping breakfast might be the best way to fast. In fact, skipping breakfast may be one of the best ways to lose more weight.
So Should You Skip Breakfast?
The recent research emerging says that there is little or no correlation between health and skipping breakfast. Running out the door before pouring yourself a bowl of cereal does not predetermine you to a day of low energy. A lack of bananas does not foretell a slowed metabolism.
And if the thought of eating toast in the morning makes you sick, then you are not dooming your body to a future of obesity. In fact, you may be doing the opposite. Studies show that skipping breakfast may actually lead to eating fewer calories overall.
By elongating your daily fast, you might be priming your body to metabolize your meals at a healthier pace. Essentially, there is nothing wrong with skipping breakfast and waiting until lunch. Most people don’t eat more – actually, they eat less.
But what if you like breakfast? There are so many fine meals that begin our day, it can feel like treason to forgo brunch completely! From bacon and eggs to grapefruit and coffee, it seems like a crime to skip breakfast entirely. If you are a breakfast lover like us, don’t fret. Breakfast is still a perfectly valid option.
What truly matters for a healthy lifestyle is a complex balance of consistency and overall caloric intake. Example – don’t eat bacon with every meal. You can think of skipping breakfast as just one more tool in your toolbox, against weight gain. If you leap out of bed at the mere thought of bagels and lox, there’s no reason to stop.
As long as it’s accompanied by a healthy lifestyle, you don’t have to skip breakfast. However, if you’re among the many who prefer to skip breakfast and head out the door, go right ahead. You might even be helping yourself to lose more weight.
- “Breakfast: to skip or not to skip?” Zilberter, T., Zilberter, E.Y. Frontiers in Public Health. Jun. 2014.
- “The effect of breakfast on appetite regulation, energy balance and exercise performance” Clayton, D.J., James, L.J. Proceedings of the Nutrition SOciety. Aug. 2016.
- “Effect of skipping breakfast on subsequent energy intake” Levitsky, D.A., Pacanowski, C.R. Physiology and Behavior. Jul. 2013.
- “Effect of breakfast skipping on diurnal variation of energy metabolism and blood glucose.” Kobayashi, F., Ogata, H., Omi, N., Yamguchi, S., Tokuyama, K. Obesity Research & Clinical Practice. May. 2014.
- “Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings” Barnosky, A.R., Hoddy, K.K., Unterman, T.G., Vardy, K.A. Translational Research. Oct. 2014.
- “https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26603882” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition Translational Research. Oct. 2014.