Should You Eat Breakfast? Finally, A Straight Answer

For years, dietitians said breakfast was the most important meal for weight loss, but now many say you should skip it. In fact, a new review of studies currently flooding news sites says that breakfast does not help with weight loss. Many a.m. eaters believe starting your morning with a good meal lowers your risk of junk food binges, but the new paper, published in BMJ, says this isn’t exactly true.

Researchers looked at 13 controlled trials and compared the weights of adults who did and didn’t eat breakfast. They found no evidence that skipping breakfast could lead to weight gain, or that eating breakfast will help you lose weight.

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So, what’s smart guy to do? We asked two experts on each side of the debate:

Why not eating breakfast might be good for you

Krista Varady, Ph.D., associate professor of nutrition at the University of Illinois, Chicago

Skipping breakfast and various forms of fasting can help control weight and improve your health, according to a series of recent studies. Time-restricted eating (TRE) is a form of intermittent fasting that involves consuming all your daily calories within a shortened period of time. In a study I recently coauthored, obese men and women who ate all their food between 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. for three months consumed 341 fewer calories per day, lost 3 percent of body weight, and lowered systolic blood pressure. All forms of fasting also promote a process called autophagy, in which worn-out cells are removed, which may help reduce inflammation and improve overall body function.

Even if you shift this window a bit, the perks will likely be similar. For healthy people who don’t enjoy breakfast, or for whom dinner is an important social or family meal, a later window (11:00 to 7:00, or noon to 8:00) could make sense. Just don’t place it too late, since you become more insulin resistant (i.e. food causes greater blood-sugar spikes) as the day goes on. (Note: Some research suggests eating early in the day is better for people at risk for diabetes.) Don’t skip breakfast if it causes late-night binge eating.

The reason most diets fail is that people try doing things so different from their normal behavior that they can’t stick to them. So if not eating breakfast feels good, experiment with TRE. Just be aware it may take a week or two to adjust. To control initial cravings, drink water, eat lots of protein, and reduce your refined carbs.

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Why breakfast is good for weight loss

Mark Pereira, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis

I’ve been studying the effects of breakfast on health for 15 years, and there’s no compelling reason to skip it for weight loss. In fact, skipping breakfast is associated with poor overall dietary habits, and the jury’s still out on the long-term effects of fasting for weight loss.

In 2013, my research group analyzed data from thousands of people whose dietary habits and health status were tracked for 18 years, and daily breakfast intake (classified as eating at least 20 percent of daily calories within two hours of waking) was strongly protective against obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. This doesn’t prove that skipping breakfast causes these conditions, but it’s a pretty good indicator it might lead to less-healthy behaviors. For example, skipping breakfast could cause dips in blood sugar that increase feelings of hunger, resulting in overeating at lunch or dinner, bingeing at night, or making generally unhealthy food choices. Low blood sugar can also cause energy dips, which might sap your motivation to exercise, further interfering with weight loss.

But eating whatever you want in the morning isn’t the answer, either. A small study I ran found that blood sugar spikes after a low-quality, refined-grain, sugary breakfast, and then drops dramatically within a couple hours. To set yourself up for success, eat a breakfast that’s low in sugar, high in fiber, and has a balance of protein, fats, and carbs. My favorites: oatmeal with milk, blueberries, and walnuts; a whole-grain English muffin with avocado and an egg; or a smoothie with greens, plain yogurt, and fruit.

Breakfast isn’t a magic bullet—and if you have no desire to eat it, don’t. But for many, a good breakfast sets the tone for the rest of the day, leading to healthier choices that could help you slim down.

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Still torn? Try this:

If you enjoy breakfast and feel like it helps deliver the energy you need for the day, keep eating it, but make sure it’s nutritionally balanced, as Pereira suggests. On the other hand, if eating early in the morning feels unnatural, then a TRE approach, in which you push your first meal a bit later in the day and confine your eating to an eight-hour window that doesn’t extend late into the night, may be just the change you need to finally drop some pounds.

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