Eating breakfast is sometimes promulgated as a component of an effective weight loss strategy. Correlational studies have suggested that breakfast consumption is associated with lower body weight. As the thinking goes, breakfast promotes morning satiety, thus suppressing caloric intake later in the day. Skipping breakfast, however, results in increased caloric intake later in the day.
But most people are breakfast eaters. Data exist suggesting that the adverse effects of skipping breakfast may occur only in habitual breakfast eaters. In other words, it may be harmful only if you suddenly change your habits.
So, what should we be telling our “breakfast-skippers” about breakfast and weight loss?
Gabrielle LeCheminant and her colleagues conducted a randomized trial of habitual breakfast skippers to evaluate the effects of eating breakfast versus not on energy, macronutrient consumption, and physical activity over 1 month (Appetite. 2017 May 1. doi: 10.1016/j.appet.2016.12.041).
Subjects were required to eat within 90 minutes of waking up and finish eating by 8:30 a.m. No eating or snack restrictions were imposed after breakfast. Subjects were 18-55 years of age, ate breakfast (at least 2 days/week), slept at least 6 hours per night, and woke up consistently before 8:00 am. Biometric and food diaries were completed.
Breakfast-skippers randomized to eat breakfast consumed more calories (266) per day and weighed more (0.7 kg) at 1 month. No changes were observed in caloric compensation with subsequent meals nor in self-reported hunger or satiety. No additional physical activity was observed with the addition of breakfast.
Weight gain was minimal, and the time frame of the study was short. Even so, I think the take-home message from this is: Don’t tell habitual breakfast skippers to start eating breakfast with the goal of losing weight. It appears that the opposite may be true.
Dr. Ebbert is a professor of medicine and general internist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and a diplomate of the American Board of Addiction Medicine. The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Mayo Clinic. The opinions expressed in this article should not be used to diagnose or treat any medical condition, nor should they be used as a substitute for medical advice from a qualified, board-certified practicing clinician. Dr. Ebbert has no relevant financial disclosures about this article.