Is breakfast really the most important meal?

How much does breakfast really matter for health and weight loss? Dietitian Tim Cassettari explains

Research has consistently shown that people who eat breakfast weigh less than those who don’t. The problem is, this research has never actually shown us why. Is it because there is something about breakfast that makes people leaner? Or is it simply because lean people happen to also eat breakfast?

Here are five myths that we have been lead to believe when it comes to breakfast, to help you decide just how important it is for you.

Myth 1: Eating breakfast boosts your metabolism

A recent study asked the question: what happens to your resting metabolism if you don’t eat anything before midday, every day, for six weeks?

The finding couldn’t be clearer: our resting metabolism does not change depending on whether we eat breakfast or not. If you skip breakfast, you don’t need to worry about your metabolism slowing down.

Myth 2: People who eat breakfast eat fewer calories throughout the day

Another common idea is that breakfast helps to keep us full, decreasing our calorie intake across the day. This is not only unproven, we have good evidence to suggest the opposite: we actually eat more calories overall.

And this makes good sense too – when we skip breakfast, we are skipping the intake of a significant amount of calories.

“The best answer to this question actually lies in listening to the hunger signals of your body.”

 

Myth 3: Purposely skipping breakfast is a good strategy for weight loss

Because eating breakfast typically increases our daily calorie intake, without increasing our metabolic rate, some have suggested that skipping it could be the key to weight loss.

But this too has no good scientific support. In a recent study, the largest and longest ever to compare the effect of skipping breakfast versus eating breakfast on weight, it was found that skipping breakfast:

  • Did not result in any significant weight loss, and
  • Did not have any better effect on weight loss when compared to eating breakfast.

And in case you are still keen to purposely skip breakfast, research shows that when obese individuals eat a big breakfast without eating more calories over the course of the day (so ensuring they eat fewer calories in the evening), it helps to enhance weight loss when compared to a smaller breakfast. Although breakfast consumption does not have an effect on resting metabolism, it may actually help us to be more physically active in the morning.

Myth 4: When we eat is just as important as what we eat

When we are constantly told that we either should or should not eat breakfast, it can make us forget that what we eat is actually what matters most. The facts are:

  • While breakfast eaters have higher nutrient intakes than breakfast skippers, high nutrient intake is, of course, driven by eating nutrient-rich foods.
  • While breakfast eaters have better long-term health than breakfast skippers, good health is, of course, driven by eating healthy foods.

Myth 5: There is a ‘right’ time to eat for everybody

Advice about breakfast can give us the impression that we should be eating at certain times. One of the most consistent predictors of body weight is actually the driver of what makes us eat:

  • When we eat in reaction to our external environment and emotions, we are more likely to overeat.
  • When we eat in response to our internal hunger signals, we are less likely to overeat.

Being more conscious about eating according to our hunger is one of the most effective strategies we have to help prevent us from overeating.

So, is breakfast really the most important meal of the day?

For many of us, it is very likely to be the most important meal of the day.

But the best answer to this question for you actually lies in listening to the hunger signals of your body, rather than worrying about what the time is on your clock.

Recommended reading - Issue Thirteen Spring 2015

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