Newsletter: Skipping breakfast

Today we’re going back to the nutrition side of the Newsletter. Christian Finn is here to tell us, for once and for all, whether it’s healthy to have breakfast (in terms of weight control).

Is skipping breakfast to lose weight a good or a bad idea?

 After all, we’ve been told for years that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

 If I was trying to sell you on the importance of breakfast, here’s how I’d go about it.

First, I would mention the observational studies showing that people skipping breakfast tend to weigh more than those who don’t.

Next, I would tell you about the research that shows tapering down your calorie intake — eating breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper — leads to a faster rate of weight loss.

 If Kellogg’s were paying me a vast amount of money to persuade you that breakfast was indeed the most important meal of the day, I’d stop there.

 But that would mean ignoring all the research showing that breakfast is nowhere near as important as we’ve been led to believe.

It’s true that people who skip breakfast are, on average, fatter than people who don’t. But this has less to do with breakfast itself than it does with a lifestyle that lends itself to overeating and a lack of physical activity. (You might, for instance, observe that cars with a Ferrari badge go a lot faster than most other cars without a Ferrari badge. But that has less to do with the badge than it does with the massive engine sat under the bonnet.)

 A number of controlled trials have tested the proposed link between breakfast and weight loss. All show much the same thing. Skipping breakfast doesn’t have a great deal of impact on your ability to lose weight one way or the other.

 Breakfast has no impact on resting metabolism. Nor does it lead to a meaningful suppression of calorie intake later in the day. Depriving people of breakfast can mean they end up eating more at lunch. But those additional calories don’t compensate entirely for the calories they missed at breakfast. By the end of the day, the breakfast skippers still ate fewer calories overall.

 Interestingly, skipping breakfast and then exercising in a fasted state has been shown to reduce daily calorie intake. And this drop in calorie intake didn’t come solely from breakfast. Subjects also ate less later in the day.

 The bottom line is that skipping breakfast does not automatically increase your risk of weight gain. Nor do people who eat breakfast end up losing weight more quickly than those who don’t. It all comes down to individual preferences and what works for you.

 If you find that skipping breakfast leaves you hungry, tired and unable to concentrate, then don’t skip breakfast. But if breakfast isn’t your thing, or you don’t get peckish until the afternoon, there’s nothing wrong with starting the day with a cup of coffee and little else. It’s not something that will make or break your diet.

And apart from this, in general, it pretty much doesn’t matter how you choose to eat: you can eat 7 times a day, or just once. Or you can fast for 16-20 hours and eat in just a little window of 8-4h. If you eat the same amounts of calories and macro-nutrients, you will probably notice very little differences (except for the way in which you exercise routine might interact with your diet, of course), so in the end it’s more about exercising self-control on those times we know we are strongest, and about not thinking the Spanish classical de perdidos al río on those times we know we are weakest. It’s more about balance than it is about finding a perfect diet.

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