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Eating breakfast may not matter for weight loss
June 4th, 2014
12:01 PM ET

Eating breakfast may not matter for weight loss

"Eat breakfast!" nutrition experts have been telling us for decades. It revs your metabolism! It keeps you from overindulging at lunch! It helps you lose weight!

But a new study suggests the "most important meal of the day" may not be so important - at least for adults trying to lose weight.

Published Wednesday in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the study found dieters who skipped breakfast lost just as much weight as dieters who ate breakfast regularly. The researchers concluded that while breakfast may have several health benefits, weight loss isn't one of them.

So where did breakfast get its cred?

So far, research has generally shown a link between skipping breakfast and the likelihood of being overweight, but it hasn't proven that skipping breakfast causes weight gain. "Previous studies have mostly demonstrated correlation, but not necessarily causation," lead study author Emily Dhurandhar said in a statement from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

There is good observational evidence to support breakfast's place on the menu, says Michelle Cardel, a co-author of the study from the University of Colorado Denver. Nearly 80% of people on the National Weight Control Registry, a group of more than 4,000 people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off, eat breakfast every day. Ninety percent of them eat breakfast at least 5 days a week.

Skip breakfast, lose weight? Not so fast

The study

Researchers split 309 adults who were interested in losing weight into three groups.

One, the control group, received a USDA pamphlet titled "Let's Eat for the Health of It" that described good nutrition habits but did not mention breakfast. The second group received the same pamphlet and was instructed to eat breakfast before 10 a.m. every day. The third group received the pamphlet as well and was told to avoid consuming anything but water until 11 a.m.

Researchers followed the groups for 16 weeks and recorded their weight to show changes over the study period.

Results

Of the 309 participants, 283 completed the study. All three groups lost the same amount of weight on average, showing researchers that eating breakfast (or not) had no significant effect.

"This should be a wake-up call for all of us to always ask for evidence about the recommendations we hear so widely offered," David Allison, director of the UAB Nutrition Obesity Research Center, said in a statement.

Study limitations

There were several limitations to this study that should be taken into account when viewing the results, Cardel says.

"The participants were able to choose what they ate every day," she said. "So at this point we cannot conclude anything about how much food you should eat at breakfast or what kinds of food you should eat."

The study authors did not measure participants' appetite, body fat or metabolism, which previous research has shown may be affected by breakfast eating. And the small study was only 16 weeks long, which may have been too short to see a significant effect.

Takeaway

Keith Kantor, a nutrition expert and author of "The Green Box League of Nutritious Justice," says eating breakfast is still a good idea. Doing so creates a routine, he says, and humans thrive on routine.

"Skipping meals... and eating at random times throughout the day requires more of a thought process," he said. "This allows more room for negative behaviors like skipping exercise or grabbing fast food due to lack of planning."

A healthy breakfast, Kantor says, consists of high-quality protein, heart-healthy fats and produce.

"More research needs to be conducted so that we can understand what kinds of foods should be eaten at breakfast... how quickly after waking should people eat breakfast, and how much should people be eating at breakfast," Cardel said.


soundoff (128 Responses)
  1. Blah

    You technically can't skip breakfast because it is literally a break in the fast.

    June 5, 2014 at 10:32 | Report abuse | Reply
    • river

      Well, if you just eat all of the friggen time, then I guess you would never break the fast. Therefore, no breakfast. I'm anxiously awaiting the results of the multi million dollar government study to find out if stuffing my pie hole all the time is helping me to lose weight. I have to say though after gaining two hundred pounds, it's not looking good so far. So maybe breakfast is important after all!
      Pass the sugar frosted lard-i-os', please.

      June 14, 2014 at 13:42 | Report abuse |
    • Debra M. Harris

      And breakfast is really needed, so the hunger later wont ruin your diet too.

      July 14, 2014 at 21:50 | Report abuse |
  2. Daddy Mac

    The summary of all these comments and studies is that no one thing works for everyone. Find what works for you and make sure it is a healthy way to lose weight. I got up to 213 lbs late last year. I started eating less and different and working out. I have steadill lost weight and weigh 192 currently. This is the same weight I was in 1999 when I ran The New York Marathon. If you are serious, you can find a way to take those lbs off and some people do require surgery. Keep it simple and manageable!

    June 5, 2014 at 10:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. CynTx67

    Breakfast has always made me sick. As a child, I would vomit if I ate before 10am...Now it simply makes me extremely nauseous..I have tried all kinds of breakfast food...the most I can choke down is a low sugar protein shake...Don't have digestive problems any other time of the day....

    June 5, 2014 at 10:50 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Kat

      I have always been the same way: I simply can't eat anything for a couple of hours after I wake up. If I try, it makes me nauseous.

      I have also always been on the slender side of normal weight-wise, for what that's worth.

      June 14, 2014 at 22:31 | Report abuse |
    • Danny

      I eat meal replacements personaly. Try dpacheco.usana.com you will feel better with something in your system.

      July 26, 2014 at 19:28 | Report abuse |
  4. Marianne

    Calories in...calories out. Skip the 10 thousand books and whacko advice.

    June 5, 2014 at 11:01 | Report abuse | Reply
    • NDanger

      Not quite that simple. All calories are not processed the same way in your body. Read "Fat Chance" by Dr. Robert Lustig, or watch his videos on YouTube. He's not selling any diet scams. Sugars and simple carbs should be avoided because they raise the blood glucose level, driving the release of insulin, and this stores energy as adipose (fat) tissue.

      June 5, 2014 at 17:27 | Report abuse |
    • Jeff

      Actually Marianne is correct. If you expend a greater amount of calories than you ingest, you will without question, lose weight.

      It has been proven time and time again. Whether you ingest the calories when you wake or many hours later doesn't matter.
      Source: I am a biomedical engineer who has extensively studied fat loss.

      June 19, 2014 at 07:35 | Report abuse |
    • DaveD5145

      After 40 years of nutrition theories being trotted out and later discredited, you think people would learn. Energy balance, calories -in-calories out. That's all we really know. The kind of studies to validate any more complicated models would be terribly expensive, and probably considered to be torture by the UN.

      September 21, 2014 at 12:03 | Report abuse |
  5. Pete

    People wonder why there are so many science deniers out there. Part of the reason is that every study seems to contradict another study when it comes to what is healthy and what we should be eating.

    June 5, 2014 at 11:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Bob

      Simple reason, the studies are written up in news articles by scientist wannabes with a strong tendency towards sensationalism. By the time you read it, there isn't much real science left. But there is good reason for that. Publish a news article with too much real science and the masses you wouldn't be able to make heads or tails out of it. Not enough science literacy in the general population. So we are kind of stuck with just getting crap like this article.

      June 5, 2014 at 11:33 | Report abuse |
    • Lisa M

      Part of the problem is actually addressed in the article..most of these studies show a correlation, but NOT causation, and most lay people don't understand the difference. Just because people who eat breakfast in a study weigh less, does not mean that eating the breakfast is the cause. It could just be that people who attempt to have a healthy body style tend to both eat breakfast and watch their weight, but one was not a cause of the other. In this study, although still flawed in some ways, the attempt was to specifically filter for Causation.

      June 5, 2014 at 13:52 | Report abuse |
  6. clevercandi

    Eat like a king at breakfast, a prince at lunch and a pauper at dinner.

    Works for me!

    June 5, 2014 at 11:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • ChangingTimes

      What works for you doesn't necessarily work for others, though. I think that's the point of the article.

      June 5, 2014 at 12:10 | Report abuse |
    • Wow!

      Agreed! That is how you lose weight. I also follow that same way of living.

      June 5, 2014 at 15:26 | Report abuse |
  7. MO

    I hardly ever wake up hungry for breakfast, so I don't eat. I used be 35lbs heavier, but lost all my weight over 10 years ago by eating when I'm hungry and stopping when full and transferring my love for food over to a love for God, a principle taught in the WeighDown Diet.

    June 5, 2014 at 12:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Ben

    seems to me that the study limitation means that the conclusions reached are extremely unreliable, basically someone did a study to waste peoples time and money without getting any real usful information out of it

    June 5, 2014 at 12:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. arnul

    What a crock! The majority of science and health professionals don't follow their own advice, especially doctors (majority of them are obese fat $ makers). So why should the public put faith in anything they promote since they never seem to have definitive proof.

    June 5, 2014 at 13:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Wow!

    This article is inaccurate, propaganda, false, misleading and wrong. Our media should not be allowed to print stuff like this for a little money from big business. The media and big business are trying to misinform the public because dieting and weight-loss is big money. Facts don't matter anymore, only profit margins do. Educate yourselves my fellow Americans!

    June 5, 2014 at 15:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. JT

    I'm glad they are finally starting to offer a countering opinion to all the pro-breakfast hoopla out there, but this is the 2nd article I've read where they say all of this and then still go on to say that you should definitely eat breakfast, as if you didn't just finish reading that it doesn't matter.

    I don't eat breakfast. The idea that eating an extra meal would make me lose weight is not just an oxymoron, it's incorrect. I'm sure there are people who swear by it, but I'd be willing to be cold hard cash that if they kept up the same routines but skipped out on breakfast they'd still lose weight.

    June 5, 2014 at 15:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. RH

    The constant harping on breakfast is just the corn/farming industry desperately trying to keep us buying their sugary, carb heavy, GMO laden cereals. It's disgusting. If you do enjoy breakfast, eat some veggies, plain oats, or protein. Empty carbs will just spike your blood sugar and leave you hungry again in an hour...

    June 5, 2014 at 16:14 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. ES71

    Here is the deal with breakfast – if I eat dinner the previous day, no breakfast because I am still full from the dinner.
    If I dont' eat dinner, which is more normal for me then I eat breakfast.

    In the end , you have to eat healthy, excercise and count calories. At what times you eat doesn't matter much.
    Though, I found that I ahve to wait 2-3 hours after a meal before I can sleep. This is why I avoid dinner.

    June 5, 2014 at 17:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. IdaAshley

    Reblogged this on Ida's Fit Bits and commented:
    Well this explains my normal weight , and years of skipping breakfast or eating "breakfast" closer to lunch-time :) I find that when I force myself to eat breakfast, especially when I am not hungry, I feel hungry and lethargic all day. Hence, why I keep it light when it comes to breakfast. Ultimately, you always have to find what works best for you when it comes to food (weight or no weight-loss).

    June 5, 2014 at 17:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Jessica

    I recently read an article about something called 'weight loss resistance' which talks about underlying factors which make it hard to lose weight no matter how hard you diet or exercise. If anyone has any of the symptoms listed then you could benefit from addressing those issues to make you weight loss efforts more successful http://interestingread.co/1963/weightlossresistance

    June 6, 2014 at 10:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Plum

    Sadly, the study mentions nothing about the subjects' diets and activity levels throughout the rest of the day. All it mentions is that each group received pamphlets concerning good nutrition habits, with one version purposefully omitting breakfast. The importance of everything else you do throughout the course of your day is FAR more important than breakfast alone. This study is flat and misleading.

    Up until last year, I was just over 315 pounds. Then I dropped 106 pounds by completely changing all my habits (yes, all-not just what/how much I ate for breakfast). My first change was switching to a high protein diet, balanced out with complex carbohydrates. This change alone helped me drop 48 pounds in the first month.

    At the same time, I gradually started to incorporate fitness. 5 days a week, 1 hour a day. Both strength training and cardio. That's where I lost another 33 pounds.

    After a while I added supplements and dropped another 25 pounds of pure fat (and probably water, too). The biggest help has been a product called BELDT Force Thermogenic which is major energy (and mood) booster plus fat burner. It's amazing for the price (got mine on Amazon here http://amzn.to/1odSEH5 ). I'm also using Optimum Nutrition protein (also on Amazon http://amzn.to/1mfKU4d ) between meals to keep my carb-to-protein ratios balanced. In the beginning, I used glutamine to help recover from my workouts faster, but I sort of dropped it from my routine toward the end (can find link to one I used).

    I still pretty much maintain the same routine, but it's fine because I enjoy it. It's not an effort to get up and go workout anymore because the pleasure that comes with it now is so ingrained I can't NOT get up and go workout!

    June 6, 2014 at 19:57 | Report abuse | Reply
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    June 12, 2014 at 22:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Ashley

    Sadly, 309 people is hardly a big enough group to test this. Every major study suggests breakfast is important. http://dietplansreviewed.net/ gives some excellent tips on reducing cravings and has reviews on some grat health systems

    June 17, 2014 at 11:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. steve

    Fiber is very good for you. I need to eat in the morning for energy. It might be my biggest meal of the day. Some Greek yogurt, fiber one, rice cake with almond butter and coffee. Lunch is a burger patty (turkey or beef, no bun) and a half an avocado. Dinner is usually 1/2 chicken breast and plenty of veggies. A handful of raw nuts for snack and a small piece of dark chocolate if I want something sweet. No eating after 8:00.

    June 20, 2014 at 18:02 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. Debra M. Harris

    Well it depends also to the person,If he/she love breakfast,,I like breakfast,its give me energy,and help me for not graving too much the whole day.
    jeffersonnutrition.com/

    July 3, 2014 at 08:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Terracraft.Ro

    You made some really good points there. I looked on the web to find out more about the issue and found most people will go along with your views
    on this web site.

    July 10, 2014 at 11:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Oliver

    Poll: What food disgusts you?

    http://www.midzy.com/poll/248

    August 28, 2014 at 12:11 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Ashley Marley

    Eating healthy and good nutrition are the keys to weight loss. When I say eat healthy it does not mean eat everything that is healthy but in calculated proportions. For more information on eating right and weight loss visit https://shedpounds.com/articles/2014-07-24/making-healthy-meat-dishes

    August 29, 2014 at 10:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. MShaw

    I tried this and it worked for me. Some exercise required too, but I lost about 20 pounds before I started exercising. http://ef9b8bt1phqj4tert75hsfrx4f.hop.clickbank.net/?tid=WEIGHT LOSS1

    October 6, 2014 at 13:32 | Report abuse | Reply
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