Breakfast, skip, or eat?
Yes, eat a large breakfast to lose weight
The "Skipping Breakfast Myth"
Observational studies (those in which investigators merely observe their subjects and record what they see without intervening) find that eating breakfast is linked to lower body weight and less risk of weight gain. The opposite is also true: skipping breakfast is associated with an increased risk of obesity (1, 2).
However, this does not mean that there is a causal link. In other words, eating breakfast will ensure you lose weight.
Perhaps other variables are at play and were not detected during these studies.
Scientists use randomized control studies to find the real link between these variables. In these, the investigators intervene and manipulate the variables (for instance, by having some subjects skip breakfast and others have it) to see which factors cause the observed outcomes.
Researchers from the Loma Linda University School of Public Health and the Czech Republic (Kahleova et al., 2017) (3) using information gathered by the Adventist Health Study 2 (or AHS-2) identified several factors that can help lose weight and also prevent long-term weight gain.
Among these factors were eating breakfast and making it the largest meal of the day.
The AHS-2 study involved 50,660 healthy adults with an average age of 30 years. They were members of Seventh-day Adventist churches in the US and Canada. These subjects were followed-up for almost 7.5 years. The study found that:
- Eating 1 or 2 meals per day reduced their body mass index (or BMI) compared with those who ate three meals per day.
- BMI increased in those who ate more than three daily meals (snacking).
- Those who followed an overnight fast of up to 18 hours dropped their BMI compared to those who had a medium-fast (12 to 17 hours).
- Breakfast eaters also experienced a decrease in BMI compared with breakfast skippers.
- Making breakfast the largest meal of the day led to a significant decrease in BMI compared to those who made dinner their largest meal
- A large lunch provoked a smaller but significant drop in BMI compared to the "large" dinner eaters.
Eating less frequently, not snacking, taking breakfast, and eating the largest meal in the morning are effective methods for not gaining weight.
Eating breakfast and lunch about 5 to 6 hours apart and making the overnight fast last around 18 hours is also a good idea,
Of course, Seventh-day Adventists are a relatively healthy group within society, so what can the less-fit mortals do?
Skip or eat breakfast?
Mediterranean Studies: Greece and Spain
The following studies are based on populations living in Mediterranean countries. Breakfast in that region is not the same as the typical American breakfast, so their outcomes may not apply to the US. Nevertheless, they are interesting and worth taking into account.
Greece: Breakfast helps you lose weight and keep it off
Research using data from the Greek MedWeight study (Brikou et al., 2016) (2) looked into the effect of eating breakfast, and in particular, which type of breakfast was linked to losing weight and keeping it off.
The sample included 354 participants (age 32 years, 39% men, 61% women). Some of them had managed to lose 10% of their initial weight and maintain the loss for one year (the "maintainers"), the others had regained the weight loss ("regainers").
- For men only: eating breakfast at home was associated with weight-loss maintenance.
- Having breakfast was associated with keeping lost weight off independently of the total daily energy intake and diet quality.
- Breakfast quality is important too. They found a positive effect of whole-grain cereals and a negative effect of full-fat cheese on weight maintenance.
- A daily breakfast protects against regaining weight via reduced total energy intake.
Spain: Eat breakfast to lose belly fat
Navia, López-Sobaler, Villalobos, et al., (2017) (4) took a sample of 1,665 Spanish adults (average age 39 years) and found a clear association between not eating breakfast and having abdominal fat.
- Having breakfast every day reduced the probability of having abdominal fat.
- The odds of having abdominal obesity was 1.5 times higher in breakfast skippers, compared to those who always had breakfast.
The same database was used by Aparicio et al. (2017) (5) to reach a similar conclusion. They also found that men and women without central obesity (belly fat) ate a larger variety and quantity "of cereals, wholegrain cereals and dairy" than their more obese counterparts.
In Mediterranean countries, taking breakfast will help you lose weight and keep it off; it will reduce abdominal fat too.
Eat a wholesome meal: more whole-grains, dairy products, and fruit. Eat less fat.
Skipping breakfast can also help you lose weight
But other studies have reported that if you are attempting to shed some pounds, skipping breakfast may help you lose weight.
Dhurandhar et al., (2014) (2) took 309 healthy yet overweight or obese individuals (BMI between 25 and 40), aged 20 to 65 years who were on a weight reduction diet program, and randomly assigned them to one of three groups: a control group which did not change their breakfast habits, a "no breakfast" group, and a "breakfast eating" group.
After 16 weeks they checked weight loss in all groups and found that all of them had lost weight!: "breakfast eaters", "no-breakfast" and the control group lost a similar amount of weight.
The study also found that men lost on average, 2.2 lbs (0.99 kg) more than women, that older individuals lost more weight, on average, than younger ones (a difference of 0.75 lbs. -0.34 kg- for every 10 years of age).
Dieting people lose weight regardless of whether they eat or skip breakfast.
Zhang, Cordeiro, Liu, and Ma (2017) (6) reported something similar. They studied subjects with metabolic syndrome (these were not the "healthy" Seventh-day Adventists).
This team of scientists found that "breakfast skipping was not associated with weight gain."
They also noticed that, after one year, skipping breakfast had other small side-effects on the study's subjects:
- Breakfast eaters had a higher vitamin intake (thiamin, niacin, and folate) than breakfast skippers.
- Fat intake increased by 2.7% of total energy intake in the skipper group, while it dropped by 1.2% in the eaters' group.
Finally, Geliebter et al. (2014) (7) found that "overweight individuals who skipped breakfast lost the most weight when compared to breakfast eaters, but as a downside, ended up with higher total cholesterol levels."
This group consisted of 36 participants (with an average BMI of 32.8 and a mean age of 33.9 years). Some ate a high-fiber breakfast (oat porridge), others a low-fiber one (frosted cornflakes), and the rest, skipped it altogether. After 4 weeks the results were:
- Fullness was higher, and hunger was lower in the oat porridge group compared with the control group.
- Skippers lost -2.6 lbs (-1.18 kg), cornflakes eaters lost ten times less weight: -0.26 lbs (-0.12 kg, and the porridge group put on weight: +0.57 lbs (+0.26 kg).
- As a negative factor, skippers had higher total cholesterol concentrations relative to the other two groups.
- Body composition, blood pressure, heart disease risk factors were similar in all groups.
Overweight people skipping breakfast can lose weight better than if they eat breakfast. But they should watch out for their cholesterol levels.
Apparent incongruencies: To skip or not to skip breakfast
So in the case of the "healthy" Seventh-day Adventists, eating breakfast was linked to weight loss, but with overweight or obese subjects, exactly the opposite happened: skipping breakfast made them lose weight.
Perhaps the key lies not in breakfast itself, but in changing their eating routine. A study conducted by Schlundt et al. back in 1992 (8) put 52 moderately obese women on a 12-week weight-loss program. All of them ate the same amount of calories each day, but half of them ate breakfast, and the other half skipped it.
Regular breakfast eaters
The women who, before the study had said that they regularly ate breakfast lost weight.
They lost 19.6 lbs (8.9 kg) as part of the no-breakfast group, but only 13.7 lbs (6.2 kg) in the breakfast group.
Women who usually didn't eat breakfast lost 17.7 lbs (7.7 kg) when they started to eat it; and 13.2 lbs (6 kg) when they continued skipping it.
So, all women lost weight, but they lost more weight when they changed their breakfast routine.
Making substantial changes in eating habits to comply with the weight loss plan is therefore linked to better results.
Eating breakfast helped reduce dietary fat and minimize impulsive snacking. Schlundt et al. (8)
What you eat for breakfast matters
Further up, we mentioned that whole grain, cereal, fruit, and dairy breakfasts were better than eating fatty cheeses. This is backed by data from the US National Weight Control Registry (NWCR), which shows that people who manage to maintain weight loss usually eat cereals and fruits for breakfast. (1)
Vander Wal et al. (2008) (9) found that for people following a reduced-calorie weight loss diet, eating breakfasts with the same energy content "more weight was lost by eating eggs instead of bagel."
Participants assigned to the egg breakfast showed a trend toward a greater reduction in waist circumference than participants assigned to the bagel breakfast. Vander Wal et al. (9)
They took 152 subjects with a BMI that ranged from 25 (normal) to 50 (obese) and split them into two groups:
- Those that followed a diet with a daily deficit of 1,000 Calories.
- Those that ate their regular diet.
Each group was subdivided into a Bagel eating group (one 71 g bagel) and an Egg eating group (two eggs). All breakfasts had the same amount of Calories (344 Cal.), weight, and nutrient balance.
Outcome after 8 weeks:
- Egg eaters had a 61% greater reduction in BMI and a 65% greater weight loss: -5.8 lbs (-2.63 kg) vs -3.5 lbs (-1.59 kg) compared to bagel eaters.
- Egg eaters lost 34% more waist circumference and 16% greater reduction in percent body fat.
- Non-dieting egg and bagel subgroups didn't show any significant differences.
- Cholesterol (total, good HDL, and bad LDL) and triglycerides, did not differ between the groups.
When not following a diet, the egg breakfast will not induce weight loss. However, eating an egg breakfast while on a reduced energy diet enhances weight loss.
Keogh and Clifton (2020) (10) explored if the type of food eaten during breakfast influenced how many calories were consumed at the following meal.
They studied 50 overweight or obese Australian adults (average age 44, average BMI 31) that were split into two groups eating the same amount of calories for breakfast, but one group ate eggs and toast while the other ate cereal with milk and orange juice.
Those eating eggs for breakfast ate significantly fewer calories in their next meal (4 hours after breakfast), and they felt less hungry (those eating the cereal breakfast reported that they felt hungry sooner).
The authors suggested that the protein content in the eggs provoked more satiety than the fiber and carbs in the cereal breakfast. However, why this happens is not known.
To feast or fast? What is the best breakfast?
It is clear that eating a Balanced Diet will help you lose weight. And changing your habits and breakfast routine by incorporating a variety of healthier food will also contribute towards your weight loss goals.
We have seen that eating breakfast is linked to being leaner, but the mechanism that causes this effect is unclear.
On the other hand, skipping breakfast seems to work better for overweight people trying to shed pounds.
References and Further Reading
(1) Brikou D, Zannidi D, Karfopoulou E, Anastasiou CA, Yannakoulia M, (2016). Breakfast consumption and weight-loss maintenance: results from the MedWeight study. Br J Nutr. 2016 Jun;115(12):2246-51. doi: 10.1017/S0007114516001550
(2) Dhurandhar EJ et al., (2014). The effectiveness of breakfast recommendations on weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014 Aug;100(2):507-13. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.114.089573. Epub 2014 Jun 4
(3) Hana Kahleova, Jan Irene Lloren, Andrew Mashchak, Martin Hill, Gary E Fraser, (2017). Meal Frequency and Timing Are Associated with Changes in Body Mass Index in Adventist Health Study 2. The Journal of Nutrition, Vol 147:9, 1 September 2017, 1722-1728, https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.116.244749
(4) Navia B, López-Sobaler AM, Villalobos T, et al. (2017). Breakfast habits and differences regarding abdominal obesity in a cross-sectional study in Spanish adults: The ANIBES study. PLoS One. 2017;12(11):e0188828. Published 2017 Nov 30. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0188828
(5) Aparicio A, Rodriguez-Rodriguez EE, Aranceta-Bartrina J, et al., (2017). Differences in meal patterns and timing with regard to central obesity in the ANIBES ('Anthropometric data, macronutrients and micronutrients intake, practice of physical activity, socioeconomic data and lifestyles in Spain') Study. Public Health Nutr. 2017;20(13):2364-2373
(6) Zhang L, Cordeiro LS, Liu J, Ma Y., (2017). The Association between Breakfast Skipping and Body Weight, Nutrient Intake, and Metabolic Measures among Participants with Metabolic Syndrome. Nutrients. 2017;9(4):384. Published 2017 Apr 14. doi:10.3390/nu9040384
(7) Geliebter A, Astbury NM, Aviram-Friedman R, Yahav E, Hashim S., (2014). Skipping breakfast leads to weight loss but also elevated cholesterol compared with consuming daily breakfasts of oat porridge or frosted cornflakes in overweight individuals: a randomised controlled trial. J Nutr Sci. 2014;3:e56. Published 2014 Nov 13. doi:10.1017/jns.2014.51
(8) D G Schlundt, J O Hill, T Sbrocco, J Pope-Cordle, T Sharp, (1992). The role of breakfast In the treatment of obesity: a randomized clinical trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol 55:3, 1 March 1992, 645-651, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/55.3.645
(9) Vander Wal JS, Gupta A, Khosla P, Dhurandhar NV., (2008). Egg breakfast enhances weight loss. Int J Obes (Lond). 2008;32(10):1545-51
(10) B Keogh, J., and M Clifton, P. (2020).Energy Intake and Satiety Responses of Eggs for Breakfast in Overweight and Obese Adults-A Crossover Study. International journal of environmental research and public health, 17(15), 5583. https://doi.org/10.3390/ijerph17155583
About this Article
Breakfast and Weight Loss, A. Whittall
©2018 Fit-and-Well.com, 07.Dec.2018. Updated. 24.Dec.2020. https://www.fit-and-well.com/diet-food/breakfast-and-weight-loss.html
Tags: breakfast, taking breakfast, skipping breakfast, weight loss, morning meal.
Subject: Fit-and-Well.com. Skip or have breakfast? A lot has been written about taking or skipping breakfast. This article looks into the weight loss benefits of eating or not eating breakfast. Learn about the science behind your first daily meal and its weight loss effects.