Is Skipping Breakfast Better for Weight Loss?

Is Skipping Breakfast Better for Weight Loss?
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Breakthroughs in the field of chronobiology—the study of our circadian rhythms—help solve the mystery of the missing morning calories in breakfast studies.

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Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Where did this whole breakfast-is-the-most-important-meal-of-the-day concept come from? “The Father of Public Relations” Edward Bernays, infamous for his “Torches of Freedom” campaign to get women to start smoking back in the 1920s, was paid by a bacon company to popularize the emblematic bacon-and-eggs breakfast. The role of public relations, he wrote in his book entitled Propaganda, is the “conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses….” Public relations specialists thereby “constitute an invisible government, the true ruling power of our country….”

Breakfast is big business. Powerful corporate interests such as the breakfast cereal lobby are blamed for perpetuating myths about the importance of breakfast. This editorial in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition urged nutrition scientists to speak truth to power and challenge conventional wisdom when necessary, “even when it looks like we are taking away motherhood and apple pie.” “Actually,” the editorial concludes, “reducing the portion size of apple pie might not be a bad idea, either.”

So, should we “break the feast” and skip breakfast to lose weight? Though advice to eliminate breakfast “will surely pit…nutritional scientists against the very strong and powerful food industry,” skipping breakfast been described as a “straightforward and feasible strategy” to reduce daily calorie intake. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work.

Most randomized controlled studies of breakfast skipping found no weight loss benefit to omitting breakfast. How is that possible if skipping breakfast means skipping calories? The Bath Breakfast Project, a famous series of experiments run not out of a tub, but the University of Bath in the UK, discovered a key to the mystery. Men and women were randomized to either eat breakfast (defined as taking in at least 700 calories before 11am), or fast until noon every day. As in other similar trials, the breakfast-eating group ate a little less throughout the rest of the day, but still ended up with hundreds of excess daily calories over the breakfast skippers. Those who ate breakfast consumed more than 500 calories a day more. Over six weeks that would add up to over 20,000 extra calories. Yet after six weeks, both groups ended up with the exact same change in body fat. Wait…how could tens of thousands of calories just effectively disappear?

If more calories were going in with no change in weight, then there must have been more calories going out. And indeed, the breakfast group was found to spontaneously engage in more light-intensity physical activity in the mornings than the breakfast-skipping group. Light-intensity activities include things like casual walking or light housecleaning activities—not structured exercise per se, but apparently enough extra activity to use up the bulk of those excess breakfast calories. There’s a popular misconception that our body goes into energy-conservation mode when we skip breakfast by slowing our metabolic rate. That doesn’t appear to be true, but maybe our body does intuitively slow us down in other ways. When we skip breakfast, our body just doesn’t seem to want move around as much.

The extra activity didn’t completely make up for the added calories, though. We seem to still be missing about 100 daily calories, suggesting there may be another factor to account for the mystery of the MIA morning calories. Recent breakthroughs in the field of chronobiology— the study of our body’s natural rhythms—have unsettled an even more sacred cow of nutrition dogma: the concept that a calorie is a calorie. It’s not just what we eat, but when we eat. Same number of calories, different weight loss, depending on meal timing.

Just to give you a taste, the exact same number of calories at breakfast are significantly less fattening than the same number of calories eaten at supper. What?! That’s just mind-blowing. A diet with a bigger breakfast causes more weight loss than the same diet with a bigger dinner. Because of our circadian rhythms, morning calories don’t appear to count as much as evening calories. So, maybe breakfast should indeed be the most important meal of the day after all.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Monoar Rahman Rony via pixabay. Image has been modified.

Video production by Glass Entertainment.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video.

Below is an approximation of this video’s audio content. To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring, watch the above video.

Where did this whole breakfast-is-the-most-important-meal-of-the-day concept come from? “The Father of Public Relations” Edward Bernays, infamous for his “Torches of Freedom” campaign to get women to start smoking back in the 1920s, was paid by a bacon company to popularize the emblematic bacon-and-eggs breakfast. The role of public relations, he wrote in his book entitled Propaganda, is the “conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses….” Public relations specialists thereby “constitute an invisible government, the true ruling power of our country….”

Breakfast is big business. Powerful corporate interests such as the breakfast cereal lobby are blamed for perpetuating myths about the importance of breakfast. This editorial in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition urged nutrition scientists to speak truth to power and challenge conventional wisdom when necessary, “even when it looks like we are taking away motherhood and apple pie.” “Actually,” the editorial concludes, “reducing the portion size of apple pie might not be a bad idea, either.”

So, should we “break the feast” and skip breakfast to lose weight? Though advice to eliminate breakfast “will surely pit…nutritional scientists against the very strong and powerful food industry,” skipping breakfast been described as a “straightforward and feasible strategy” to reduce daily calorie intake. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work.

Most randomized controlled studies of breakfast skipping found no weight loss benefit to omitting breakfast. How is that possible if skipping breakfast means skipping calories? The Bath Breakfast Project, a famous series of experiments run not out of a tub, but the University of Bath in the UK, discovered a key to the mystery. Men and women were randomized to either eat breakfast (defined as taking in at least 700 calories before 11am), or fast until noon every day. As in other similar trials, the breakfast-eating group ate a little less throughout the rest of the day, but still ended up with hundreds of excess daily calories over the breakfast skippers. Those who ate breakfast consumed more than 500 calories a day more. Over six weeks that would add up to over 20,000 extra calories. Yet after six weeks, both groups ended up with the exact same change in body fat. Wait…how could tens of thousands of calories just effectively disappear?

If more calories were going in with no change in weight, then there must have been more calories going out. And indeed, the breakfast group was found to spontaneously engage in more light-intensity physical activity in the mornings than the breakfast-skipping group. Light-intensity activities include things like casual walking or light housecleaning activities—not structured exercise per se, but apparently enough extra activity to use up the bulk of those excess breakfast calories. There’s a popular misconception that our body goes into energy-conservation mode when we skip breakfast by slowing our metabolic rate. That doesn’t appear to be true, but maybe our body does intuitively slow us down in other ways. When we skip breakfast, our body just doesn’t seem to want move around as much.

The extra activity didn’t completely make up for the added calories, though. We seem to still be missing about 100 daily calories, suggesting there may be another factor to account for the mystery of the MIA morning calories. Recent breakthroughs in the field of chronobiology— the study of our body’s natural rhythms—have unsettled an even more sacred cow of nutrition dogma: the concept that a calorie is a calorie. It’s not just what we eat, but when we eat. Same number of calories, different weight loss, depending on meal timing.

Just to give you a taste, the exact same number of calories at breakfast are significantly less fattening than the same number of calories eaten at supper. What?! That’s just mind-blowing. A diet with a bigger breakfast causes more weight loss than the same diet with a bigger dinner. Because of our circadian rhythms, morning calories don’t appear to count as much as evening calories. So, maybe breakfast should indeed be the most important meal of the day after all.

Please consider volunteering to help out on the site.

Image credit: Monoar Rahman Rony via pixabay. Image has been modified.

Video production by Glass Entertainment.

Motion graphics by Avocado Video.

Doctor's Note

Whoa, that video took a wild U-turn! Just when I was thinking it was all Big Breakfast propaganda, breakfast won out in the end. This should be especially surprising if you watched my last video: Is Breakfast the Most Important Meal for Weight Loss? 

Did I pique your interest in chronobiology? If so, you’re in luck because there are a bunch coming up in the next few weeks. Here’s a peak:

Note these links won’t go live until the videos go up, but you can be the first to be notified of by subscribing to get an email every time a new video comes out. If you sign up now, you’ll get a PDF of staff recipes as a welcome gift. We have never shared, and will never share, your email with anyone else.

And for some breakfast inspiration, check out A Better Breakfast, and my recipe videos for a vegetable smoothie and a grain bowl from the How Not to Die Cookbook.

If you haven’t yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.

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