Breakfast and fat loss – Is it the most important meal of the day?
A common phrase we have all heard for years is that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’, and that we should never skip it.
The theory is that when we sleep, our bodies go into a fasted state and fat burning slows down resulting in slower fat oxidation during sleep. So, you can see where this comes from, our bodies are resting, so why would we need to use more energy.
As a result, we wake up in the morning and our bodies are still in a fasted state, so we need to eat breakfast to “break the fast”, hence the word breakfast. This “in theory”, speeds our metabolism back up and we can burn through energy much faster (However, this is a myth).
So, Is breakfast the most important meal of the day?
Indirectly, no. There is no ‘one-size fits all’ approach here. It is going to be specific to you, or your clients, so it may require some trial and error before you decide what works best for you.
Skipping breakfast will not put you into ‘starvation mode’, and likewise, it’s not going to spoil your fat loss effort if you eat a little later in the day. However, if you feel eating breakfast makes you less likely to snack during the day and make better food choices, then breakfast would be beneficial. Remember, nutrition effects us all very differently.
Can we weigh up both sides of the argument?
I’m thinking about giving breakfast a miss – is this a good idea?
– When eating in a caloric deficit, skipping breakfast allows you to save the calories you would otherwise be eating for the remainder of the day. This can be a very effective fat loss tool to use, and can be one of the major reasons why someone might choose to skip breakfast. Removing 2-300 calories from you eating pattern can straight away put you in a caloric deficit, which is key to losing weight.
– Another common misconception is that skipping breakfast will stop you from mentally functioning as well as you could, for work or studying etc. However, a 2015 study done by (Fulford et al) concluded that there was no significant improvement in task performance in adolescents who ate breakfast compared to those who skipped it, therefore showing that eating breakfast is not proven to improve cognitive ability.
– A 2014 study by (Dhurandhar et al) also showed there was no metabolic adaptation to eating breakfast. Eating breakfast cannot speed up your metabolism for the remainder of the day, so from a metabolic standpoint, offers no benefit.
I feel like I need to eat breakfast or I can’t function – does this mean I won’t lose weight?
– Some people cannot function well without breakfast, and this is definitely an individual preference, so what works for your friend or family member, might not be best suited to you.
– Studies have shown that people who eat breakfast DO make better choices during the day (Cho et al, 2003), because they have more control of their hunger. Eating breakfast can help curb hunger until lunch, therefore less chance of snacking on other foods, which in turn, can be effective for fat loss – as long as eating breakfast is in line with the rest of your daily eating.
– One really effective way to diet is by keeping yourself full through regular meals to avoid the need for larger, high calorie meals or snacking due to hunger. On top of that, people who have breakfast tend to plan meals and have a high protein breakfast which keeps them fuller for longer. However, care needs to be taken to ensure you are not overeating, caused by too high a calorie breakfast, or by adding on too many calories in the remainder of the day.
– A further study by (de la Hunty et al, 2013) have shown there is a link between people who have breakfast have a lower BMI that people who skip breakfast. However, this can be due to the fact that people who skip breakfast tend to make poorer lifestyle and nutrition choices. e.g. really busy working professionals just drink coffee until 3pm an snack on high sugar energy bars.
So lets look into this a little more in a way you will be able to relate to, using a real life client scenario, of when skipping breakfast might be a good choice for your client:
Real life example
6am – Jenny wakes up for work. She isn’t hungry at all, in fact, eating in the morning makes her feel a little sick. But she’s heard skipping breakfast makes her fat so she reluctantly eats 2 slices of toast and butter then a banana in the car (450 calories roughly).
9am– Jenny is at work finally at her desk, and she is now hungry. But she’s already had breakfast so now she has to wait another 3 hours until lunch. OR she will snack on high sugar breakfast bars and snacks from the vending machine (300 calories).
12pm- Finally! It’s lunch time and Jenny is super hungry! She has already consumed lots of high sugar snacks so guess what? She wants more carbs so satisfy her cravings. Sandwich, special K bar and a diet coke (600 calories)
So, its only 12pm and Jenny has consumed 1350 calories.
3pm– It’s break time. Jenny has a Trek bar and an apple (320 calories).
6pm– Dinner time. Steak, potatoes, vegetables and some gravy. (550 cals)
9pm- Snack time – Pretzels (100 cals)
Total calories consumed – 2320.
Let’s revisit Jenny’s day.
Let’s say she didn’t have breakfast, and just waited until she was hungry at work. She could have saved herself at least 450 calories and could potentially stop her snacking on sugary snacks. This 450 calories is all it takes to put her back into a calorie deficit. 1870 is a good number for sustainable (depending on body mass) fat loss.
So here’s Jenny thinking breakfast would speed up her metabolism and make her lose fat. When in turn, it’s doing the opposite and putting her out of a calorie deficit.
When can skipping breakfast be a tool?
We know that skipping breakfast can free up calories to be used during the rest of the day. So on days where you have higher calorie meals planned (cheat meals, nights out etc), it can be an effective way to help reduce damage on your energy balance by reduce calorie intake prior to your higher calorie consumption, ultimately using a flexible dieting approach to help keep you withing your calorie target!
Breakfast has both pro’s and con’s, but is something that is going to individual and specific to each different person. Trying out both and finding out what works best for you is the best approach to take. Lot’s of other factors may come into play, such as your working life, family life, time available, personal appetite and importantly, what you’re goals are, so a process of trial and error will help you to find the right solution to the age-old breakfast question!
Explore our nutrition for sport and exercise course to gain knowledge on nutrition and diet.
Cho et al, 2003, The Effect of Breakfast Type on Macronutrient Intakes and Body Mass Index (BMI) of Americans. J. Am. Coll. Nutr. 22: 296-302.
de la Hunty A, Gibson S &Ashwell M (2013) Does regular breakfast cereal consumption help children and adolescents stay slimmer? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Obes Facts 6, 70– 85. [PubMed: 23466487]
Dhurandhar EJ, Dawson J, Alcorn A, Larsen LH, Thomas EA, Cardel M, et al. The effectiveness of breakfast recommendations on weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2014;100(2):507–13.
Fulford et al 2015, The effect of breakfast versus no breakfast on brain activity in adolescents when performing cognitive tasks, as assessed by fMRI. Nutritional neuroscience; 19;3, 110-115.