Print Edition: July 2, 2014
What’s the first thing you shove into your mouth when you wake up? Bacon and eggs? Cereal? Are you one of those virtuous masochists who start their day with chia seeds and buckwheat groats? Or does your day start by desperately clawing at the snooze button, sacrificing breakfast for a few extra minutes of sleep before class?
It turns out it actually doesn’t matter whether you eat or not in the morning — at least, not when it comes to your weight. For years, doctors, dieticians, and weight loss gurus have hypothesized that skipping breakfast will put one’s metabolism in a “fasting” state, causing the body to store fat despite the calorie deficit caused by missing a meal.
Although several studies over the years have shown a correlation between eating breakfast and having lower levels of body fat, that doesn’t mean that there’s a causal relationship between the two — and a new study coming out of the University of Alabama’s Nutrition Obesity Research Centre has provided even more evidence that breakfast has no direct connection to your weight.
“We thought it was important to test this commonly held assumption,” lead study author Emily Dhurandhar told Forbes. “Since short-term studies suggest that eating breakfast may help regulate appetite and metabolism, it has often been assumed that this would translate to breakfast enhancing weight loss.”
In the study, 309 overweight or obese adults were randomly assigned to three groups. The first group was instructed to eat a meal before 11 a.m.; the second group was instructed not to eat before 11 a.m.; and the third group was only given a pamphlet on healthy eating habits, which did not mention breakfast. Over the four months of the study, there was almost no discernible difference in weight loss between the three groups. The participants lost about one to two pounds on average each, whether they ate breakfast or not. Although the study didn’t take the participants’ food choices or caloric intake into account, other health factors such as metabolism and cardiovascular health were also found to be similar between the groups.
Another study — conducted by James Betts, PhD at the University of Bath — earlier this year, measured and compared the health of 33 average-sized people, some of whom ate breakfast and some of whom didn’t. Like Dhurandhar, Betts found that the breakfast-eaters and the breakfast-skippers stayed at about the same weight. However, those who did eat before 11 a.m. maintained stabler blood sugar levels throughout the day and were also more likely to be physically active.
While we can finally say goodbye to the myth that skipping breakfast will make you fat, it’s still true that running on empty isn’t the best way to start your day. Skip breakfast and you’re more likely to be tired and cranky throughout the afternoon, and more likely to reach for a bag of M&Ms instead of eating a real lunch. As Betts’ research shows, eating in the morning tends to lead to healthier choices later in the day, which can help you stay focused and more productive — a serious advantage, especially for students.
So yes, it’s still a good idea to eat breakfast — even if the snooze button is calling your name.