Breakfast And BMI: To Eat Or Not To Eat

More or less most of us have grown up with the pressure of ‘Do not skip breakfast!’ And till date most health authorities recommend that ‘Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.’

And then we are told how breakfast got its name (Break The Fast Concept) and how it gets the body working, revs up your metabolism and affects your cognitive performance.

Now for lay man the best way to lose weight is to eat less and this he plans to do by skipping breakfast.  Study shows that 25% of Americans now regularly skip breakfast compared to 14% in 1965.  And this should definitely work because skipping a meal means a decrease in calories.

But when this fails, the breakfast proponents say that skipping breakfast makes you eat more throughout the day. So should you skip breakfast or no?

What does science have to say about the role of breakfast in weight loss?

Before I present different scientific evidences to you regarding this topic let me tell you about the different types of studies. There are many types but the main ones are observational studies, review and clinical trials.

Now with the observational ones, they just suggest a pattern between two elements and present a hypothesis for further research. They are conducted for a specific point of time and miss out a number of factors that could have caused the pattern.

Clinical trials are conducted for a limited time period under strict conditions such that there could be no other reason why such a pattern could be established between the two.

Review studies are basically a literature survey of all such studies. Now in the subsequent paras you will understand exactly why this bit of information was necessary.

Breakfast & Weight: The Observation

Since breakfast is considered an important meal of the day, scientists are questioning its importance. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) is a program of studies designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States.

A number of studies regarding breakfast and its effect on weight management and this is what they have revealed:

  • Total energy intake was higher in breakfast consumers than non consumers but ready to eat cereals breakfast is good for preventing obesity.  This data was for the period 1999-2000.
  • In 1999-2004 study, breakfast consumption was recommended and those who reported consuming breakfast had a lower BMI.
  • Breakfast consumption is associated with reduced risk of cardiac and metabolic diseases but prevalence of metabolic syndrome is unaffected by breakfast consumption.
  • Those who eat cereal based breakfast have lower BMI compared to those who have a protein based breakfast. Breakfast skippers have lowest daily energy intake.
  • In children breakfast skippers were more likely to be obese and ready to eat cereals for breakfast are associated with a better nutritional profile.

Overall these studies seem to be presenting the benefits of consuming breakfast one of them being preventing weight gain. An observational study was conducted including US adult males and a follow up for 10 years. Overall 25% of the participants experienced a weight gain of 5kg or more. This tendency was decreased with consumption of breakfast.

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ProjectEAT(Eating among Teens) also demonstrated an inverse association between breakfast consumption and weight thus supporting the importance of consuming breakfast in youth.  Researchers at University of Colorado Health Sciences Center reported that eating breakfast is a common feature among those who successfully maintain weight loss.

Studies in Spain, Asian and Pacific regions also suggest that skipping breakfast is not an effective way to lose weight.

Other studies also suggest that irregular frequency of breakfast consumption can lead to weight gain and metabolic diseases.   Skipping breakfast also leads to overeating at subsequent meals and eating few large meals instead of small well timed meals leads to increased fat absorption.

What does this mean?
Observational studies suggest that regular consumption of breakfast lowers the risk of weight gain and metabolic diseases.

Why the observation is only presumed to be true and not accepted as a fact?

A recent paper by Brown et al answers this question as to why the idea of inclusion of breakfast leads to weight loss is a presumption.  The first point is that these are observational studies and are concerned with a specific point of time. They exclude other possible factors such as skipping breakfast was prior to onset of obesity or later.

breakfast weight loss image2Also there are biased interpretations of results and lastly there are no sufficient clinical trials to confirm this link.
It could be possible that the breakfast skippers started gaining weight and that is why they started skipping breakfast.

Another important point that is not considered is the duration of overnight fast. For example those who eat an early dinner and then eat breakfast at 10 am have a 15 hour overnight fast which is similar to the gap that breakfast skippers (who eat late dinners and eat the next meal at 3pm next day) experience in terms of metabolism.

Also the caloric intake of the breakfast and energy expenditure of individuals was not accounted for. Skipping breakfast and increased incidence of obesity has been proven in many countries but Portugal, Saudi Arabia and Australia are exceptions.  Weird, right!?

Breakfast & Weight: The Truth

Now, coming to the clinical trials. A clinical trial  recruited 52 moderately obese women. Those who regularly ate breakfast and skipped breakfast were split into two groups and both were involved in a weight loss program. Baseline breakfast eaters lost almost same amount of weight as baseline breakfast skippers with or without breakfast treatment.

What this study points out is that skipping or eating breakfast will impact your weight based on your old breakfast habits.

Another study conducted under free living conditions also showed that eating or skipping breakfast did not affect weight in adults.  A number of studies show that skipping breakfast is not compensated with overeating.

Researchers have also found that the ill effects of skipping breakfast are observable only in those who regularly eat breakfast.  Additionally skipping breakfast has no effect on metabolism or energy expenditure.

So that debunks the idea that skipping breakfast will lower your metabolism. (To know more about metabolism and weight loss read Is Metabolic Rate linked to Weight loss? )

What does this mean?
Recent research shows that neither eating breakfast nor skipping it affect BMI. Skipping breakfast does not lead to subsequent overeating nor does it affect metabolism.

However we do not mean to advocate the idea of skipping breakfast.

Does the composition of breakfast affect its role in weight management?

So neither does eating breakfast nor does skipping it seem to affect our weight loss goals. Then what should you be doing? It is logical enough to assume that the calorie content of the breakfast will definitely affect your weight.

One study states that a high calorie intake at breakfast with reduced intake at dinner is beneficial in managing obesity and metabolic syndrome.  To the contrary other researchers suggest that overweight or obese people should consider reducing breakfast calories.

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Protein is the most expensive nutrient in terms of calorie. It requires considerably more energy to digest and metabolise protein. It is also very satiating. So a breakfast rich in proteins should do you some good. A low calorie egg breakfast is proposed to be good for weight loss.

A study  demonstrated that a breakfast with normal protein content (13g) or high protein content (35g) was successful in reducing cravings for sweet or savory food in overweight/obese breakfast skippers.

High protein breakfast brought about greater reductions in craving. Other researchers have also presented similar findings.

Another option is Mediterranean type of breakfast which is rich in fibres and healthy fats; this type of meal is very satiating, promotes fat oxidation and is beneficial for reducing risk of metabolic diseases.

Ready to eat cereals are also a great alternative but keep a watch on the sugar content of the cereals and preferably go for whole grain. Needless to say but addition of fruits to breakfast is an excellent low calorie but at the same time satisfying option.

What does this mean?
What you eat for breakfast definitely counts. A high protein breakfast controls appetite and reduces cravings. Other alternatives for a healthy breakfast that aid in weight loss include ready to eat cereals, Mediterranean breakfast, whole grain items, fruits and nuts.

Conclusion

After all the scientific evidence that we have come across, I guess it is safe to say that Breakfast is just another meal of the day. Clinical trials show that neither eating breakfast nor skipping it seems to affect weight loss goals.

If you are not in a habit of eating breakfast, you are not likely to face adverse effects of skipping it. Research shows that breakfast skippers have just as low an incidence of medical conditions as regular breakfast eaters.

Also skipping breakfast is a good practice if you are following an intermittent fasting program.

If you were to ask me I would say a small breakfast of cereals with fruits and a cup of coffee would definitely kickstart my day. For those of you who want to use breakfast as a weight loss tool try incorporating more protein or whole grain cereals.

Consuming a low calorie meal is associated with reduced visceral fat.  You don’t need to skip meals to lose weight, just watch out for the calories and split them wisely into three meals a day.

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