We’ve all been told that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Have you ever questioned that axiom? If you are willing to divorce yourself from the idea that breakfast is a necessity, you may be able to adjust your diet to better suit your body’s needs and lose weight at the same time.
Cutting out an entire meal can seem pretty daunting, especially considering that breakfast is often touted as the most important meal of the day. Past studies have claimed that eating breakfast provides many benefits for health and weight loss: it boosts your metabolism, prevents you from overeating, positively affects your mood and more (depending upon who you speak to).
However, these claims are often based upon dated, small-scale studies that follow spurious lines of reasoning. More recent studies have concluded that breakfast is no more important than any other meal when it comes to weight loss, and that skipping it can in fact lead to weight loss.
That shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise, given that breakfast, lunch, and dinner are all relatively modern concepts. According to food historian Caroline Yeldham, the Romans only ate once per day, and the British “social classes” didn’t start eating breakfast until the 17th Century. And we can of course go back to early man, who ate whenever the opportunity presented itself – not at set times.
Several studies have concluded that by skipping breakfast, you are likely to consume less over the course of the day. One such study measured a net calorific deficit of 400 calories per day amongst subjects that skipped breakfast. That’s 2,800 calories per week, which is approximately equivalent to 0.8lbs of fat.
The old argument that if you skip breakfast you make up for the ‘lost’ calories later in the day has been discounted. Although you are likely to consume more calories later in the day than you would have otherwise, the net result will still be a calorific deficit.
I haven’t even mentioned the benefits of ‘fasting’ for 12–18 hours on a daily basis, which are also connected with skipping breakfast, but that’s a topic for another day.
However, what about the negative side effects commonly attributed to skipping breakfast, such as hunger pangs and decreased alertness? While it is true that you are initially likely to experience what you consider to be hunger pangs when skipping breakfast the first few times, your brain is fooling you. After all, you can survive for weeks without any food; I think you can manage a morning. The ‘hunger pangs’ you feel are nothing more than your body expecting food out of sheer habit. Go without breakfast, and after a period of time (possibly just days), the hunger pangs will reduce to a more than tolerable level. I say this from personal experience.
As for decreased alertness, some studies on children have argued that skipping breakfast can lead to decreased cognition and academic performance, but findings are sketchy at best. A systematic review of 45 studies conducted between 1950 and 2008 concluded as follows:
The evidence indicates that breakfast consumption is more beneficial than skipping breakfast, but this effect is more apparent in children whose nutritional status is compromised … Few studies examined adolescents. Studies of school breakfast programmes suggest that such interventions can have positive effects on academic performance, but this may be in part explained by the increased school attendance that programmes encourage.
So if you’re a malnourished child who is likely to skip school if you don’t have breakfast, you should probably eat breakfast. Otherwise, I wouldn’t worry about it.
I’ll conclude with a simple suggestion: try skipping breakfast for a few days and see how it goes. Give your body a chance to adjust. Drink plenty of water and/or low-calories drinks to combat your hunger pangs and look forward to an even more satisfying lunch. It could be all you need to do to lose weight.
And if that seems too daunting (at least for now), check this out instead: How to Lose Weight Without Dieting [Breakfast Edition].