2013-09-20

Skipping Breakfast Isn't Why You're Fat

Conventional wisdom says that eating breakfast is key to weight loss. It turns out that conventional wisdom is wrong.

There are plenty of things making Americans fat—everything from driving to work to the kind of bacteria found in our bodies.

Here's one conventionally cited bad habit that turns out to not be so bad: skipping breakfast. Scientists and weight loss experts have long advocated for breakfast as part of a weight-loss regimen, designed to make you snack and overeat less later on in the day. But a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition dives deep into the research surrounding this assumption and concludes that "missing breakfast has either little or no effect on weight gain," according to the New York Times. The reality is that breakfast-eaters often end up consuming more daily calories than those who skip the first meal of the day.

There's only one 12-week study from 1992 that actually attempted to control for breakfast-eaters and breakfast-skippers who were determined to lose weight. But those results were mixed, according to the Times:

Moderately obese adults who were habitual breakfast skippers lost an average of roughly 17 pounds when they were put on a program that included eating breakfast every day. And regular breakfast eaters who were instructed to avoid eating breakfast daily lost an average of nearly 20 pounds.

Despite those results, which seemed to demonstrate that altering routine was more important than the routine itself, many subsequent researchers misinterpreted those results and began pursuing the association between weight loss and breakfast through further work.

For example, a study in 2002 found that eating breakfast was a common tactic among people successfully trying to keeping weight off more than a year after losing it. The study didn't say that those people lost weight because of eating breakfast, yet that's how its findings were misconstrued in later papers. Newer studies that have focused on depriving people of breakfast show that it "can lead them to eat more calories at lunch," according to the Times. "But those extra calories do not make up for the calories they missed at breakfast, so at the end of the day, they still end up eating fewer calories over all."

That reality seems to confirm the most basic fact about weight gain: more than anything, it's eating an excessive number of calories that makes people fat.

Researcher David B. Allison, who co-authored the paper for AJCN, hopes the paper will make scientists stop pursuing this line of research. "We’re doing studies that have little or no value. We’re wasting time, intellect and resources, and we’re convincing people of things without actually generating evidence," he told the Times. "At some point, this becomes absurd."

[Image: Breakfast via Shutterstock]

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13 Comments

  • Jamie Chan

    Even if eating breakfast is key to weight loss, it doesn't equals to skipping breakfast will make you fat. The caption presupposes that.

    Why you are fat is due to many other factors like many have mentioned here.

  • Nourhy Beatriz

    I don't think of breakfast as a way to lose weight. I think of it as a way to help the brain and body get the energy it needs to function fully. You just woke up and your body needs some fuel and coffee is not a food. People don't eat well and over time it hurts your brain and then it impares other parts of your body. Eating well is part of good health and that's just common sense.

  • zgnky

    I usually eat a lot at breakfast. Because it's my favorite launch time. But eating a lot does not help to me stay thin =) So I have been starting to use some extra diet supplements and a little bit workout before i go to work. Using green coffee bean extract and my 15 min. workout made me a lot better more energetic and more happy =) If you want any tips on my diet feel free to check my blog. http://optimusgreencoffeebean....

  • Cameron Ladd

    I lost over 25 pounds 10 years ago and have kept it off my not eating anything until much later in the day. For me it works GANGBUSTERS, and doesn't feel like "dieting," It's not for everybody, but I encourage those who've suffered on the "diet-go-round" to give it a try.

    Oh, and as all the hips kids are saying: pics or it didn't happen:

    https://www.facebook.com/photo...

  • Dr Latib

    This article presupposes that this statement is fact and then seeks to validate it: "it's eating an excessive number of calories that makes people fat." whereas there are numerous studies that suggest that calories are not the be all and end all of weight gain/loss. Fat gain is a hormonal issue, specifically, insulin, which drives fat into fat cells and stops the burning of fat stores for energy. Carbohydrates, especially of the high GI type cause insulin spikes = you get fat. Its not the amount of calories, its where you're getting them from that matters.

  • Paul_Rand

    healthy habits are good. Eating breakfast does more than keep you from gaining fat.

    The process of losing weight is not tied to one habit but rather a confluence of positive healthy habits simultaneously.

  • Gari Cruze

    This article seems a little misleading though, based on new research. A recent study showed that if you eat the same number of calories each day, WHEN you eat them matters. Those who ate a larger number of their 1,400 total daily calories at breakfast lost more weight than those who ate a larger dinner. Same number of total calories per day, different weight loss results. Eating a big breakfast will help you lose more weight if you can avoid overeating the rest of the day: http://www.sciencedaily.com/re...

  • KPR

    And this is the reason so much of this research is garbage. Scientists and research oriented thinkings like to boil their thinking down to one or two controllable things. But like   said, it's not quite that simple. High glycemic foods, energy exertion levels, individual body types all play massive roles in a person's nutrition. 

  • ANappyNerdGirl

    What about people that don't agree with the calorie debate and say that it's eating high glycemic foods that contribute more to gaining wait more than anything? There's research going on that's refuting the calorie debate of weight gain also because that study supposedly didn't go on for long enough either. Some say that the human body will adapt to whatever circumstances it is put under. So after a while your body will adapt to the lowered caloric intake.

    I think the truth of the matter is that we don't really know.  I think after all of this research we still know very little about this topic. I also think that we try to make one solution fit every person, which I think may be the hard part because we are all different. One size doesn't fit all.

  • Cameron Ladd

    Yes, I wait until late in the day to even START eating. It works for me, and well as many, many others who practice what's called Intermitent Fasting. Find what works for you and stick with it.

  • decafdropkick

    I think the underlying assumption in this article is that there is a direct and exclusive correlation between calories consumed and weight—an assumption which can be easily disputed. Health is not quite that simple. Eating 2000 calories of broccoli and 2000 calories of cheez-its in a day does not yield the same result. So by limiting the scope of the article to the "fewer calories is the only thing that matters" approach, it really undermines its credibility.

    Also, part of the reasoning behind why eating breakfast has been explained to me as good for your health is that starts your metabolism earlier which allows you to burn more calories throughout the day. I don't know whether or not this is true, but it starts to hint at the complexity of diet and personal health that this article ignores entirely.

  • MegSaid

    The difference? Eating 2k of broccoli would make me sick on several levels but eating 2k of CheezIts will make me want a Dr. Pepper. :-)

  • ANappyNerdGirl

     I agree! I think we tend to try to oversimplify weight gain and health. Our bodies just don't work like a furnace that runs at the same temperature burning calories all the same.