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Should People Trying to Lose Weight Skip Breakfast?

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day—or is it?

Did your Mom or Dad tell you, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day”? Health professionals, including me, often advised eating a healthy breakfast, even for people trying to lose weight. Skipping breakfast meant that it would be difficult to control eating at the next meal, typically at lunchtime. I often told my clients, “If you had dinner at 7:00 last night, and lunch was at noon today, 17 hours of food deprivation would result in ravenous hunger, making it likely that you’d eat too much.”

When I offered this advice to my weight-conscious clients, I would often get objections like, “I’m never hungry in the morning. Why should I eat three or four hundred calories that I don’t want and don’t need?” I would reassure them that having breakfast would protect them from eating too much at lunch. New findings suggest that, along with most other health professionals, I was wrong.

A new meta-analysis combined the data from seven controlled studies evaluating the effects of skipping breakfast on body composition and cardiometabolic risk factors. Only trials lasting at least four weeks were included for a total of 435 adult participants. Five of the trials were conducted with participants who had obesity or overweight while participants in two of the trials were normal weight.

The results showed that breakfast skippers had a greater reduction in body weight (1.19 lbs.) compared to breakfast eaters. There were no significant differences in Body Mass Index (BMI) or fat mass. LDL cholesterol increased significantly in breakfast skippers but no differences were found for blood pressure, HDL, insulin, fasting glucose, or other cardiometabolic measures. The researchers concluded that neither skipping nor consuming breakfast will have a clinically significant effect on weight loss but the quality of the breakfast should be considered.

The takeaway from this meta-analysis is that, when it comes to weight loss, it doesn’t appear to matter whether or not you have breakfast. If you’re having breakfast, the Mayo Clinic recommends that it contains whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, and fruits and vegetables. Or, if you’d prefer something simpler, try a cereal that has at least five grams of fiber, minimal sugar, and 160 calories or less per serving.

Now I’m telling my weight-conscious clients, “If you’re not hungry in the morning, go ahead and skip breakfast. On the other hand, if you like your morning meal, just choose foods high in protein and fiber; skip the donuts and waffles.”

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Bonnet, J. P., Cardel, M.I., Cellini, J., Hu, F. B.. & Guasch-Ferre, M. (2020). Breakfast skipping, body composition, and cardiometabolic risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized trials. Obesity, 28, 1098-1109.

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