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Studies have shown that breakfast plays a role in weight loss. The question is, what exactly is that role? What to eat, when to eat and the ultimate dilemma, should you eat anything at all, have been examined in the context of successful weight loss. Now, a new analysis suggests that eating breakfast can lead to weight gain and more calories consumed throughout the day.
Of the 13 studies reviewed, seven examined the impact of breakfast on weight change, and 10 reviewed the impact that breakfast has on overall daily caloric intake. Researchers found a small difference in the weight of individuals who skipped breakfast versus those who ate it, but those who ate breakfast tended to have an overall higher intake of calories. Unfortunately, the authors noted inconsistent results and flawed data in some of the studies reviewed. Therefore, this review is not the final word on breakfast.
Why breakfast matters
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends breakfast as an effective way to obtain nutrients and manage weight. Further, multiple studies have shown that breakfast skippers are more likely to have a higher BMI and that breakfast eaters were more likely to make healthier choices throughout the day.
In one study that examined the impact of breakfast on fat cells in lean and obese individuals, only lean individuals who skipped breakfast were found to have a metabolic fat burning advantage. The effect was not seen in the obese patients. The most important factors may be what you choose to eat, as well as when you eat.
'Breaking the fast' may be the best way to approach your first meal of the day
While the current review splits the groups by breakfast eaters (eating soon after waking) or breakfast skippers (waiting until late morning or early afternoon), it’s difficult to ignore the fasting mechanisms and subsequent benefits seen in the breakfast skipping group. Multiple studies have shown the benefits of prolonging breakfast on both weight and overall health. A 2018 study found that waiting to eat breakfast by just 90 minutes (as well as eating dinner 90 minutes earlier) led to fat loss.
Other studies have found that eating all your meals within a 10-hour time period may help to prevent obesity and metabolic syndrome. Following the 10-hour pattern would ultimately mean a delay in breakfast consumption.
Finally, studies on breakfast consumption and physical activity are mixed however a recent study found that exercising after an overnight fast could help to boost fat loss. I was once told that you should only eat when the sun was up. This is probably the best approach to follow in your breakfast habits. Wait a little longer after waking, and the benefits of fasting will follow.
Focus on protein, fiber and chewing at breakfast
Studies have shown that breakfast options higher in protein and fiber may assist with prevention of cravings later in the day, and benefit weight. Higher protein breakfast options may also have a more positive effect on digestive hormones as well, keeping you fuller, longer.
As a dietitian, I caution my patients about including juice in their breakfast meal. Even juices that claim to be made with no added sugars will pack a serious blood sugar and insulin punch due to the concentrated sugars found naturally in the fruit. Therefore, if you’re craving a healthy carbohydrate (an apple for example), it’s usually a better choice to chew it, than to drink it.
I also recommend my patients avoid very high carbohydrate breakfast options, but pairing your protein with fat and fiber can help with feeling satisfied. An example of such a meal could be avocado and a fried egg on a piece of sprouted grain toast.
The need for further studies to solve the great debate about breakfast habits and weight remains. Until then, if weight loss is your goal, you may want to consider a fasting plan (that includes breakfast) that will fit within your lifestyle, or, avoid extremely high carbohydrate options as soon as you wake.
Finally, we always need to remember that effective weight loss will always encompass multiple aspects of your life, including environment, activity level and even genetics. Breakfast may be an important piece of the weight-loss puzzle, but it’s by far not the only one.
Kristin Kirkpatrick, MS, R.D., is the manager of wellness nutrition services at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute in Cleveland, Ohio, and the author of "Skinny Liver." Follow her on Twitter @KristinKirkpat. For more diet and fitness advice, sign up for our One Small Thing newsletter.