Breakfast is not Paul Daniels…

I love breakfast. Granted, not quite as much as dinner, but it’s in my top two meals of the day.

So with that in mind, let’s celebrate National Breakfast Week!

Breakfast is not magic…

As much as I do love breakfast, it’s not the panacea for all of life’s ills. It’s not critical to health or weight loss. It’s not the key to productivity or ‘balanced’ energy levels. No one meal has magical properties, not even breakfast.

What do I think Breakfast is?

  1. Breakfast is a chance to consume calories.
  2. Breakfast is a chance to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.
  3. Breakfast is a chance to consume useful macro- and micro-nutrients.
  4. Breakfast is a chance to eat and enjoy food.

Is breakfast associated with being overweight?

Last Thursday, a paper from Lee et al. (2016) was published ahead of print in the journal Eating Behaviors. The investigators concluded that skipping breakfast and eating late at night were not associated with being overweight, either as individual factors or in combination, in 5000 Japanese individuals. Breakfast skippers were actually 12% less likely to be overweight than breakfast eaters. The analysis did identify that eating quickly was associated with an increased likelihood of obesity (92%).

Is breakfast beneficial for weight loss?

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) – the largest professional body of food and nutrition professionals in the USA – acknowledge that there is no experimental support for the notion that breakfast helps weight loss. In their hot-off-the-press 2016 position statement (Raynor & Champagne, 2016) they advise that practitioners adopt an individualised approach when considering meal patterns and timings with clients.

Breakfast and weight loss ‘experiments’

The AND position statement highlights three randomised control trials that fail to support the notion that breakfast helps weight loss. One of which appears doesn’t appear to show up in any database searches. Here’s an overview of the two that do:

  • Schlundt et al. (1992)

In this study, 52 obese women (BMI > 30) responded to newspaper adverts; they were paid based on participating in the study and for completing follow up assessments. They completed a 12-week diet treatment on matched 1200 kcal energy deficit diet plans and attended meetings once a week. Participants were split into either breakfast eaters (≥4 times/week) or breakfast skippers. Half of each group were assigned to eat breakfast during the treatment (breakfast, lunch, dinner), whilst the other half of each group were assigned to skip breakfast (lunch, dinner).

After the 12-week treatment, baseline breakfast eaters lost 8.9 kg (±4.2 kg) when they skipped breakfast and 6.2 kg (±3.3 kg) when they continued to eat breakfast. Conversely, baseline breakfast skippers lost 6.0 kg (± 3.9 kg) when they continued to skip breakfast and 7.7 kg (±3.3 kg) when they consumed breakfast. Basically, all strategies worked, but challenging the status quo and changing breakfast habits increased the magnitude of weight loss.

  • Dhurandhar et al. (2014)

283 overweight (BMI > 25) participants were allocated into either a control, breakfast-eating or breakfast-skipping group for a 16-week weight loss intervention. Roughly half of each group were habitual skippers.

In the control condition, breakfast-skippers lost 0.71 kg (±1.16 kg) and breakfast-eaters lost 0.53 kg (±1.16 kg). In the breakfast-eating condition, breakfast-skippers lost 0.76 kg (±1.26 kg) and breakfast-eaters lost 0.59 kg (±1.06 kg). In the breakfast-skipping condition, breakfast-skippers lost 0.61 kg (±1.18 kg) and breakfast-eaters lost 0.71 kg (±1.17 kg).

So, no difference there then.

But eating breakfast ‘speeds up your metabolism’…

Sorry, research says doesn’t support this one either. The aforementioned Schlundt et al. (1992) study found no difference and here are two more recent RCT’s that suggest similar.

  • Betts et al. (2014)

This study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition detailed findings from the Bath Breakfast Project, a randomised control trial looking at ‘extended morning fasting’ (i.e. breakfast skipping) on various health and wellbeing markers. 33 participants, the majority of which were habitual breakfast eaters, were allocated to either a breakfast (≥700 kcal before 11:00) or extended fasting (0 kcal until 12:00) group for a period of 6-weeks. No calorie controlled diets, just free-living conditions.

The investigators reported that resting metabolic rate was not different between groups at baseline (~1450 kcal/day) and did not change over the intervention. Body mass and fat mass was also not different between groups.

  • Reeves et al. (2015)

Thirty-seven participants were split into four groups on the basis of BMI (either lean or overweight) and breakfast habit (either breakfast-eater or breakfast-skipper). Participants were then randomly assigned to either breakfast-eating or breakfast-skipping for 7 days and then completed the alternative condition.

There was no significant difference for any group between conditions (RMR was actually 8% lower for lean skippers consuming breakfast, although possibly a consequence of general variance in this measure).

But skipping breakfast means you eat more…

So eating less means that you eat more in total? Or just more at subsequent meals? Let’s look at the literature.

In the Betts et al. (2014) study, breakfast-eaters reported ingesting 2730 kcal/d (573 kcal/d) versus 2191 (±494 kcal/d) reported by breakfast-skippers (P = 0.007), a difference of 539 kcal/d. Breakfast-eaters reported ingesting most of this additional energy in the form of carbohydrate (337 ± 94 g/d versus 249 ± 58 g/d; P = 0.004), particularly in the form of sugar (149 ± 51 g/d versus 96 ± 38 g/d; P = 0.002).

  • Levitsky and Pacanowski (2013)

This paper in Physiology & Behavior reported the results of two RCT studies.

In the first, participants consumed either (a) no breakfast, (b) a high carbohydrate breakfast (335 kcal), or (c) a high fibre breakfast (360 kcal) breakfast before ad libitum (i.e. an eat-as-much-as-you-like buffer) food intake was measured at lunch. Participants completed all three conditions in a random order. Although the breakfast-skipping group reported greater hunger, kcal intake at lunch was the same between groups (570 – 610 kcal).

The second RCT had just two groups and compared breakfast-skipping to breakfast-eating. This time, the breakfast was consumed ad libitum with the average consumption at 624 kcal. Hunger at lunch was greater in the breakfast-skippers and they went on to consume 144 kcal extra at lunch versus the breakfast-eaters. This resulted in an energy deficit of 408 kcal across the day.

So what next?

Let’s call this one a breakfast primer. Breaking the breakfast fast, if you will. Next time out I’ll give you some less research heavy recommendations. We’ll also give a little more focus to the athletes.


Betts JA, Richardson JD, Chowdhury EA, Holman GD, Tsintzas K, Thompson D. The causal role of breakfast in energy balance and health: a randomized controlled trial in lean adults. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2014: 100: 539-547.
Dhurandhar EJ, Dawson JW, Alcorn A, Larsen LH, Thomas EA, Cardel M, Bourland AC, Astrup A, St-Onge M-P, Hill JO, Apovian CM, Shikany JM, Allison DB. The effectiveness of breakfast recommendations on weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2014: 100: 507-513.
Lee JS, Mishra G, Hayashi K, Watanabe E, Mori K, Kawakubo K. Combined eating behaviors and overweight: Eating quickly, late evening meals, and skipping breakfast. Eating Behaviors. 2016.
Levitsky DA, Pacanowski CR. Effect of skipping breakfast on subsequent energy intake. Physiology & Behavior. 2013: 119: 9-16.
Raynor HA, Champagne CM. Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Interventions for the treatment of overweight and obesity in adults. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2016: 116: 129-147.
Reeves S, Huber JW, Halsey LG, Villegas-Montes M, Elgumati J, Smith T. A cross-over experiment to investigate possible mechanisms for lower BMIs in people who habitually eat breakfast. European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2015: 69: 632-637.
Schlundt DG, Hill JO, Sbrocco T, Pope-Cordle J, Sharp T. The role of breakfast in the treatment of obesity: A randomized clinical trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 1992: 55: 645-651.
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