Breakfast is the most important meal of the day...Or is it?

If you would have asked me 10 years ago, I would have tried to convince you that you NEED to eat breakfast, because after all, it was drilled into me that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. I, myself, was a big breakfast fan and I knew the research.

For example...

According to the National Weight Loss Registry, which has collected the habits of over 10,000 people who have successfully lost a significant amount of weight and have kept it off for over year, 78 percent of these individuals report eating breakfast every day. That’s a lot of really successful people eating breakfast!

Even a quick Google search is likely to frighten you to start taking your breakfast more seriously. One site warns, The 9 Bad Effects of Skipping Breakfast:

  • Skipping Breakfast Causes Weight Gain. When you skip breakfast, you are setting yourself up for a bad day

  • Mood and Energy Levels

  • Heart Health

  • Diabetes Risk

  • Cancer Risk

  • Cognitive Functioning

  • Migraines

  • Hair Loss

While all of these factors can be linked to nutrition, is breakfast really this much of a superhero?

The truth is that there are no blanket food rules that exist for everyone (except maybe eat more veggies). And the funny thing about research, especially nutrition research, is that you can likely find evidence that supports the exact opposite of everything you just read.

Here’s why I am no longer married to breakfast:

  1. Have you heard of the concept of making breakfast the largest meal of the day in order to encourage weight loss? In the 1960s, the famous quote was coined: “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”  In other words, make breakfast the biggest meal of the day or front load your calories. There is some validity to this practice, but we have a hard time executing it in 2019. Dinner is a social event, and while we may plan on eating lighter, we usually are eating more calories than we plan. This can leave us eating a big breakfast AND a big dinner… basically eating like kings all day which is sure to take our scale in the opposite direction of what we want. Funny enough, since the 1960s, obesity has gone up over 20 percent, so either we aren’t eating this way or it’s not working. One recent study found that those who ate breakfast eat 260 more calories per day compared to those who didn’t. By encouraging big breakfast’s, are we actually only adding to the problem we are already having, eating too many calories per day.

  2. What kinds of people skip breakfast and what kinds of people are most likely to eat breakfast? According to one study that studied at the habits of 4,000 people, breakfast eaters were, “more likely than breakfast non-consumers to be older, female, white, nonsmokers, regular exercisers, and trying to control their weight.”  Is the fact that they are nonsmoking white women exercisers who are already in tune to controlling their weight a more predictive factor in their health than the fact that they eat breakfast? Does this person also probably eat kale and salmon for dinner and hit up the 6:30pm spin class?...likely!

    Let’s look at what the typical non-breakfast eater might look like. In the world of personal training, there are two popular scenarios where someone is likely to skip breakfast. One looks like someone who overindulged the night before so they skip breakfast out of guilt to compensate for their bad choices. The second scenario is someone who is so busy and running late in the morning that breakfast is just not happening. How likely is this person to meal prep a healthy lunch for themselves? I would say they are more likely to grab food from the vending machine when they get hungry.

    The take-home here is that breakfast eaters are more likely to have overall healthier lifestyle factors compared to those who are more likely to skip meals...this is a correlation that makes breakfast research hard to validate. What happens during the next 23 hours of your day is what is the most important. In other words, when it comes to your nutrition, it is likely that there is not one meal that is more important than another. What’s more important is your total caloric intake and quality of your food choices throughout the day. The fact is, people have been successful with or without eating breakfast because of what the rest of their day looks like nutritionally.

  3. Food politics are real. A lot of very large companies have gotten rich off the tag line, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” So rich that they will fund studies that prove their point. See the conflict of interest there? In one study funded by Kellogg-USA, researchers assert that “skipping breakfast is not an effective way to manage weight. Eating cereal (ready-to-eat or cooked cereal) or quick breads for breakfast is associated with significantly lower body mass index compared to skipping breakfast or eating meats and/or eggs for breakfast.” Ok, so the message here is that a “quick bread” a.k.a pastry will be a healthier choice than eggs? I’m not sure I’ve seen that actually work for anyone. Americans eat about 8.5 billion dollars of cereal per year. The four major companies holding 85 percent of the market are Generals Mills, PepsiCo, Kelloggs, and Post Holdings. A few of the top 10 best selling cereals are Fruit Loops, Lucky Charms, and Fruity Pebbles. If breakfast is the most important meal of the day, we definitely shouldn’t be eating those. Unfortunately, our breakfast options in America are pretty bad. If I’m at a continental breakfast with the option of eating a pastry (40g of sugar and processed flour), and waiting until lunch, I am skipping all together.

  4. The benefits of intermittent fasting are real. If we believe that intermittent fasting works and is healthy (which is supported by legitimate scientific research), well then we just got the green light to abandon breakfast all together. New evidence suggests that longer intervals between eating (i.e. periods of fasting), which could in fact look like skipping breakfast, may have big benefits. The major benefit is seen in the community of 100 trillion gut microbiome. Some data suggest that microbial communities could benefit from short periods of fasting, as it serves as much needed time to rest and recuperate, which could be important for gut health in humans.

if you are a healthy and happy bodyweight and in optimal health while eating breakfast, keep doing it! If it sets the tone for a healthy organized day—keep doing it because it works for you. However, skipping breakfast does not have to be a bad thing. Keep in mind that intentionally skipping breakfast is in fact intentional and means you have to plan for what your meals will look like the rest of the day. These meals should be nutritious and calculated to meet your macronutrient and micronutrient needs.

The point is not to convince you to give-up breakfast, however, for some people, skipping breakfast or a much later “breakfast,” say at 11am or 12pm, does work better for them. At the end of the day, breakfast is a lifestyle choice. Consider how it fits into your everyday… do you enjoy it or do you force it? Whichever side you’re on, know that it can fit into a healthy lifestyle.