The Importance of Breakfast: Is Skipping it Really That Bad?

Diets

You’ve probably heard many experts discuss the importance of breakfast. But is it really true that breakfast is the most important meal of the day?What makes it such a popular saying, and what does the science say about why breakfast is important – if it even is?

We’re going to take you through all the scientific evidence discussing the benefits and problems associated with skipping breakfast. We’ll also give you practical advice on how to make the most of your morning.

Breakfast and Obesity – What’s the Score?

top down view of breakfast plates filled with eggs bacon, fruits, toast, coffee, and juices

Ask anyone in the health and fitness space, and they’ll tell you that skipping breakfast is strongly correlated with the chances of being obese. They might tell you about how breakfast sets you up for the day and boosts metabolism. Or perhaps they’ll mention a number of other scientific terms that make breakfast sound like the best thing since sliced bread.

The obsession with breakfast is the result of a variety of cohort studies which have linked obesity and diabetes to skipping breakfast. These primarily focus on the behaviors and dietary trends in children, which have shown that there are serious links between the two. These epidemiological studies were designed to measure the trends seen across whole populations and to provide guidelines for the same macro-approach to dieting and health.

However, there are a number of problems which such studies, including that:

  • They are associative, and do not demonstrate causal connection between ‘eating breakfast’ and ‘reduced chance of obesity’.
  • They are society-wide studies which tend to show the differences seen across a whole society, but don’t consider the individuals and the variations inherent in their diet and lifestyles.
  • Eating, or skipping breakfast, is a single variable in a diet – a diet is a large and complicated system of lifestyle choices, all of which are relevant to weight management.

The real-world implications of these studies aren’t quite as simple as “skipping breakfast increases your chance of becoming obese.” But they do provide valuable insight into how skipping breakfast can affect your body and life.

The methodological problems aren’t limited to cohort studies on children. Similar studies performed on adults may represent the same trends, equally conflating them with other effects and variables.

One great example of this is the E-MOVO project[1] – a longitudinal cohort study that suggests relationships between eating breakfast, alcohol consumption, and obesity in Australian adults. This study also conflates variables to suggest that the eating of breakfast has an impact on weight management by itself.

The Real Implications of Skipping Breakfast for Obesity

obese woman with a measuring tape around her neck pinching her excess belly fat

The studies also demonstrate that there are benefits to skipping breakfast in some circumstances. Namely, that those who were overweight but skipped breakfast would be more likely to lose weight over the long-term, whereas those who were overweight but continued to eat breakfast would be more likely to gain weight[2]. This suggests that there are large variations between the two variables in the study, and that their connection is far from direct.

If skipping breakfast doesn’t cause obesity, like the studies suggest, how can we explain these trends and the overall correlation between obesity and breakfast routines? It is actually quite simple: those who tend to skip breakfast are more likely to have a poor routine of eating. They will therefore have an increased tendency to overeat, miscount calories, or binge throughout the day. Instead of being associated directly with obesity and the prevalence of excess adiposity (being too fat), the consumption of breakfast is associated with a higher overall quality of diet[3].

In other words, people who eat breakfast are more likely to have better diets which, in turn, reduces their chance of being overweight or obese. These are both important facts and there are benefits to eating breakfast above and beyond its ability to improve your body composition.

Analyzing Importance of Breakfast: What are its Benefits?

stack of pancakes topped with berries and syrup

Accepting that breakfast doesn’t decrease your risk of being overweight doesn’t mean that there are no benefits to eating when you first wake up. The research suggests that breakfast is a great way to set yourself up for the day in ways that can’t be measured in numbers. For example, in a longitudinal study, children who never ate breakfast reported significantly lower levels of energy during long play. Interestingly, higher energy levels were observed in the long-term in children that consistently ate breakfast.

This makes even more sense for adult populations who engage in physically demanding tasks during their day. It can provide you with the energy you need to perform to your best potential in academia, work, training, or any other area where maximum focus and alertness are necessary. Your morning coffee isn’t the only way to boost your energy. You should eat a balanced breakfast replete in healthy carbs, fats, and proteins.

This may also have important protective effects for heart health. A recent longitudinal study discussing the effects of skipping breakfast focused on the incidence of cardiometabolic risk as well as obesity. The result was that obesity and cardiometabolic markers were improved by eating breakfast. This was the case even when controls were put into place for overall dietary quality and waist circumference.

There is obvious overlap between obesity and cardiometabolic markers, but this study suggests that those who eat breakfast may experience improved health and longevity. If you’re looking to keep your insulin levels and blood pressure stable and healthy, make sure you’re eating breakfast.

Looking for a delicious and energy-boosting way to start the day? Try making one of these 5 protein-rich shakes for yourself!

Making Breakfast Work For You

woman eating a healthy breakfast of cereals and nuts

What we see across all studies of breakfast is the need to control for dietary quality (the quality of the food you eat). This is because it plays a large role as a variable above and beyond the choice to eat or skip breakfast. In short, dietary quality is the main way to improve or reduce both cardiometabolic and body composition measures.

Instead of worrying about the less-than-stellar benefits of eating breakfast for body composition and health, it is important to focus on how you can use breakfast to modulate the larger concern of dietary quality. One study[4] demonstrated that the breakfast choices of many children were relatively poor, with baked goods and dairy products being the main source of breakfast nutrition.

The problem with these choices is that they are relatively nutrient-sparse, but very calorie-dense. This contributes to patterns of low energy and poor nutrition, as well as adiposity. It is important to note that the quality of breakfast plays a huge role in the way that breakfast impacts on cardiometabolic health, but also body weight and body fat.

One way you can make breakfast work for you is to replace your poor breakfast practices with a more nutrient-dense breakfast focusing on nutrient-packed fruits, fiber-filled whole grains, cultured dairy products, healthy fats, and lean proteins.

This provides a great way to gain the energy and metabolic benefits mentioned above, while keeping calories low and improving the overall quality of your diet. It’s also a This is also a great way to boost satiety throughout the first half of the day, reduce overall binging, and combat cravings.

Overview: What DOES Skipping Breakfast Do to Your Body?

woman in a well-lit living room eating a bowl of cereal with a glass of orange juice, a red apple, and a green apple

Overall, skipping breakfast contributes to fewer health problems than you might expect – food timing generally has very little impact on the overall pattern of weight loss or gain. However, breakfast is a great way to improve your short-term energy stores, focus, athletic performance, and other key lifestyle factors.

You should view breakfast as a great way to improve your overall health and metabolism, and choose suitably-healthy foods. Don’t just eat breakfast for the health benefits (especially since they’ve been exaggerated), but as a way to fuel up and set the tone for the day ahead.

The Importance of Breakfast: Is Skipping It Really That Bad?

References

  • [1] Croezen, S., et al. “Skipping breakfast, alcohol consumption and physical inactivity as risk factors for overweight and obesity in adolescents: results of the E-MOVO project.” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition 63.3 (2009): 405-412. < https://www.nature.com/ejcn/journal/v63/n3/abs/1602950a.html >
  • [2] Berkey, Catherine S., et al. “Longitudinal study of skipping breakfast and weight change in adolescents.” International journal of obesity. 2003, 27.10: 1258-1266. <https://www.nature.com/articles/0802402>
  • [3] Ruxton CHS, Kirk TR. “Breakfast: a review of associations with measures of dietary intake, physiology and biochemistry”. British Journal of Nutrition. 1997, 78: 199–213.
  • [4] Vanelli, Maurizio, Brunella Iovane, and Anna Bernardini. “Breakfast habits of 1,202 northern Italian children admitted to a summer sport school. Breakfast skipping is associated with overweight and obesity.” Acta Bio Medica Atenei Parmensis. 2005, 76.2: 79-85. < http://www.mattioli1885journals.com/index.php/actabiomedica/article/view/2029>

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