We’ve all been told that eating breakfast helps you lose weight. And in my observation, the healthiest and fittest people I know are breakfast-believers, while the least active ones tend to skip breakfast. But a new meta-study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that skipping breakfast has little to no effect on weight gain–and that people who eat breakfast ultimately consume more daily calories than those who don’t eat it. (Gasp!) Conducted by the Nutrition and Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, the meta-study concluded that the researchers in previous studies pulled observational data that seemed to support their own bias. The only rigorous controlled study that they found arrived at a rather surprising conclusion: overweight people who were breakfast skippers lost about 17 lbs when they were required to eat breakfast everyday. On the other hand, overweight breakfast eaters lost 20 lbs on average when they were required to skip breakfast. Thus, the factor in weight loss was not eating breakfast, but rather any change in your breakfast routine.
But before you swear off your tofu scramble or peanut butter banana sammies, here are other things besides weight loss that might motivate you to continue eating breakfast:
1. Taking care of your health: Studies show that women breakfast skippers have poorer self-rated health, pay less attention to health, and have less nutrition knowledge than breakfast eaters. Breakfast skippers are also more likely to be smokers and to de-prioritize their own health. This might be much less a simple cause-and-effect than a correlation, but intuitively it doesn’t take a genius to know that fueling your body first thing in the morning makes you feel in control of your health.
2. Doing well in math: Eating breakfast improves cognitive function, whether it’s at school or at the office: Research shows that malnourished children perform significantly better in school under School Breakfast Programs, especially with math. This makes sense since your brain runs on glucose, and a well-balanced breakfast is the best way to ensure that those neurons are working efficiently.
3. Reduced risk of metabolic conditions like Type 2 Diabetes: a large 2002 study of 46,289 older women found that eating habit was closely associated with risk of Type 2 Diabetes. The researchers concluded that breakfast skippers were at significantly increased risk of T2D, even when adjusted for BMI. A little more counterintuitive is the finding that frequent eating (4+ times a day) was also associated with higher risk compared to less frequent eating (1-3 times a day). Other studies show that breakfast eating is linked to reduced risk of other metabolic illnesses like hypertension, obesity and abdominal obesity, and metabolic syndromes.
4. Better mood: Even if you’re rushing to make the 6:30 spin class before showering and heading off to work, don’t skip breakfast. Eating breakfast before your morning workout improves mood afterwards, even if you consume a post-workout snack.
In short, breakfast eaters are more likely to be healthy, active, focused and alert, and happy. My personal favorite benefit of eating breakfast is the boost in energy, and I know I wouldn’t be able to focus on my job without my 9:00 a.m. chocolate protein bar at my desk. Even if eating breakfast itself is not associated with weight loss, habitual breakfast eaters tend to maintain healthier weight than breakfast skippers. Of course, many of these findings have more than just physiological factors, and much of it might be due to self-selection (health-conscious people choose to eat breakfast, not the reverse). But that doesn’t detract from all the other benefits you reap, so go ahead and enjoy that bowl of granola!
Hungry yet? Try these Allergen-Free Mini Cinnamon Oat Pancakes
Photo: Peaceful Dumpling