Can Skipping Breakfast Help With Weight Loss?
You’ve probably heard that skipping breakfast is a bad habit. The reasoning behind this age-old advice is relatively simple: Eating breakfast is an opportunity to fuel your body with nutrients for the day ahead. And if you skip it, you may feel hangry later and end up overeating.
But with the rise of the intermittent fasting trend, skipping breakfast has become more commonplace — and some swear by it as a weight-loss strategy.
So you should you just skip breakfast and save the calories? Here’s what you need to know.
The Science Behind Skipping Breakfast
If you dig in on the research, the relationship between breakfast and weight management is mostly inconclusive. For every study that suggests eating breakfast is associated with a lower body weight, you’ll likely find another that says eating breakfast has no significant effect on weight loss.
In one meta-analysis of randomized controlled breakfast studies, researchers set out to examine how eating breakfast affected weight management when compared to skipping breakfast.
They reviewed 13 studies published between 1990 and 2018 and noted a higher total daily energy intake among participants who ate breakfast. Their conclusion: “The addition of breakfast might not be a good strategy for weight loss, regardless of established breakfast habit.”
But before you swear off breakfast, it’s important to consider the limitations of these studies. Because the analysis only included studies that stated energy intake or weight as an outcome, researchers may have overlooked studies that didn’t report on these results because they weren’t significant.
In addition, only short-term studies — lasting from 24 hours to 16 weeks — were reviewed. These shorter time frames make it difficult to draw clear conclusions about the relationship between skipping breakfast, total energy intake, and weight change.
The authors of the meta-analysis also noted that “all of the included trials were at high or unclear risk of bias” and “as the quality of the included studies was mostly low, the findings should be interpreted with caution.”
What You Eat for Breakfast Is Important
Another limitation: The meta-analysis didn’t consider what the study participants were eating for breakfast.
And that’s an important detail, because the “breakfast eaters” in the studies weren’t exactly choosing the optimal breakfast options.
One study’s breakfast meal included crisped rice cereal, white bread, butter, strawberry jam, and orange juice. Another study’s participants ate cereal, followed by a chocolate-covered cookie. Two of the studies offered breakfasts that were 700 calories or more. Others allowed participants to choose their own foods and self-report their intake.
Choosing a healthy breakfast is key if weight management is one of your goals. “The quality of breakfast is more important than the presence of breakfast in someone’s diet,” says Trista Best, MPH, RD, LD, a registered dietitian at Balance One.
Should You Skip Breakfast?
This review of studies doesn’t offer any conclusive evidence that eating breakfast causes weight gain, or that skipping breakfast leads to weight loss.
Besides, you may miss out on some potential health perks if you skip breakfast. Research suggests breakfast may offer some heart-healthy benefits. And people who eat breakfast in the morning tend to choose foods with lower energy density — the number of calories per gram of food — throughout the day.
“I always encourage my clients to have at least a small balanced snack within one hour of waking up to set the tone and get their body fueled for the day,” says Michelle Routhenstein, MS, RD, CDE, CDN, preventive cardiology dietitian and owner of Entirely Nourished, LLC. “For someone on the go who may not be such a big ‘sit-down’ breakfast person, a smoothie is easy, portable, and can be delicious.”
Take a step back from all the breakfast research, and you’ll find a more important message: No one way of eating works for everyone. If you enjoy breakfast, keep eating breakfast. If you prefer skipping breakfast, and that works for you, go with it.
“If someone has truly evaluated their hunger, reading their body’s cues, and they determine they are not hungry, it is certainly okay to skip breakfast,” Best says. “This is a form of intuitive eating.”