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The Breakfast Myth – Here’s the Truth

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Many people believe breakfast is the most important meal of the day; it’s been preached by dietitians, doctors and the government for many years.

However, in line with new research, people have now begun to move away from the government guidelines and now doubt the importance of that “magical breakfast”.

In short, the concept of it being an essential start to the day was based on very weak and old research, which suggested skipping breakfast may lead to overeating, weight gain and obesity. However, when we take a closer look at the research, we can quickly see that this isn’t the case.

In fact, several research studies have shown no negative issues arising from skipping breakfast. To the contrary, when food intake throughout the day is monitored, skipping breakfast can actually be a beneficial method to lose weight and reduce calorie intake.

In this article I’m going to review the research and really get to the bottom of the old recommendation: “Breakfast is actually the most important meal of the day”.

You’ll also learn why there might actually be some benefits from skipping breakfast, especially if it doesn’t suit your lifestyle, if you don’t have time, or if you’re aiming to improve health, disease risk, and lose weight…

The Old Research – You’ve Been Tricked

The old research, stating breakfast is the most important meal of the day, is in fact very weak from a methodological standpoint. When we take a closer look at that research, the first and biggest issue we notice is that some of it was funded by the cereal or breakfast companies, who naturally have a vested interest!

While funding from private organizations can be fine and plays an important part in research, the findings should always be considered cautiously. Even if the research is conducted accurately and without bias, the study design can be “optimized” and tweaked to create, or even ensure, a specific outcome (in this case, showing breakfast is vitally important).

In addition to these issues, a lot of the research suggesting breakfast was the most important meal of the day is based on what is know as “observational research”.

Observational research is very weak and far from conclusive. In short, Observational Research would take an overview of several years to highlight risk factors. For example, it would look at a group of 1000 people over 10 years and correlate the obesity rates with the percentage of subjects who had breakfast.

Here’s an example I just mocked up to show you how I could use “observation research or data” to suggest a trend in smart phone users being the cause of a rise in obesity levels!

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Please note all figures are just for entertainment purposes but hopefully you can see, any random issue or variable can be linked to an outcome if people want to believe it.

 

The biggest issue here is there are so very many confounding factors or variables that could have led to increased obesity rates. For example, those who skip breakfast may actually have a generally unhealthier lifestyle than some of those who did take breakfast.

This could include many factors, e.g. smoking, enjoying high fatty foods, processed food intake, alcohol intake, and limited exercise, or no exercise at all.  Therefore, observational research is far from conclusive and almost impossible to draw a firm conclusion from.

So you see, the problem… there’s a lack of controlled and more high-quality, specific research looking at the DIRECT effects of breakfast consumption on weight gain or disease risk.

Until recently, all the government guidelines and recommendations were based around these observational research pieces which, as we’ve discussed above can be weak and misleading.

However, in the last decade, more and more controlled, high-quality research has investigated the whole breakfast phenomenon; so, here’s the truth, backed by accurate and real research.

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Understand Personal Preference & Individual Differences

Before continuing onto the latest research, I must point out that it always depends on several individual factors. For some people, breakfast can play an important role in their daily routine, helping them have energy, focus and eat better throughout the day.

However, in contrast, lots of research studies and my personal experience with hundreds of clients have highlighted that, for some people, breakfast isn’t important and skipping breakfast can be highly beneficial.

Some people love breakfast and can’t go without it and, when they do, they feel weak and have a generally bad day. However, other people love skipping breakfast and, forcing them to have breakfast, can actually cause issues, like making them late for work, increased stress, reduced sleep and of course, increased total calorie intake throughout the day.

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The Latest Research Debunking the Breakfast Hype

The recent research is very interesting and has helped highlight that breakfast may not actually be the most important meal of the day.

In the last decade, research has been conducted in a control setting and usually involves one group eating breakfast and one group skipping breakfast. Following the “breakfast fast” or “breakfast consumption”, they will then tend to monitor lunchtime intake, that is, they will usually monitor lunchtime calorie intake or food intake.

Some studies will also do a whole 24 hours or whole day control, monitoring total intake throughout the whole day. These studies are much stronger compared to the observational research we had in the previous decades; by using this in a controlled setting they can really identify whether skipping a typical breakfast can cause those people to overeat for the subsequent meal or over the whole day.

At present, based on most of the research, people who skip breakfast obviously tend to slightly overeat at the next meal or for the rest of the day – quite logically, they have had less food earlier on, so are hungrier later.

If you think about your own intake, if you’ve had no food at breakfast you are probably going to be more hungry and eat more for lunch. However, the important point here, and the real factor that determines the importance of breakfast, is the overall TOTAL calorie intake.

Even though they may slightly overeat at that next meal, this increased consumption still doesn’t equal the same total calorie intake, (of eating breakfast plus lunch), which they would have consumed, had they eaten breakfast.

For example: if one person eats 500 calories at breakfast and 500 calories at lunch their total intake is 1000 calories. If the other individual skips breakfast and eats 700 calories at lunch (200 more than breakfast) their total intake is still, so far,only 700 … so a significant 30%, or 300 calories, less than the breakfast eater.

As you can see, although the person who skipped breakfast did eat more at lunch, their total daily calorie intake so far is still less than if they had eaten a breakfast and a lunch. Remember, total daily calorie intake is a fundamental factor in fat loss and weight gain.48713356_ml

Importantly, research has highlighted that what you do daily, or habitually, is a key factor. For example, studies have highlighted that if breakfast lovers go and skip breakfast they will over eat more at lunch time, when compared to those regular fasters. In contrast, when they study breakfast-skipping on regular fasters, they often eat only slightly more and have a much lower total daily intake.

This means, it may take a couple of weeks for your brain, hunger and food intake to adjust. However, when it does, there’s a good chance you will eat less total calories and therefore, lose more weight.

Health Benefits of Skipping Breakfast

Skipping breakfast actually has a ton of weight loss, health and disease benefits.

Intermittent Fasting is an extremely popular dieting technique, where people go for longer periods without food. For 90% of IF’ers, this will occur at breakfast, so in a sense, IF is basically the anti-breakfast skipping diet.

There are literally hundreds of well designed research studies showing tremendous fat loss, health and disease benefits from simply implementing intermittent fasting or skipping breakfast.

An updated review (which looks at all current research) found that the average body-weight losses were 3-8% over a 3 to 24 week time period. In addition to significant weight loss in the majority of studies, the average reduction in waist circumference was 4-7%, which is closely linked to heart, diabetes and other serious diseases (Barnosky et al., 2014).

It has also been shown to have beneficial effects of metabolic markers of health, such as Type 2 Diabetes risk and insulin resistance and has now been used successfully by thousands of people (Haive et al., 2013).

After working with hundreds of clients, I’ve helped many people drop lots of weight with strategic intermittent fasting. As I continually point out, it doesn’t work for everyone (i.e. breakfast lovers and people training in the AM) but it can be great for most.

I must emphasize that you should be sensible with your fasting day and periods, if your goal is fat loss and muscle retention, which can be more advanced if you want to also maximize muscle growth or reduce muscle loss during a diet.

Advanced strategic Intermittent Fasting is just one of the transformation tools I use in the 90 Day Bikini Transformation Program; by setting it up to optimize the “training window”, we can lose fat while we rest, but still optimize performance and muscle growth / retention around the workout!

Should you Skip Breakfast?

As always, it depends…

If you train in the morning, I recommend a protein-based breakfast. However, this doesn’t need to be much, a simple scoop of whey protein, glass of milk or 3 eggs will do.

In addition, a hardcore elite athlete or bodybuilder may need breakfast to maximize muscle growth, recovery and performance. If they don’t want to lose any body-fat, there’s not really any reason to skip breakfast.

However, for everyone else, especially those who want to lose fat or improve health, skipping breakfast can be a very easy strategy. By simply eliminating that meal you can lose weight successfully, while having more flexibility to enjoy the meals you love in the evening.

Skipping breakfast also allows for more fuel, calories and nutrients to be saved for your pre- and post-workout meals, which makes perfect sense to me. Thinking logically, why do you need 500 calories to go and sit down at your desk for 8 hours? You don’t. However, you do need fuel for growth and performance around the workout.

For someone who wants to lose weight quickly and easily, it’s a very simple rule to follow. Just skip breakfast and eat these healthy foods for the rest of the day.. weight-loss can’t get much simpler than that.

I’ve used intermittent fasting, or skipping breakfast, to successfully lose weight, while eating more in the evening, having more dieting flexibility etc., with many of my clients and myself.

Give it a go today, wait around 4-6 hours after waking before you eat and see how it could benefit your health and physique. Remember, you must give it a good 4 week run to allow your body to adjust.

I also recommend sugar-free gum, coffee, tea, sugar-free soda, caffeine and sparkling water, to help keep hunger at bay in the morning.

In conclusion, what works for some may not work for others but there is really no strong evidence to suggest that breakfast is the most important meal of the day or that it will prevent obesity.

If you love breakfast then eat it, but remember, it has no significant importance and is exactly the same as any other regular meal during the day…

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References

Barnosky, A. R., Hoddy, K. K., Unterman, T. G., & Varady, K. A. (2014). Intermittent fasting vs daily calorie restriction for type 2 diabetes prevention: a review of human findings. Translational Research, 164(4), 302-311.

Kobayashi, F., Ogata, H., Omi, N., Nagasaka, S., Yamaguchi, S., Hibi, M., & Tokuyama, K. (2014). Effect of breakfast skipping on diurnal variation of energy metabolism and blood glucose. Obesity research & clinical practice8(3), e249-e257.

Gonzalez, J. T., Veasey, R. C., Rumbold, P. L., & Stevenson, E. J. (2013). Breakfast and exercise contingently affect postprandial metabolism and energy balance in physically active males. British Journal of Nutrition110(04), 721-732.

Dhurandhar, E. J., Dawson, J., Alcorn, A., Larsen, L. H., Thomas, E. A., Cardel, M., … & Apovian, C. M. (2014). The effectiveness of breakfast recommendations on weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. The American journal of clinical nutrition100(2), 507-513.

Levitsky, D. A., & Pacanowski, C. R. (2013). Effect of skipping breakfast on subsequent energy intake. Physiology & behavior119, 9-16.

Rampersaud, G. C., Pereira, M. A., Girard, B. L., Adams, J., & Metzl, J. D. (2005). Breakfast habits, nutritional status, body weight, and academic performance in children and adolescents. Journal of the American Dietetic Association105(5), 743-760.

Johnstone, A. (2015). Fasting for weight loss: an effective strategy or latest dieting trend&quest. International Journal of Obesity39(5), 727-733.

Farshchi, H. R., Taylor, M. A., & Macdonald, I. A. (2005). Deleterious effects of omitting breakfast on insulin sensitivity and fasting lipid profiles in healthy lean women. The American journal of clinical nutrition81(2), 388-396.

Zilberter, T., & Zilberter, E. Y. (2013). Breakfast and cognition: sixteen effects in nine populations, no single recipe.

About the author

Rudy Mawer, MSc, CISSN

Rudy has a 1st class BSc in Exercise, Nutrition & Health and a Masters in Exercise & Nutrition Science from the University of Tampa. Rudy currently works as a Human Performance Researcher, Sports Nutritionist and Physique Coach. Over 7 years he has helped over 500 people around the world achieve long last physique transformations.

He now works closely with a variety of professional athletes and teams, including the NBA, USA Athletics, World Triathlon Gold Medalists, Hollywood Celebrities and IFBB Pro Bodybuilders. If you would like to get in contact or work with Rudy please contact him on social media.

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