When Skipping Breakfast May Actually Be Good For You


by Alejandra "Alex" Ruani — Get free science updates here.
Skip breakfast

Photo Credit: Joe Santos

Breakfast. Is it really the most important meal of the day?

Whereas it may be for some, recent studies have downgraded it to just ‘meal’.

Whilst not eating all night during sleep, our body is at work digesting and assimilating the food we’ve taken in during the day. This is why our first meal is referred to as ‘breaking the fast’ – from the absence of food.

The morning breakfast debate

On one side, we have those who sustain that we need the glucose from a breakfast meal to power our bodies and brain for the day and to maintain a healthy weight. That has been a fundamental belief across the board in published literature for many years.

Then comes along a new camp – scientists at Cornell University tell us that omitting breakfast a few times a week may be a prudent way to lose weight.

Moreover, the data produced by those scientists says that skipping breakfast will NOT cause you to eat more in subsequent meals.

Today, we’ll address some of the benefits of opting out of breakfast in healthy adults. If you’re diabetic, hypoglycemic or pregnant, breakfast is needed to maintain glucose levels.

Also, for an athlete under a structured training programme where fuelling timing is essential to success, skipping breakfast may not be the best idea (something we teach in our fitness courses).

Now, let’s get on with the information you came to find out more about!

Is skipping breakfast good for you?

It depends.

The real simple answer would be to eat if you are hungry and don’t eat if you’re not. Some people are not hungry in the morning, whilst others will pass out if they don’t eat.

A recent study published on The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition debunks the myth that having breakfast is required for weight loss success. The researchers hinted that if breakfast is not your thing, it’s okay to skip it.

Just like anything, skipping breakfast is not for everyone. Each person is different with regard to their unique biochemistry, genetics, activity programme, and personal tendencies.

Take for instance those with a sensitivity to food rewards or even a tendency to eat until complete satiation or a full stomach. Skipping breakfast might be a really good idea for individuals with such propensities.

For them, skipping breakfast all together may feel easier than trying to practise portion control.

“Breakfast like a king”

… and you’ll eat like one all day.

This is true for some people. In particular those with a history of overeating.

Also, depending on what you eat at breakfast it may certainly make you hungrier sooner and often.

One theory is that eating refined carbohydrates like muffins, bread, sweetened cereal and juices raise blood-sugar levels. This sets up an insulin surge that drives blood sugar down again, causing rebound hunger.

How about the benefits of skipping breakfast?

We find there are a fair amount of studies that show both pros and cons of eating breakfast or skipping it. So there’s no clear-cut, scientifically-based answer to ‘if’ you should eat breakfast or not.

Again, it depends on who you are and if you are willing to try it for yourself being fully aware of your own biochemistry, health goals, activity programme, and personal tendencies.

There certainly are benefits to skipping breakfast and we have chosen three that you might want to consider for yourself:

  1. If you are overweight or obese the reduction of breakfast calories can help to improve daily energy balance.
  2. You encourage your body to enter a safe ketogenic state which can expedite the body’s natural fat-burning mechanisms by causing your body to dip into fat stores for energy.
  3. Skipping your first meal may help you reflect on your relationship with food. Sometimes you can learn to reign in unnecessary eating by learning to recognise the feelings that trigger you to eat.

Bonus benefit: you can accelerate autophagy

This is a very important point to get excited about, so it deserves its own space here.

When we don’t eat for a while, a cellular process called autophagy cleans waste products left by dead and damaged cells. If your body fails to clean house with your built-in vacuum cell cleaner this can contribute largely to ageing and the aggravation of detrimental age-related diseases.

Skipping a meal or two from time to time may actually be good for you in terms of cell cleaning. Caloric restriction, skipping breakfast is one variety, is one of the most robust anti-ageing interventions known so far.

When you fast intermittently, which skipping breakfast qualifies for, the autophagic response is bumped up. In other words, you’re giving your cells the space and time needed to get DNA debris and waste products out when you skip a meal.

See, isn’t that cool?

The bottom line

Skipping breakfast is basically a form of intermittent fasting. If you struggle with your eating, skipping breakfast might be a really good idea.

The key here is to test and experiment, until you find something that works for you in the long run.

The published literature out there may seem as confusing as it is helpful. There is no solid evidence that goes in one direction. This is because each one of us is different.

As noted by one of the commenters in the popular New York Times article last year, Myths Surround Breakfast and Weight:

Curious if this “everybody needs a good breakfast” is a myth perpetuated by Breakfast Cereal Manufacturers and ‘scientists’ who wake up hungry.

You decide.

What’s right for you? Have you tried skipping breakfast as an alternative way to doing your own experiment? What have you found?

Share your ideas and comments below – we’d love to hear from you!

 

 


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33 Comments

  • Emma Goodson

    Reply Reply August 25, 2014

    I have never had breakfast, the only time i have tried to eat it was when i was trying to loose weight and guess what, i ended piling on a huge 4 stone. So i stopped. I find that if i eat porriage, toast ( without butter) or other breakfast type things i eat more throughout the day. people around me cannot understand why i do not eat breakfast and think it is bad for me not to, but this is me, i try to eat healthily, snack on grapes, fruit etc. but i am one of those people who doesn’t know the signs of either feeling full or when its time to eat. If i do not eat breakfast i can go all day and not feel hungry, just have a meal at night, but if i do eat breakfast, i eat and eat and eat,for me there are no hunger signs just it is time for lunch so i eat lunch.

    • Alex

      Reply Reply August 25, 2014

      Emma, what you’re sharing here is precious. We all need to operate on the premise that what works for others may not necessarily work for you and I’m so glad you figured this out on your own! By the way, numerous studies show that eating “just in case” when not hungry will NOT stop you from eating more later on… it’s worth keeping that in mind :-)

  • Maurice Castelijn

    Reply Reply August 25, 2014

    Alex, that explains why I never have breakfast (or why my breakfast is around lunch time). When I have an early breakfast, I tend to feel slow most of the morning. And when doing activities I adopt a different type of fuel altogether. Although I do love breakfast (in the mornings) when on holiday; that induced slowness helps with relaxation!

  • Chris

    Reply Reply August 25, 2014

    I have been dieting for the past 3 weeks to try lose weight for holiday. I have actually found that I have lost more weight faster than any other diet by NOT eating breakfast. This is because I can go through stages where I do not feel hungry at all in the morning and won’t feel like I need food for a couple hours after I have woke up. During the days I have skipped breakfast, I have felt like I am not as hungry as much, whereas, on the days I have ate breakfast, I feel like it breaks a seal where I have to eat everything and anything I can. Therefore I do support the theory that breakfast might might not be the most important meal of the day!

  • Vickie

    Reply Reply August 25, 2014

    I feel that eating some protein during breakfast, like an egg will keep me going way past noon when I can just have a small snack for lunch. I don’t know if skipping breakfast altogether is the way to lose weight for me – however, skipping junk-food and sweets is.

  • Max

    Reply Reply August 25, 2014

    I often skip breakfast as I do not feel hungry when I wake up. Only occasionally I have a cup of skimmed milk (I do not drink coffee).

    If I eat breakfast, I tend to feel rather sleepy for the whole morning, and I found that I tend to overeat throughout the day. Without breakfast, I feel more energetic and more productive. I kind have a feeling of being lighter.

  • Jackie

    Reply Reply August 25, 2014

    Well, I’ve tried both! After many years of NOT eating breakfast, and sometimes no lunch either, I have recently started to make sure I have a bowl of muesli and almond milk before I go to work in the morning. Result(so far) that I feel much more alert and able to cope, but not necessarily hungrier than ‘normal’ throughout the day. I am working on the assumption that by eating breakfast and at regular times during the day my metabolism will increase, thereby I might lose some weight. However, after six weeks of this, my weight has stayed the same…………I’m now looking to more exercise!!

    • Marie

      Reply Reply August 31, 2014

      I have done the same as you. I have now found that eating three healthy meals most days, include two fast days each week and the occasional meal eating whatever you feel like works amazingly. Hope it works for you.

  • Sophie

    Reply Reply August 25, 2014

    I’ve done intermittent fasting for the past year & although I’ve always been a conscious & healthy eater, it’s the only way I can lose & maintain my weight. I was 1 1/2 stone heavier a year ago. If I eat breakfast, it stimulates my appetite & I eat too much throughout the day. I still have breakfast one or two days a week if I feel hungry, but most days it’s lunch time before I’m thinking about eating. I have a lot more energy too.

    • Alex

      Reply Reply August 31, 2014

      Sophie – 1 and 1/2 stone, amazing!

  • Tracey

    Reply Reply August 27, 2014

    I exercise most mornings and i find i prefer to exercise in a catabolic state. I really dont think I could eat before I train because I would feel full and sluggish. I never have difficulty with lack of energy for my workouts so i feel this is best for me. i do stick at a healthy weight but i still have to watch my food intake to stay where I feel my weight is right. I know lots of people prefer to have breakfast but it just doesnt work for me. Im glad that someone finally agrees that Im not unhealthy because i dont eat “the most important meal of the day!!!”

    • Biju Samuel

      Reply Reply February 3, 2016

      Tracey, great to hear someone who exercises in the morning and skips breakfast. I have always found till the time I eat my breakfast, I’m fresh and full of energy. The moment i eat my breakfast, i am drowsy which stays for many hours. As I also exercise (bit of running and hardcore yoga), I was always scared of skipping breakfast. Today I was so fed up of my drowsiness which makes me so incapable of doing any work, i decided to google for this topic. I’m going to try tomorrow….let me see the truth; whether breakfast was a big villain in my life!

  • penny

    Reply Reply August 29, 2014

    I have 2 cups of tea with honey ‘for breakfast’, then eat usually in the early afternoon. Is this considered skipping breakfast?

    • Alex

      Reply Reply August 31, 2014

      Penny, technically it is breakfast, e.g. say your doctor ordered a blood test first thing in the morning in a fasted state, you’d have to skip the honey. But from a practical point of view, I wouldn’t get too hung up on it, honey has a low GI (glycaemic index) and you aren’t taking in any solids until later in the day :-) Also bear in mind the WHO/SACN guidelines for “free sugars” (e.g. added sugars, honey, syrup, etc.): no more than 25 grams a day in total, or no more than 5% of your total daily calories. You can find the PDF guidelines here: https://thehealthsciencesacademy.org/science-catch-up/science-catch-up-2/

  • Christopher

    Reply Reply September 2, 2014

    On scheduled rest days that are back to back this might help. Because I eat so often and so clean my cravings are rare. So I have woken up not hungry. Hmmm

  • Jo

    Reply Reply September 2, 2014

    Definitely agree with other comments that if I eat breakfast (no matter how slow-release the food’s energy should be) I am hungry sooner than if I eat nothing first thing. I thought it was just me – so glad I read this article. Thanks :-)

    • Gillian Stearn

      Reply Reply September 11, 2014

      After reading all postings with regard to Breakfast or No Breakfast. Its been so great to realise its not just me that does not always eat breakfast and also that when we do have breakfast, we find that the rest of the day we tend to eat much much more. Great reading the comments on the various articles on this website.

  • Asma Tohamy

    Reply Reply September 18, 2014

    I’m so glad there are other ppl who also skip breakfast . I have never been a person who eats breakfast early. My breakfast is lunch time or just before. I get way too hungry if I eat breakfast bfre 11 am or midday.
    I also tried eating big breakfast ( two org eggs with two toasts) so I will not binge toll dinner and can survive on some fruits/salads for lunch. But I foung that end up eating more either at dinner time or eat more at lunch time.
    For years I was told missing breakfast makes you put on weight, causes ulcer in stomach and etc etc.
    Well I’m so delighted to tell my husband about this new breakfast discovery. He likes to eat early breakfast and was critical of my breakfast skipping habbit.

  • Dawn

    Reply Reply November 13, 2014

    Finally an article about breakfast I can agree with. ‘Most important meal of the day’. Hmph. Is it all a marketing ploy by breakfast cereal companies?

    I’m an athlete (not professionally, but I train six or seven days a week) and I eat A LOT. My modus operandi is to eat when I’m hungry. Most days this equates to a small meal every 3 hours or so, fitted around games and training sessions. But some days I’m just not hungry! Today I haven’t eaten yet. I’m well hydrated and I feel great. I’ll probably have something early afternoon.
    I get that it might not work for everyone, but it works for me, and the looks of horror I get when I explain this way of thinking are hilarious. It is all about figuring out what works for you and sticking with it.

    • Arlene

      Reply Reply August 29, 2016

      Same thing here. Breakfast just is’nt my thing. It seems to upset my body quite a bit,if I dare eat it. Breakfast magically turns my body,into a lump of ‘ugh,not moving’,all day…neat trick,right? LOL I wake up around 11:30 AM,most days&I don’t usually get around to eating anything,til around 2:30 in the afternoon,at the earliest. It’s just what works for me,so I go with it. (: And yes,it very well could be a marketing ploy by the breakfast food companies. They want your money/repeat sales&not much else,so…maybe.

  • Apple

    Reply Reply January 1, 2015

    For years I have been eating breakfast because I was told that it is one meal I shouldn’t skip. After reading this article I am beginning to think otherwise. I am going to try skipping breakfast or find whatever that suits my body makeup.

    • Venise

      Reply Reply May 6, 2015

      I have been eating breakfast too, I will try skipping it now and again too see if it helps me loose
      Weight, but how do you fit all the fruit and veggies we are supposed to eat everyday, in?

  • Jane

    Reply Reply January 6, 2015

    I never used to like to eat in the morning. About 10 years ago I started doing a protein shake I mix myself. It makes a world of difference in my mental/emotional well being. If I eat carbs in breakfast I get hungry right away so I dropped them from the recipe. Sometimes I’ll eat eggs or meat or a protein bar instead, which is fine. Skipping breakfast, though, has negative consequences every time.

  • Emma

    Reply Reply February 1, 2015

    Totally agree that it depends on each person.

    I don’t work a regular 9-5 schedule and I’m often just around the house in the morning relaxing. I don’t feel hungry and I don’t need that energy boost until a go to work later in the afternoon…

  • Ann

    Reply Reply June 5, 2015

    In response to Venice’s question, “how do you fit in all the vegies?” I make a green drink (think salad in a blender) with a Nutribullet. One large cup holds half pound of fruit and vegies. I assemble several cups at a time and refrigerate them until I’m hungry, at which time I add the liquid. Very convenient and it satisfies any cravings. Plus, it’s the one thing I can eat in the morning without over-stimulating my appetite.

  • Lyn

    Reply Reply July 26, 2015

    I am a 65 yr old woman and I have tried not eating breakfast at various times throughout my life for years at a time. I always felt fine and often more energised when I didn’t eat breakfast and could easily do a gym workout or go for a run without eating. Usually it was people telling me how important breakfast was that made me go back to eating it. I have now reached the conclusion that for me, breakfast is not a good idea. Like others have found, I always seem to eat way more if I have breakfast and struggle with keeping my weight down. From now on I am going to stick with not breaking my fast until at least lunch time or later unless I’m really hungry. It seems to be best for me and I don’t believe I’ve ever suffered any ill effects from doing so. I’ve never had ulcers or any other health or nutrition related problems. Hope this helps those who are much younger than myself.

    • Ash

      Reply Reply August 5, 2015

      I completely agree with Lyn.

  • NIck

    Reply Reply September 11, 2015

    I love seeing people’s reaction when i say i don’t eat breakfast. I tell them why don’t you just try it for 1-3 days and see how you feel. They’re first response is no way I’d be starving!

    I personally am a massive fan of IF and think its just so easy to do.

    I generally sip on green teas and water and don’t eat until about 12.30-1pm then i stop eating around 8-9pm.

    When i do break my fast its usually with a source of protein and vege, and i save my carbs for post workout meal, snack and dinner.

    The hardest part for me is to get in the total calories I need to grow. Only having a 7-9 hour eating window to cram in the right amount of calories (3200) with a higher fat % is hard as I’m FULL!!!!

    Are there any populations that don’t benefit from IF?
    I know women need to be careful and some metabolic diseases. Any others?

    • Hi Nick, thanks for sharing, and good question! Fasting is contraindicated for those with a medical condition or who are taking prescribed medicine or are under treatment, unless their medical doctor consents otherwise – for example, some cancer patients may be advised to skip meals to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy. It’s also contraindicated for pregnant and breastfeeding women, women who are trying to conceive or have infertility issues, those with hyper-thyroidism, diabetes, blood glucose issues, muscle-wasting disorders, infectious diseases like HIV, undernourishment, eating disorders, epilepsy, neuromotor disorders, seizures, anemia, anyone below the age of 18 (their brains and bones are still developing), etc. When in doubt, the best thing for anyone to do is to consult with their medical doctor. Also, anyone skipping meals should do it at their “own will” and at their “own risk”, as opposed to be told to, as you’d be personally liable should something go wrong with that person. This is also why professional liability insurance specifically covering nutritional advice is critical to protect yourself and those you help :-)

  • bob searcy

    Reply Reply October 30, 2015

    im a 57 yr old man , a stonemason , and i only eat one meal a day . the va , per bloodwork , says im quite healthy . id often like to discuss energy levels with the peers around me but theyre all obese . yea im about on my face by 3 pm each day but my work is hard and im not young . ill go on doing what im doing and if it kills me at least ill leave a beautiful corpse ..

  • Nicola

    Reply Reply August 14, 2016

    Best diet I ever did was skipping breakfast. I didn’t really do it to lose weight but to help with ibs and it worked a treat. I also lost 2 stone and felt fit, healthy and full of energy every day.
    What I did was drink lots of fluids and exercise in the morning. I usually ate just nuts, dried fruit and a banana for lunch although sometimes I’d have a chicken and salad wrap.
    Then I’d pretty much eat what I wanted for dinner… Usually meat/fish and veg based but also carbs and I’d often round the day off with a carb supper like toast/crumpets.
    The first couple of weeks were tough getting used to not having breakfast anymore and I felt hungry and tired but after that I felt awesome! I actually don’t know why I stopped this diet… It’s easy to slip into bad habits and other people don’t get why you choose not to eat breakfast. It works for me!

  • Arlene

    Reply Reply August 29, 2016

    Me personally,I can’t eat breakfast even if I wake up feeling very hungry,or else I wind up feeling like a zombie,the rest of the day. I’m not much of a breakfast person to begin with,but the few times I have tried to eat breakfast,I got nothing done,for most of the day,after eating said breakfast. I tried different foods,all with the same result…sluggish,sleepy,blah&zero get up&go. However,when I don’t eat breakfast(providing I’ve gotten adequate sleep),I have plenty of energy&get much more done,than just sitting on my a**. My conclusion is this…if you do&feel better without breakfast,skip it,don’t force it. Don’t do what anyone else tells you that you should(no matter who it is that tells you),if you instinctively know it’s not for you. Not everything works the same for everyone. (:

  • DJ

    Reply Reply October 5, 2016

    For me it depends on the day. If I have workouts planned then I normally will have egg/spinach omelette & 1/4 cup of cottage cheese. I feel fine all day without spikes in my energy levels, so long as I consume protein and fibrous veggies with my remaining meals. As soon and I throw in breads, excessive amounts of rice & lentils into my meals, I will feel the blood sugar spike/crash. This Spike/Crash is compounded if I don’t workout on those days. On rest days, 3 cups of coffee and a 2 liters of water will get me through to lunch just fine!

    Unfortunately, pancakes are a weakness, and my kids love them…

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