by Alejandra "Alex" Ruani — Get free science updates here.
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 a competitive athlete under a structured training programme where fuelling timing is essential to success, skipping breakfast may not be the wisest idea (Note: Fuel timing and intake varies depending on training type and other metabolic adaptations, which we teach in our Advanced Sports and Exercise Nutritional Advisor certification).
Now, let’s get on with the information you came to find out more about!
Is skipping breakfast good for you?
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:
- If you are overweight or obese the reduction of breakfast calories can help to improve daily energy balance.
- 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.
- 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.
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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