You've probably heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Research has been mixed on the implications of skipping your a.m. meal—with some studies showing a connection between nixing breakfast and weight gain, while others show that it can lead to weight loss.
From portion control to keeping glucose energy levels balanced, consuming breakfast can be a useful tool in losing weight:
Eating a high-protein breakfast can help prevent late-morning cravings. These cravings may lead to unhealthy food binges when the only food available is high-calorie junk food from vending machines or fast-food restaurants. These foods are likely to be high in sugar, starch (leaving you hungry again soon after eating), and calories.
Emphasizes Portion Control
Eating a modest breakfast and small meals throughout the day can help to reinforce portion control. Eating reasonable portions is not only a smart way to lose weight, but it's also the most effective way to maintain your weight once you've reached your goal. If you stay satisfied with reasonable portions of food throughout the day, you reduce the chances that you'll overeat later at lunch or dinner to make up for a lack of calories.
The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends that you divide your total daily food intake into three meals and two snacks per day. (They do not, however, take the position that breakfast is necessarily more important than any other meal of the day.)
Keeps You Satiated
Eating a healthy breakfast with lean protein and diet-friendly whole grains will help you to feel full and comfortable throughout the day. Protein as well as fiber—which helps maintain steady blood sugar levels—takes longer to digest which helps you feel full for a longer period of time.
Maintains Glucose Levels
Researchers studied 10 young men across six consecutive days of skipped breakfasts and sedentary behavior to monitor its effect on energy metabolism and glycemic control. They found that people who skip a healthy breakfast have an increased glycemic response, which can lead to weight gain.
Boosts Exercise Performance
Eating breakfast may improve performance during the morning or early afternoon workouts. Getting proper fuel before exercise sessions may help you to work harder during the routine and boost the number of calories that you burn.
For some, not eating breakfast can come with benefits. In particular, it can allow you to reserve your calories for later in the day—a version of intermittent fasting. Ultimately this can mean consuming fewer calories throughout the day, which results in weight loss. A 2019 review, for example, examined 13 breakfast-focused studies and found that those who ate breakfast consumed more calories overall in a day.
Does skipping breakfast affect your metabolism? Probably not. Some weight-loss experts used to say that skipping breakfast can cause your metabolism to slow down. But that same 2019 review stated that although a longstanding belief was that skipping breakfast more efficiently helps your body metabolize calories and prevent overeating later in the day—in the end, there was no difference in metabolic rates between those who ate breakfast and those who didn't.
One concern with skipping your a.m. meal is that it could lead to nutrient and vitamin deficiencies. A 2014 study looked at the impact of breakfast on Canadian children and adolescents. They concluded that those who didn't eat breakfast were lacking in vitamin D, calcium, iron, and magnesium, as well as vitamin A, phosphorous, and zinc. Insufficient amounts of these nutrients can lead to insomnia, depression, and a predisposition to infections.
So should you wake up for a morning meal or skip breakfast to slim down? The answer depends on your lifestyle and your preferences.
If you skip breakfast and find yourself at the vending machine eating junk food later in the morning, then eating breakfast might be best for you. But if you're trying to cut calories to lose weight and breakfast isn't important to you, then skipping breakfast might work. Eating a healthy protein-rich snack has a higher chance of keeping you satisfied until lunch.
Whichever method you choose, it's important to keep your expectations in check. If you eat breakfast to lose weight, then you need to monitor portion sizes and keep your breakfast calorie count in check. And if you skip breakfast to lose weight, you can't overeat at lunch or dinner time to compensate. In the end, it's the total number of calories you consume that matters—not the meal in which they are consumed.