As a fitness enthusiast, you have probably been told more than once just how beneficial breakfast is to maintaining a healthy weight and to keeping you from gaining fat. This type of advice has its roots in some epidemiological studies, which concluded that "people who eat breakfast are less overweight than those who don’t."
That’s all nice and everything. My issue with this kind of "evidence", however, is that it is not based on controlled clinical trials. For instance: we all know that excessive alcohol drinking can lead to fatty-liver disease. It might also be the case that people who don’t drink alcohol excessively tend to spend more time at home, as opposed to spending it outside drinking with friends.
Does this mean that we should be telling people that staying at home prevents fatty-liver disease? Either way and whatever you prefer to believe, I’m going to give you four reasons as to why I think you actually shouldn’t be eating breakfast. Let’s get right to it.
#1: If You Are Losing Weight, You’ll Preserve More Muscle
That’s right. A study conducted in 1997 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (PMID: 9040548) came to that conclusion.
They simply tried different meal frequency patterns, and it turned out that the group which consumed most of its calories in PM hours lost less muscle mass when compared to the group that consumed most of its calories in the morning. So much for the "taper down your calories throughout the day to prevent weight gain" theory.
#2: Helps You Regulate Hunger
Bouhlel E. et. al. decided to take a closer look at what was happening to the bodies of trained men who were observing the Muslim tradition of Ramadan fasting (PMID: 19164831).
The participants’ weight, body fat levels and various hormone levels were tested one week prior to Ramadan, at the end of the first week of Ramadan, and during the fourth week of Ramadan.
The result? Ramadan fasting was associated with a reduction of body mass and body fat without significant change in leptin or adiponectin levels.
What interests us most is the part about the lack of significant leptin reduction. Leptin, as you may know, is the key hormone responsible for regulating hunger and the feeling of satiety. People who diet for a few weeks or longer will typically experiences a decrease in Leptin levels, which is one of the reasons why it usually becomes more difficult to stick to a diet after the initial month or so has passed – Leptin is lowered = we feel hungrier.
It would seem, however, that when breakfast and afternoon meals are skipped, as is the case with Ramadan fasting, leptin levels were not altered significantly for almost 4 entire weeks.
And I can attest to that: I haven’t eaten breakfast – nor lunch for that matter – in nearly 2 years. And my hunger control has never been as good.
#3: Helps Regulate Your Other Hormones
Since most of the "eat breakfast" advice seems to revolve around carbs to some extent, in that they tell you not to consume carbohydrates in the evening and to try and get most of them in during your breakfast for "maximum energy", I thought this one needs mentioning as well.
Seven researchers from the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture decided to investigate the effect that a diet with most carbohydrates eaten at dinner would have on weight / fat loss, hunger, and hormonal balances. (PMID: 21475137).
The trial involved 78 obese police officers and lasted a total of 6 months, with blood samples and hunger scores collected on day 0, 7, 90 and 180.
The results? I’m simply going to quote the paper, because I couldn’t possibly say it any better than this:
Greater weight loss, abdominal circumference, and body fat mass reductions were observed in the experimental diet in comparison to controls. Hunger scores were lower and greater improvements in fasting glucose, average daily insulin concentrations, and homeostasis model assessment for insulin resistance (HOMA(IR)), T-cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, C-reactive protein (CRP), tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), and interleukin-6 (IL-6) levels were observed in comparison to controls. The experimental diet modified daily leptin and adiponectin concentrations compared to those observed at baseline and to a control diet.
Yes, please tell me one more time why I need to eat breakfast. Please!
#4: Higher Quality Sleep
Although this one isn’t backed by any scientific evidence that I know of, I can tell you that in both my experience, as well as that of friends who followed the advice you are reading, skipping breakfast results in higher quality sleep, particularly so if you are on a calorie deficit attempting to lose weight.
I believe this is because you no longer have to go to bed hungry. You see, if you are trying to get in most of your calories in the morning and early afternoon hours, you’ll probably find yourself eating nothing at all during those last hours before you head off to dreamland.
This means that, while lying in bed, you are likely to be thinking: “man… if only I could eat that one extra orange, or at least a sandwich.” This usually makes it harder for you to fall asleep and, depending on your organism, may even cause you to wake up more often in the middle of the night.
If you are skipping breakfast, however, you’ll find yourself eating quite a lot in the evening hours. For me, this resulted in an interesting phenomenon: It was actually harder for me to make sure I consumed all of my calories for the day, than it was to make sure I didn’t go overboard with my food.
I don’t think I need to tell you how helpful this can be for someone trying to lose weight.
#5: More Free Time!
This is my favorite part to be honest. While there are certain biological bonuses you can derive from skipping breakfast, none of them are as important for me personally as the idea that when I wake up, I do not have to obsess about breakfast. I don’t have to do things in a rush or worry about whether I’ll be able to eat all that I need at work or whether I’ll have to wait until 1 PM before I can eat.
You can simply eat whenever you want, and whenever you feel like it. No longer will you be a slave to your meal timing. Actually, the sheer realization of just how much time and energy I wasted in the past before I started skipping breakfast makes me kind of annoyed.
While there are definitive advantages to skipping breakfast, you should be careful not to become obsessed with it either. Being obsessed about skipping breakfast is no better than being obsessed about regularly eating breakfast. With that in mind, here is a little piece of wisdom I’d like to share:
Stop worrying about the little things. Realize that weight loss and body composition are 99.5% about how many calories you consume over a week, and 0.5% about all that other BS that we spend hours a week reading about in fitness magazines and blogs (yes – including this very post), like meal frequency, the advantages of olive oil over flax-seed oil, and whether it is better to eat breakfast 41 or 63 minutes after waking up. We’ve been doing this for decades, and are still getting fatter by the year. Doesn’t seem to be working, does it?
The sooner you get your focus right, the sooner you’ll have all of this behind you, providing you with the ultimate reward in life: more free time to do what you like.
About The Author: Mark Nazzal is an online 1 on 1 weight loss and fitness coach who’ll make sure the job gets done properly.