Is skipping breakfast a good idea or not? The answer isn’t so cut and dry.
We’ve all heard it before: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” For decades, health authorities have linked a solid, healthy breakfast with better overall health and weight management.
The idea is that a balanced breakfast helps:
- kick-start your metabolism after you’ve been “fasting” (and sleeping) all night
- prevent blood sugar imbalances
- reduce hunger
- make it more likely that you’ll eat less and stick to a healthy diet overall
All of these factors have given breakfast a reputation of helping you lose weight more easily.
Lately, however, the trend of intermittent fasting — such as eating an early dinner and then not having a meal until after noon the next day (in other words, skipping breakfast!) — has taken off and confused many of us about what meal timing is best.
The big-breakfast approach works for some, especially those who like to exercise in the morning and need to refuel afterward. There’s plenty of research suggesting that when breakfast is full of protein and fiber, it can be beneficial for appetite management.
As researchers from one study published in the American Journal of Nutrition put it, “Breakfast leads to beneficial alterations in the appetitive, hormonal, and neural signals that control food intake regulation.”
On the other hand, fasting can promote metabolic health and insulin sensitivity and often leads to decreased calorie intake.
So is breakfast important, or should you forgo it in order to lose weight? Let’s look below at the pros and cons of delaying your first meal of the day.
Benefits of Eating Breakfast
Is skipping breakfast good for losing weight? It seems to depend on the person, as well as the overall quality of one’s diet.
It’s true that eating breakfast is associated with lower body weight in many observational studies, and we know that public health authorities commonly recommend breakfast consumption to reduce the risk of unhealthy weight gain.
That said, the effects of eating breakfast on weight are still debatable.
These are the primary reasons breakfast is said to be beneficial:
1. May Protect Against Obesity
A large clinical review looked at 13 studies to investigate the impact of eating breakfast on weight gain and consistently found that those who regularly eat breakfast had better protection against becoming overweight or obese compared to those who skipped it.
2. Can Help Prevent Overeating, Which Supports Weight Loss
A study done by researchers at Tel Aviv University showed that dieters lost more weight when they ate the majority of their calories in the morning (roughly 700 calories) compared to those eating more throughout the day and at nighttime.
While all participants followed a low 1,400-calorie diet, meal timing made a significant difference in terms in weight loss. The group eating 700 calories (or half of daily calories) in the morning lost eight more pounds over a 12-week period than the group eating more calories during dinnertime.
The participants who ate half of their daily calories at breakfast lost more weight and more inches from their waists, showed greater improvements in glucose control and insulin sensitivity, and reported being more satisfied. The researchers found that the big-breakfast eaters had lower levels of ghrelin, our main hunger hormone.
3. Helps You Make Healthier Choices
Another study published in the Journal of Nutrition found that missing breakfast causes metabolic and hormonal impacts that can make it hard to choose healthier foods in the right portion later in the day. The study found that those who skipped breakfast had differences in responses to foods consumed later in the morning, higher appetites and an increase in energy intake compared to people who ate breakfast.
Many other studies show the same and report that for most people who have lost weight and been able to keep it off, eating breakfast is part of what allows them to be successful long term.
4. Can Give You More Energy
Fill up on the right foods upon waking up, especially kinds that are high in protein and high in healthy fats, and you might find you’re more prepared to work, move and make better decisions all day long.
Is Skipping Breakfast Bad? (Pros & Cons)
Overall, when we look at studies conducted over the past decade, we see very mixed results in terms of what constitutes ideal meal timing. Some studies show that adults can maintain their weight more easily when they “front load” their day with bigger meals and more calories, but other studies show the opposite can work, too.
Additionally, a bunch of research suggests that weight loss/gain may not be impacted by breakfast alone, but by someone’s overall diet.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that contrary to popular belief, there was no metabolic increase after eating breakfast, no suppression of appetite or calorie intake later in the day, and no difference in terms of weight gain or loss between people who ate breakfast and those who didn’t.
While overall body mass, blood sugar levels and adiposity (fat levels) didn’t differ between breakfast-eaters and breakfast-skippers, those who eat breakfast did seem to naturally move around more throughout the morning. This increase in physical activity didn’t have any effects on weight, cardiovascular health, insulin responsiveness or other markers, however.
Another 2014 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found the same results: no difference in weight loss between a group of adults eating breakfast every day versus those who skipped it.
Pros of Skipping Breakfast:
If you decide to forgo breakfast, you practice an eating approach called intermittent fasting.
What does it mean to fast intermittently? There are a few different approaches, but basically this involves either eating between a small window of time each day (usually eight hours) while abstaining from eating for the remainder of the day/night (usually 16+ hours). Another approach involves fasting every other day — meaning your calorie intake is high every other day, rotated with a very low calorie intake the other days.
There’s a good deal of evidence showing that people who skip breakfast altogether might not be at a greater risk for weight gain and might even have an advantage when it comes to weight loss and fat burning. Intermittent fasting is praised as a simple step for losing weight without being hungry or deprived. In fact, a 2020 systematic review concluded: “Intermittent fasting shows promise for the treatment of obesity.”
The theory behind the meal timing of intermittent fasting is this:
- Although it’s not appropriate for people with hypoglycemia, a condition characterized by an abnormally low level of blood sugar, the average person can experience improvements in blood sugar control by fasting for a 16-hour period each day — which for many people means skipping breakfast.
- While you restrict your eating to a specific eight-hour window of time, your insulin/leptin resistance improves, which means your weight can drop more easily.
- You also burn more fat for energy when you’ve been fasting, which can result in fat loss.
Some studies show that health benefits of intermittent fasting include the ability to:
- Improve insulin/leptin sensitivity
- Burn fat for fuel more easily
- Improve blood pressure and cholesterol
- Reduce cravings
- Improve brain function, such as focus
- Lose weight or maintain a healthy weight without needing to count calories
- Promote the natural anti-aging process called autophagy, which helps with detoxification and cellular renewal
- Help defend against oxidative stress, which can contribute to chronic diseases
Cons of Skipping Breakfast:
Is it unhealthy to skip breakfast? As mentioned above, eating breakfast can be helpful for some people if it keeps their appetites in check.
Do yeel like you’re not very hungry in the morning, but then you can’t stop eating come nighttime? Eating a bigger breakfast might work to solve the issue.
Skipping breakfast often leaves people overly hungry, so they’re more likely to make poor decisions when it comes time to eat lunch. Eating a balanced, substantial breakfast may help you avoid eating too much at your next meal and snacking on unhealthy foods throughout the course of the day due to low energy and cravings.
Other potential issues with skipping breakfast include those related to metabolic changes that the body makes when someone fasts. Some research shows people experience increased blood glucose (sugar) concentrations and higher markers of inflammation and insulin resistance after eating lunch on “breakfast-skipping days.”
Some researchers also believe that fasting may make people less “metabolically flexible,” meaning they can’t burn both carbs and fat for energy as easily.
Should You Skip Breakfast?
Knowing that there’s evidence supporting both sides of the big breakfast coin, it seems that personal preference and habits really play a big role in creating sustainable, healthy diets.
Some do best when eating a big breakfast (especially one with high-protein foods) because it prevents them from overeating later in the day and having food cravings. Others who have no appetite in the morning might not benefit from forcing themselves to eat — especially if they’re going to have a “standard American breakfast.”
That said, despite the health benefits of fasting, it might not be a realistic option for many people. It likely comes down to the quality of food you consume when you do choose to eat, plus personal preference.
If you personally find that skipping breakfast helps you better manage your hunger levels, cravings and food intake while still allowing you to eat plenty of whole-nutrient foods later in the day, it might be a good option for you.
The Real Keys: Personal Preference and Food Quality
One important aspect of meal timing and following any number of healthy plans is that it really depends what and how much you eat, despite the timing.
For example, when we look at the dieters who lost weight eating a bigger breakfast, we should also pay attention to their breakfast choices. The quality of the food is equally as, if not more, important as just eating breakfast alone.
This is due to the impact that different breakfasts can have on your metabolism. For example, an ideal breakfast filled with superfoods for weight loss — one that’s equal parts protein, healthy fats and fresh plant foods (especially vegetables) — supports insulin sensitivity better than a high-sugar breakfast of pancakes, syrup and fruit.
So simply eating any breakfast is not enough — it needs to be the right type of breakfast filled with healthy fat-burning foods that sets you up for a successful day.
Overall, research suggests that for optimal health, the focus should really be on getting the highest level of nutrients into your body and listening to your body’s true signals of hunger and fullness, as opposed to getting too wrapped up in meal timing and frequency. If you feel dizzy, weak, “hangry” or unfocused, it’s probably time to eat!
No matter which type of diet plan you choose, here are tips for sticking with a healthy diet:
- Listen to your body. If you aren’t hungry right away when you wake up, drink some water, and wait an hour or two before eating.
- Emphasize protein in your diet, such as eggs, yogurt or poultry, which is important for your mood, focus and metabolism. Try to have 26 grams or more with your first meal of the day.
- Consume plenty of fiber. Add more fiber-rich ingredients to your meals, such as veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, avocado, coconut and sprouted grains.
- Try meal planning and stocking your fridge/office with healthy options. This way you aren’t reaching for last-minute snacks when you’re very hungry.
- Avoid anything with added sugar, hydrogenated fats and refined grains, which are basically “empty calories.”
- Drink plenty of water and other hydrating beverages, such as tea, seltzer and coffee in moderation.
- Manage stress and get enough sleep, which support your metabolism and keep “stress hormones” such as is cortisol in check.
- Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? Not necessarily — in fact, skipping your first meal of the day can have certain health perks, assuming it doesn’t cause you to overeat later in the day.
- It seems to be a matter of personal preference when it comes to determining what constitutes a healthy meal plan. Breakfast seems to help many people eat a healthy diet overall, but on the other hand, some people do best without it.
- We are all different, and there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach that works best for everyone. Focus first on consuming high-quality foods and learning portion control — then consider if shifting your meal times around a bit could further benefit you.
- Is skipping breakfast bad for any reason? It may be if it causes you to overeat and choose junk foods later on. To control your appetite, consume plenty of protein, and add more fiber to your meals.