The idea that skipping breakfast contributes to weight gain doesn’t mean that eating breakfast can help with weight loss, a research review suggests.
Researchers examined data from 13 studies in which some participants ate breakfast and others skipped it. The people who ate breakfast consumed more calories and weighed more than individuals who skipped this morning meal, a research review suggests.
The results may surprise legions of dieters: breakfast eaters consumed an average of 260 calories more a day and weighed an average of 0.44 kilogram (about 1 pound) more than breakfast avoiders.
“There is a belief in the community that breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” said senior study author Flavia Cicuttini of Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.
“This is not the case,” Cicuttini said by email. “A calorie is a calorie, whatever time you eat it, and people shouldn’t eat if they are not hungry.”
While some previous research suggests that eating breakfast is associated with increased odds of maintaining a healthy weight, many of these studies were not controlled experiments designed to prove whether breakfast directly causes weight loss or prevents weight gain, researchers note in The BMJ.
Much of this research also left open the possibility that people who eat breakfast have a healthier weight because they’re different from those who skip the morning meal, with perhaps healthier overall eating habits or more consistent exercise routines, the study authors note.
In the current analysis, researchers examined data from clinical trials done mainly in the US and the UK over the past three decades that looked at the effect of eating breakfast on weight and calorie intake.
These smaller studies lasted from one day to four months.
There was no meaningful difference in the association between breakfast consumption and weight or calorie intake based on how much individual participants weighed, the analysis found. Results were similar for people at a healthy weight and for individuals who were overweight.
Some studies looked at whether breakfast influenced metabolism, or how many calories people burned. But researchers didn’t find meaningful differences based on whether or not participants had breakfast.
Dieters are sometimes told skipping breakfast will make them hungrier and increase their propensity to overeat later in the day. But the analysis didn’t find a difference in hunger levels based on whether or not participants ate a morning meal.
One limitation of the analysis is that the smaller studies were all too brief to see whether or how eating breakfast might affect long-term weight control or calorie consumption, the study authors note.
Still, the lower total calorie consumption associated with skipping breakfast suggests this approach may work for some dieters, said Tim Spector, a researcher at Kings College London who wrote an accompanying editorial.
“When people skipped breakfast, they ate more later in the day, but not enough to compensate for the extra calories they had not consumed earlier,” Spector said by email. “The studies so far suggest, but don’t prove, that breakfast skipping can help some people lose weight.”
The types of foods people eat may matter at least as much, if not more, than the total calories they consume or exactly when they have their first meal of the day, added Spector, a self-professed habitual breakfast eater.
“Calories are not the key here,” said Spector, who founded a personalized nutrition company. “Everyone is unique and may benefit from different amounts of carbs or fat depending on their genes, microbes and metabolism.”