Should you skip breakfast? The debate rumbles on

To breakfast or not to breakfast is an ongoing debate in the health and fitness world. For years we took it as gospel that breakfast was the most sacred meal of the day. It has been associated with weight loss, some believe that by kickstarting your metabolism earlier on in the day, it’ll stop you overeating later in the day.

But over the last few years, others, mostly from the growing camp of intermittent fasters, have called that into question. Some argue that introducing time restricted eating, a form of intermittent fasting in which you extend your overnight fast (most easily achieved by skipping breakfast), not only has metabolic health benefits, but that it can also reduce your appetite, meaning you eat less over the course of the day. 

And new research published in the BMJ has thrown up more questions when it comes to the importance of brekkie. In a meta-analysis of 13 controlled trials, researchers from Monash University in Melbourne analysed the effect of regularly eating breakfast on weight change and daily calorie consumption. They concluded there was no evidence to support the idea that eating breakfast promotes weight loss or that skipping it leads to weight gain. 

The scientists also found that those people who ate breakfast consumed on average 260 more calories over the course of the day compared to those who had not, and that skipping breakfast did not make respondents feel hungrier later in the day.

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Another observation was that there was no significant difference in metabolic rates between breakfast eaters and skippers.

When interpreting the results of this study, it’s important to flag that the authors noted inconsistencies across trial results and said the overall quality of the studies was low.

Despite this, they concluded that their analysis questions the idea that eating breakfast can help with weight control.

“Although eating breakfast regularly could have other important effects, caution is needed when recommending breakfast for weight loss in adults, as it may have the opposite effect,” they said.

The jury is still out as to the long-term health benefits of intermittent fasting, and more scientific evidence is needed to draw firm conclusions. The NHS advises against skipping breakfast, and says that research shows “people who regularly eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight.”

The reality is that intermittent fasting, like it or not, is essentially a form of dieting, and as with all eating regimes, is highly personal. What works for one person might work for another.

Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London, commented on the findings in a BMJ blog post:

“No ‘one size fits all,’ and prescriptive slow moving diet guidelines filled with erroneous information look increasingly counterproductive and detract from important health messages. While waiting for guidelines to change, no harm can be done in trying out your own personal experiments in skipping breakfast.”



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