Breakfast or Not?

November 27, 2018 in Health, Nutrition, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

Caitlin Dow MS, PhD posted an electronic article on Nutrition on my birthday in September: To skip or not to skip breakfast: that is the question. Her article caught my attention since I like to keep up with what’s going on in the world of nutrition advise, and the current literature is replete with recommendations to skip breakfast, and sometimes, even lunch – fasting is currently a big issue.

Of course, Dow, being a woman steeped in science, drew me to her analysis of the subject. She jumps right in with the possible dogma that breakfast eating gets your metabolism off to a good start. And follows that by quoting Enhad Chowdhury, a teaching fellow at the University of Bath in England, “And people who typically consume breakfast do weigh less than those who skip.” Then Dow makes a point that I agree with; she says; “But that’s not proof that skipping breakfast causes weight gain. Something else about breakfast eaters could make them leaner.” Since I understand public health statistics, there’s no way that I can disagree with her statement.

In all honesty, I’ve always been a breakfast eater. I used to take a 6:30AM train from the suburbs where I lived, to get to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles where I worked. I’d grab a banana, a non-fat yogurt, and a seedy slice of whole wheat bread. I sincerely embraced the idea that I would be tempted to eat whatever I found in the office, if I allowed myself to become too hungry.

In addition, over the years I’ve followed the National Weight Control Registry  and one of their findings is that 78% of their successful weight loss participants eat breakfast. [Note: These are people who have not only lost weight (an average of 66 pounds), but kept it off (for 5.5 years); this is a big deal.] I like numbers and it’s hard to argue with such a big difference. Note: 22% of the successful weight loss managers did not eat breakfast – that’s not 100%. So those non-breakfast eating, successful weight managers out there – for you I point out, there are exceptions to almost every rule. Note: This is definitely not a rule. But 78% does make us take a long hard look at what’s going on.

Dow cites a randomized controlled study done at the University of Alabama and published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that found no difference in weight or metabolic rate between those who were breakfast skippers and those who ate breakfast. She reported on another larger study from the same group of researchers with essentially the same outcome.

Lastly, she cites studies done by Chowdhury that demonstrated [] and [] that only an average of 150 extra calories for lean people and 50 extra calories for obese people, were eaten at lunch if breakfast were skipped.

So it seems that not eating breakfast does not lead to eating a lot more calories, just a few. Then Dow ends with one final bit of information from Chowdhurry’s studies. The researchers discovered that both blood sugar and insulin were higher an hour after lunch when people skipped breakfast. So it appears that we’re more insulin-resistant later in the day when we skip breakfast. So by eating breakfast, it may help our insulin work more efficiently later in the day. That, in itself may be a sufficient reason to eat breakfast.

Of course by now, most of us realize that a single study, doesn’t make a strong case. But Dr. Grandpa likes to do his own studies on himself (and sometimes me). Both of us feel really hungry if we skip breakfast, and we definitely eat more at lunch – whether more than the total calories in a skipped breakfast and/or a bigger lunch, we cannot say. The point is that our personal experience and logical evaluation for us to avoid hunger build-up and avoid more insulin resistance keeps us in the pro-lunch group.

So, based on a preponderance of evidence, plus personal experience for the way the two nearby bodies work – bodies for which we are responsible, if I’d have to make a decision, I’d have to say that eating breakfast is the safer bet. If the insulin issue proves to be a fact – and is a factor for you – that’s a very strong motivator for many of us. In addition, I’d just as soon stick with the long-term evidence from the National Weight Control Registry – it’s hard to argue with success. None of the new studies, however, really found anything very damaging happening with those who skip breakfast; so if skipping works for you, perhaps there’s no worry. As with much of nutritional science the facts are not final; much needs to be verified. Until then, maybe a light breakfast to support your body’s ability to effectively use insulin in the afternoon. I can share that a slice of seedy whole grain bread, a piece of fruit and a small serving of non-fat Greek yogurt is an easily packed breakfast for a run out the door.