Obese people are more likely than lean people to skip breakfast, ya see, so skipping breakfast makes you fat. Better eat breakfast if you want to lose weight.

I’ll bet you dollars to donuts (and you can keep the donuts) you’ve heard that claim at least once. It never made sense to me. If you skip breakfast but eat lunch and dinner, you’re engaging in a bit of intermittent fasting, which if anything has been shown to improve insulin sensitivity. (Mark Sisson has a good article on the subject with references here.) And from a paleo perspective, I doubt our paleo ancestors insisted on sitting down for three square meals per day.

I don’t keep a diet log, but I’m sure I skip breakfast four or five times per week. I’m just not usually hungry when I wake up. If am hungry, I eat. That’s how I believe it’s supposed to work: eat when you’re hungry, don’t eat when you’re not.

Yes, fat people tend to skip breakfast more often than thin people, so there’s an association between skipping breakfast and being overweight. But fat people develop all kinds of habits and behaviors thin people don’t. If we’re going to assign cause and effect based on associations, well then, let’s give it a whirl: Joining a weight-loss program of any kind will make you fat. Shopping at Lane Bryant will make you fat. Wearing a loose shirt instead of going shirtless at the beach will make you fat. Being too afraid to ask out the pretty girl will make you fat. Sitting farther away from the table will make fat. Drinking diet sodas will make you fat. (I’m sure you’ve heard that one too.)

I’ve always suspected fat people are more likely to skip breakfast for the same reason they’re more likely to drink diet sodas: they’re often in dieting mode and hope that by skipping breakfast when they’re not hungry, they can avoid some calories. By contrast, naturally thin people who aren’t particularly health conscious will eat Pop-Tarts for breakfast and drink sugary sodas if they happen to like them. That’s how a couple of my naturally lean relatives ended up as type 2 diabetics – without ever getting fat.

Since the experts keep insisting skipping breakfast somehow packs on the pounds, what we’d like to see is a clinical study to confirm or negate that hypothesis – and now such a study has been done. Here are some quotes from an article published by the University of Alabama, which led the study:

Breakfast is often said to be the most important meal of the day. Nutritionists regularly suggest it be eaten each morning for many health benefits, including weight loss and weight maintenance. But new research led by the University of Alabama at Birmingham shows that, when comparing regularly consuming with regularly skipping breakfast, weight loss was not influenced.

The new study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, examined the impact of a recommendation to eat or skip breakfast, and the impact of switching breakfast eating habits for the study, on weight loss in adults trying to independently lose weight.

Study lead author Emily Dhurandhar, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Health Behavior, says it was important to test the common recommendation to eat breakfast to ensure this public health message was effective and not misleading about what will and will not help with their weight loss efforts.

“Previous studies have mostly demonstrated correlation, but not necessarily causation,” Dhurandhar said. “In contrast, we used a large, randomized controlled trial to examine whether or not breakfast recommendations have a causative effect on weight loss, with weight change as our primary outcome.”

This multisite, 16-week trial enrolled 309 otherwise healthy overweight and obese adults, 20-65 years old. Experimental groups were told to eat or skip breakfast. The control group, consisting of breakfast eaters and skippers, was simply provided healthy nutrition information that did not mention breakfast.

Dhurandhar says that there was no identifiable effect of treatment assignment on weight loss.

“Now that we know the general recommendation of ‘eat breakfast every day’ has no differential impact on weight loss, we can move forward with studying other techniques for improved effectiveness,” Dhurandhar said.

If you’d like to read the study abstract, you can find it here.

I believe there are two takeaways from this study: 1) skipping breakfast isn’t a cause of gaining weight, and 2) we shouldn’t draw cause-and-effect conclusions from observational studies, no matter how many times the same association shows up … because that “skipping breakfast is linked to obesity” association has shown up rather a lot.

The bottom line: if you’re not hungry in the morning, it’s okay to skip breakfast. Waiting until noon to eat your first meal isn’t going to somehow make you fat.

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57 Responses to “Yes, It’s Okay To Skip Breakfast”
  1. Clint says:

    I check my fasting glucose level every so often the mornings, (no, I am not diabetic), they say that your fasting blood sugar should be under 100, mine is always over 100 (dawn phenomenon?). When I eat my bacon and eggs for breakfast, I check my blood sugar again and hour or two later, and it registers in the 90′s, so I think skipping breakfast for me is not a good idea, it brings my glucose level down every time.

    • Tom Naughton says:

      If you’re hungry and feel like having breakfast, great. Have you tried supplementing with resistant starch to bring the fasting glucose down?

    • Phyllis Mueller says:

      I also have high(er) fasting blood sugars–in the low 100s–since adopting a low-carb eating regimen.

      This Chris Kresser post on blood sugar provides a possible explanation:
      http://chriskresser.com/when-your-%E2%80%9Cnormal%E2%80%9D-blood-sugar-isn%E2%80%99t-normal-part-2

      • Sarah says:

        Fat. Fat. Fat. I would suggest, you guessed it, FAT. More fat with dinner, and a cup of tea or coffee with cream and coconut oil in it first thing. But, not until your do your water-upon-rising. Do you drink a glass of room temp/warm water first thing when you get up? Try it! I’m not a proponent of drinking water till you float, but rather I believe that you should drink when you’re thirsty. HOWEVER, I also believe wholeheartedly, that first thing in the morning, we ARE dehydrated. That could also cause a slightly higher blood glucose level. I also uses a glucose monitor occasionally (no, I’m not diabetic, not even close) because I find it fascinating! Some mornings I eat breakfast right after I wake up. Some mornings I don’t eat for hours. But, I always drink my water (and take my vitamins). Try more fat at dinner, and some fat in your hot beverage of choice. After your water of course. And if you want to be REALLY fancy, squeeze some lemon juice into that warm water. Very nice for your liver and digestive system to boot.

  2. Bruce says:

    My wife will skip breakfast most days and is overweight. I think the problem is when she eats lunch and dinner, she thinks she can eat more because she skipped breakfast. Maybe it’s like eating a lot of food at the all you can eat buffet and making yourself feel better by drinking a diet coke?

    • Tom Naughton says:

      I’ve seen at least one study, maybe more, demonstrating that people tend to have a remarkably consistent intake of calories over the course of a week. Eat less at one meal, they eat more later. Stuff themselves at one meal, they eat less over the next meal or two. It’s all unconscious and likely the result of our bodies staying in energy balance. So she may not be thinking she can get away with a bigger lunch by skipping breakfast. She’s probably just listening to her body’s energy demands.

  3. They only thing to point out is that it might (notice I said “might”) be better to skip dinner than breakfast, or rather, eat more earlier in the day than later. http://caloriesproper.com/?p=4773

  4. Chris says:

    “The control group, consisting of breakfast eaters and skippers, was simply provided healthy nutrition information that did not mention breakfast.”

    Eating “healthy” in Alabama may be an oxymoron. I would be interested in what that means in the context of this particular study. If it’s based on our government’s definition of healthy eating all bets are off.

    • Tom Naughton says:

      I doubt breakfast is worse in Alabama than in most other places. And the study was conducted at several locations.

  5. TMA says:

    It’s comical that they even did this trial when the explanation for the association is so self-evident.

    In general I have loved the way you have explained the flaws of observational research. One question for you–I recently read Paul Jaminet’s PHD book. Couldn’t help but notice that there is a fair amount of observational data cited in that book, used to support the PHD and paleo dieting in general. Did you feel that way and did you discuss that with him at all? Seems to me the book would’ve been stronger without that stuff.

    • Tom Naughton says:

      Observational studies are all that’s available for some areas of research, so I always treat them as “this might indicate that.”

  6. Firebird says:

    For weight loss, i can understand it having no effect, but I would be hesitant to allow a child to skip breakfast. We’ve discussed this in other posts here about nourishing a child with the right food in the morning, then sending them off to school where it could be another 5-6 hours before they have lunch. It’d be different if it wasn’t such a controlled environment, but that stomach grumbling (among other things) is a distraction for a child trying to pay attention in class.

    • Tom Naughton says:

      I think appetite is the key. Growing children tend to want breakfast. Mine certainly do.

    • Trish says:

      All my life I have never been able to eat first thing in the morning. When I was a kid I drove my mother crazy because she’d wake us up and have breakfast on the table and I’d be borderline nauseous looking at the food and wouldn’t eat. In turn she would give me the “you’ll be starving by ten” line. In elementary and junior high school school started a little before eight and lunch was a little before noon, and while I’d be hungry for lunch I wasn’t sitting in class with my stomach growling and I paid attention. It depends on the kid.

      • Firebird says:

        The thing is, suppose the child starts getting an appetite an hour into school and lunch is still 3-4 hours off? Slip him/her a snack and they get in trouble for eating in class or in the hallways. Timing is key.

  7. Vincent says:

    On the correlation does not imply causation side, the “Spurious Correlations” website http://www.tylervigen.com/ helps you find lots of things that are very tightly correlated. For example US spending on science and technology is very well correlated with suicides by hanging, strangulation, or suffocation and US per capita consumption of cheese is well correlated with the number of people who died by becoming tangled in their own bedsheets.

    • Tom Naughton says:

      Well, now I’m trying to figure out if eating cheese causes death by bedsheet-tangling, or if knowing people who died in a bedsheet accident produces a desire to eat cheese.

  8. I try to eat breakfast not because I’m hungry but because my morning “hunger” cue is “I don’t want to get out of bed”. I’ve had problems with low blood sugar all my life and my body goes into “sleep and conserve energy” mode instead of “demand more food” mode overnight. I don’t “wake up” until I eat something.

    • Willa Jean says:

      I can’t believe I never thought to check that out! Mornings are hellish for me. Just awful. I think I’ll try eating breakfast first thing … see if that helps. I think I’ll get a glucometer, too. Thanks for the observation.

  9. Although I confess that I haven’t studied this topic extensively, from what I understand, there’s very little research done on the whole ‘eat breakfast to lose weight’ topic at all, despite convential wisdom that says how important breakfast is.

    It’s only been as of late that I’ve been more under the idea of ‘if you’re not hungry, don’t eat’-even if it means skipping breakfast. It seems to work for me, and my followers that I’ve heard from.
    Thanks for the great article, and the study to support it :)

  10. Mark. says:

    For about five years I’ve almost always skipped lunch. Occasionally I skip breakfast and eat lunch, or skip both. Seems to make no difference. Eating low-carb and high-fat seems to make fasting much easier.

    I recall reading about a lecturer at the University of London in I think the late 19th and early 20th centuries who usually ate only at his club and only dinner, with no apparent ill effects. I understand his approach now.

    • Tom Naughton says:

      LCHF definitely has made it easier for me to skip meals. I just don’t get the frequent hunger pangs I did on a high-carb diet.

  11. LCC says:

    Tom-

    I normally do not eat breakfast, excepting the weekends when I have time to prepare. And even then, I will end up having a late light lunch because it carries me so far through the day.

    Have you tried I.F.? I now try and do it at least once a week, 24-30 hours of nothing but water, coffee (with HWC). Gets my ketones up also.

    • Tom Naughton says:

      I’ve gone 24 hours several times. Not nearly as difficult as I would have thought. Now I go more for the 8-hour eating window approach, which for me means eating lunch and dinner.

  12. 70xseven says:

    Great topic! I always felt sluggish and awful after eating breakfast (yes, even a healthy one). It wasn’t until I started 16:8 fasting that I realized how much sharper and clear headed I was in the morning. It took a good month of fasting, and yes because I have some blood sugar issues, there were days I did suffer hypoglycemia in the mornings. But after a good month, the fog lifted, and I’ve never looked back. I am so clear headed and mentally sharp in the morning now, I can’t ever see eating breakfast again. I usually eat from 11 a.m – 7 p.m. (8 hour window), but the timing varies. However I never have more than an 8 hour eating window open. And no, I don’t eat for a straight 8 hours…ha ha! Check out the book The 8 Hour Diet.

  13. Roy GA says:

    I wonder if Kellogg’s thinks it’s OK to skip breakfast.

  14. Valerie says:

    I would add a third takeaway: skipping breakfast will not help you lose weight (sorry for intermitent fasting).

  15. tony says:

    Before adopting low carb when I was fat (now getting thinner every week) I always skipped breakfast.

    The reason that I was not hungry was that I was still full from my usual midnight lunch of oreo cookies, ice cream, mallomars, chocolates bars, saltines, chips, cheese, beer and whiskey.

    I did eat lunch and dinner.

  16. Kevin says:

    Even if it is just an informal (non-scientific) study, I would be highly interested to note how many people, left to their own devices, would choose to skip breakfast.
    We’ve all been drilled “THEY say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. I bought into it to, for a while, until I realized that breakfast just makes me feel sick. (I have noted two women I’ve dated in my life wake up starving, and are huge breakfast-eaters. It really just comes down to the person).

    Side note: Who is They?

  17. Drew Kime says:

    Just to be pedantic, you can’t skip breakfast. Your first meal of the day is breakfast, no matter what time it happens.

    Yes, this is how I answer people who give me the “most important meal of the day” lecture.

  18. Boundless says:

    > Drinking diet sodas will make you fat.

    The fattest people I encounter in my day job always have a can of diet pop in tow. It really makes me wonder which is cause and which is effect.

    Glycemia victims aside, my impression of why low-carbers often skip breakfast is that they are probably kontently ketotic. It’s a form of intermittent fasting, a ritual presently approved by most bishops in the church of LC.

    I’m an intermittent breakfast skipper.

  19. Laura S. says:

    I have always eaten breakfast and I am fat, so I would laugh at those pronouncements. I don’t eat late at night either and once I went LCHF, I stopped needing snacks. I guess I am an anomaly, LOL.

    One thing I do remember is my grandparents and great-grandparents all had physically demanding work (either farming, coal mining or steel working) and they had to eat a big breakfast so they could work effectively. Now, with the type of work that we all do – riding a desk every day – I don’t know that it makes any difference.

    • Tom Naughton says:

      I suspect agriculture and farm work is largely what created the “eat a big breakfast” advice in the first place.

  20. Bob Geary says:

    When I was doing Weight Watchers 10+ years ago (classic “points” plan, which guided one towards low-fat, low-calorie), I tried to take their advice and eat a “healthy” breakfast – a bland crunchy bowl of wheat and bran with skim milk and some fruit – but every morning I did that, I’d be RAVENOUS by lunchtime – ready to blow right through every remaining “point” I had left, if I even took the time to count them as I crammed food into my mouth.

    Obvious to me now why that was (blood sugar spike -> blood sugar drop -> HUNGRY!!!), but at least I was clever enough to note that phenomenon and go back to skipping breakfast. (For me, at least, WW + breakfast = impossible; WW – breakfast = still pretty miserable, but doable, for a while.)

  21. B35 says:

    I myself have found that skipping breakfast is really something I do almost daily, I usually am just not hungry in the morning and generally think that eating breakfast every day really is not necessary. I myself rather would trade breakfast for 20 extra minutes of sleep.

    • pam says:

      i’m rarely hungry when i wake up (even when i was a kid) food just made me want to puke.

      once upon a time i was scared into having a breakfast. so i forced down some “healthy” breakfast (like yogurt+fruits, granola, low fat milk) only to makes me hungry by 10AM.

      i figured it was pretty pointless so stopped having
      breakfast.

      (this was before i switched diet to high-fat & IF)

  22. Mike P says:

    Thanks for the post and the link to the article. The part I really liked was the fact that it was a funded trial that had the following purpose…

    “it was important to test the common recommendation to eat breakfast to ensure this public health message was effective and not misleading about what will and will not help with their weight loss efforts.”

    I’m sure there are many other trials out there working to debunk our current Government supported health advice. It’s always good to see steps in the right direction

    • Tom Naughton says:

      Now we’ll see how long it takes for the USDA to stop imposing low-fat meals on kids. I say 10 years minimum.

      • Boundless says:

        > … how long it takes for the USDA to stop imposing
        > low-fat meals on kids. I say 10 years minimum.

        It will be interesting to see which arm of the US government blinks first.

        I wouldn’t bet on it being the USDA, as their very charter makes them more subservient to their industry than, say, the FDA, who merely have revolving door staffing relationship with their industry (which relies on selling drugs to manage the consequences of the USDA diet). So, probably not the FDA either.

        CDC? Once enough people working at CDC have quit wheat and sugar, added fat, and seen the results, that agency could actually wake up to the clear and present health dangers posed by a high-carb low-fat diet. Since most declared “diseases” are only metaphorically diseases anyway, why not SAD as a disease – it would authorize CDC to issue a press release at least.

        A dark horse is OSG (Office of Surgeon General). If the SG doesn’t care about re-appointment (or at the moment, promotion from Acting SG), they can make some pretty radical pronouncements (for government, anyway). The ASG, alas, appears to be a compulsive exerciser, and probably thinks that’s the solution. But he’s also a rear admiral, and might enjoy an opportunity to stick a pin in the First Primadonna’s balloon full of dietary hot air.

        The USDA is apt to be last out of the barn, if indeed this utterly needless agency isn’t completely dismantled first.

        • Tom Naughton says:

          But we need the USDA! You know, to continue helping those farmers hit hardest by The Great Depression.

          • Boundless says:

            > But we need the USDA!

            Speaking as a farmer, we do not.

            To put your “10 years” estimate in perspective, today, a half century after the OSG blew the whistle on what everyone already knew about tobacco, the USDA is still running a price support program for that weed.

            They defend that posture by claiming that the program is revenue-neutral, which rather misses the bigger picture, but calibrates our expectations.

            • Tom Naughton says:

              That does kind of miss the big picture. If cigarette taxes equal the subsidies, the answer to is to cancel both.

  23. B35 says:

    I always thought the whole “you eat breakfast you lose weight thing was kind of a weird idea. How does eating cause you to drop pounds?

  24. ethyl d says:

    I wonder if skipping breakfast is okay if leptin sensitive, but not if one is leptin resistant? Dr. Kruse’s Leptin Reset includes eating a large, high protein breakfast as part of the fix. Maybe breakfast skippers are leptin sensitive, but it’s not a good idea for those who are leptin resistant?

  25. Cindy says:

    Thanks for sharing this. I always hated breakfast as a child. I forced myself to eat half a bowl of rice crispies-filled up mostly with whole milk that I loved to drink-and a glass of orange juice that I couldn’t get halfway through without choking. I still wasn’t hungry at lunch and threw away half of the horrible food I was given at lunch. Then I chowed down on veggies with butter, potatoes and more milk at dinner and ate a few bites of meat. My mother forced me to sit at the dinner table until I ate the rest of the meat. The “prize” for doing so was that I got to eat dessert-usually ice cream. I was elated when I went to college and was able to eat 3 meals a day. Of couse, they were all full of grains. I gained 15 lbs the first year. Now I have to re-teach myself to eat the way my body always wanted me to do. Posts like this help me silence the voice in my head-my mom’s- constantly chiming in that breakfast is too important to skip.

    I heard about a study recently that parents who allow their children to decide when and how much to eat have thinner, healthier kids. I believe it!

    • Tom Naughton says:

      I believe it too, as long as they didn’t let the kids decide WHAT to eat. Lots of kids would choose cookies and ice cream for every meal.

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