Do we need to break(the)fast?
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day...isn't it?
Well, that's what we always seem to hear. We read or hear this all the time; on social media, in the papers, from your parents, from your dieting work colleagues, from breakfast product marketing, and from health, fitness and medical professionals who have been led to believe the same.
And, I'm big enough to own up to telling multiple clients this exact thing during the earlier stages of my career. This despite studying an undergraduate degree in sport and exercises sciences and learning from some top health boffins!
This is a complete myth!
There's now a plethora of evidence from research to show us that eating breakfast isn't the magical answer to living a healthier life, losing weight or turning you into a superhuman in the board room...sorry to tell you this devastating news if you're an avid breakfast eater!
So, where does this myth come from?
Well, apart from your mum telling you to eat your toast before you head out the door in the morning, we've been fed a bowl full of lies by a bunch of what we call observational studies. An observational study means that an outcome has been recorded after an intervention...however
Observation or correlation doesn't mean causation!
So, if something is observed, it may not actually tell us "why" that outcome occurred. But this is all very confusing when you read headlines in the Daily Mail telling us that "eating breakfast cereals results in a lower BMI", for example. The media is sadly very good at taking the outcomes of a study and creating a sensationalised headline...after all, they have something to sell!
An interesting aspect to consider here is that it's been shown that breakfast skippers tend to lead worse lifestyles overall; i.e. they are less "health-seeking". So, this means that if somebody doesn't eat breakfast, they tend to make other "poor" lifestyle choices in general, such as not exercising, smoking, drinking excessive levels of alcohol, and going to bed later. But, what it categorically doesn't mean is that eating breakfast is better for you.
We must look at the bigger picture!
Interestingly, the Bath Breakfast Study (Betts et al. 2014) found that "contrary to popular belief, there was no metabolic adaptation to breakfast (resting metabolic rate remained stable), with limited subsequent suppression of appetite". This seems to pour cold water on the often-espoused view that eating breakfast "fires up your metabolism" to help you burn fat. Added to that, this study found that "cardiovascular health indexes were unaffected by either of the treatments".
So, what does this mean for you?
The key messages to take away here are that:
- Eating breakfast is a personal choice - don't like it, don't eat it!
- Skipping breakfast won't damage your metabolism
- You don't burn more fat if you eat breakfast vs not eating breakfast
- Losing weight requires a calorie deficit - this means that breakfast skipping might actually help you achieve this more easily!
Written by @chris_the_nutritionist