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What the 'skipping breakfast' versus 'eating a big breakfast' debate looks like in 2018.

To eat breakfast or not to eat breakfast… that is the question women have been focusing their energy on answering for decades.

If we’re honest with ourselves, many of us spend more time thinking and planning what we’re going to eat than we actually spend eating. No matter what healthy eating program you’re interested in, every single day starts with breakfast.

The conversation around the skipping breakfast versus eating breakfast debate is full of multiple loud voices yelling multiple mixed messages at us.

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. A big breakfast ‘fires up’ your metabolism and will help you burn fat all day. Skipping breakfast will help you burn fat all day. Eating breakfast will make you fat. 

It’s no wonder we’re all confused and end up shoving a bit of vegemite toast into our gobs in the morning.

To cut through the noise, we asked two nutritionists, a GP and an intermittent fasting researcher what they think about skipping breakfast versus eating breakfast.

Should you skip breakfast or eat breakfast for weight loss and well being?

Ah. The bagillion trillion dollar question.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to whether or not you should skip breakfast in conjunction with a healthy diet for weight loss or weight management.

On the one hand, there’s the belief that a big breaky will fire up your metabolism for the day. Another common belief is that eating breakfast will ‘make you fat’.

All of the experts we spoke to mentioned the idea of throwing what you think you know about healthy eating and specific meal times out the window in favour of doing what works for you.

“I am a huge advocate for ditching diets and restrictive eating and instead eating for a healthy lifestyle. This means, it’s important to ask yourself, will I maintain and enjoy this routine long-term? If the answer is no, it’s akin to going on a diet,” celebrity Nutritionist and author of Falling In Love With Food Zoe Bingley-Pullin told Mamamia.

“If skipping breakfast leads to over compensating during the day and at night and binge eating, then it won’t be effective for weight loss. If all you can think about is food until lunchtime, it’s not effective for productivity nor happiness!”

She also pointed out ‘skipping’ breakfast or delaying it (i.e. intermittent fasting) might have some benefits, including:

  • Energy restriction leading to weight loss – eating fewer meals which means energy intake will be reduced.
  • Potentially making you more conscious of what you eat for the rest of the day.
  • Less likely to slow metabolism compared to normal dieting (i.e. yo-yo dieting).
  • Improved cellular repair – when the body is in a fasting mode, it reduces wastes and undertakes cellular repair.
  • Potential anti-inflammatory effects (research shows reduced C-reactive protein levels during fasting) and protection against oxidative stress.
  • Guaranteed more time in the mornings (and couldn’t we all use some more of that, right?).

Registered Nutritionist and Head of Nutrition for 28bySamWood Stephanie Wearne said she believes there might be some confusion with the difference between skipping breakfast (eliminating a whole meal) and intermittent fasting (delaying a meal).

“There might be occasions when some people eat breakfast later in the day than usual (i.e. intermittent fasting) but even then, breakfast is still consumed, it’s just eaten later in the morning so you can fit it into your specified eating period. I think people are confusing this with intermittent fasting, however to do intermittent fasting correctly, you don’t eat less food – you just eat your breakfast, lunch and dinner in a smaller window of time than usual,” she told Mamamia.

Countering the argument that skipping breakfast will slow your metabolism, contributing to weight gain and/or plateauing, Associate Professor of Nutrition at The University of Illinois-Chicago and intermittent fasting researcher for SuperFastDiet.com Krista Varady Ph.D. said there is no evidence to support those claims.

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“For years, it has been drilled into us that skipping breakfast will slow down our metabolism and cause weight gain. New research, however, shows that this is probably not the case,” she told Mamamia.

“Results showed that a group of breakfast skipping people consumed about 400 calories less during the day when compared to the group that ate breakfast. All in all, you don’t need to be worried about skipping breakfast. Evidence from well-controlled clinical studies show that there is no causal link between breakfast skipping and a sluggish metabolism. So do what works for you.”

Anyone else still confused?

To summarise, whether you enjoy eating breakfast or prefer to eat later, you just need to focus on consuming the relevant nutrients throughout the day. This could be a larger breakfast along with a more traditional ‘three meals a day’ eating plan, or a smaller meal in an eating plan that includes six small meals a day.

Wearne also made a point that makes conceptualising the idea of skipping breakfast versus eating it easier to understand.

“If you are someone that worries about breakfast and eating too many calories, I strongly encourage you to shift your mindset to think of it as an opportunity to get more nutrients in. This is what our body needs to function optimally, including shedding excess weight.”

Interested in different types of fad diets and what they’re actually like? Brigid Delaney tried the 101 Day Detox Diet so you don’t have to, get her full interview with Mia Freedman in your ears below. Post continues after audio.

Is it dangerous to skip breakfast?

Skipping breakfast isn’t dangerous, but following a strict meal plan that encourages you to skip meals, including breakfast, is.

“If you are trying to lose weight and don’t enjoy breakfast, then you don’t force yourself to eat it,” GP and health and weight management expert for SuperFastDiet.com Dr Penny Adams told Mamamia.

“However, you need to be mindful of the potential trap of eating high calorie, less nutritious food later in the day. Skipping breakfast can work well if you are using the 16:8 regimen. The bottom line is that you need to be mindful of your appetite and eating habits to plan the weight loss regimen that best suits you.”

It’s important to note intermittent fasting doesn’t encourage people to skip breakfast. On ‘fast days’, it recommends delaying your breakfast to a brunch time slot, but on non-fast days, you should still consume the equivalent of a breakfast meal and all its nutrients.

Bingley-Pullin also noted there are some groups of people for whom skipping breakfast could have a negative impact physically and mentally.

“You have to think about whether it’s going to be something you enjoy long-term, taking your physical and mental health into consideration. If you are underweight, pregnant, breastfeeding or have a history of an eating disorder, skipping breakfast is not going to be suitable,” she said.

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“If you are going to skip breakfast, it’s important to make sure you pay attention to having a balanced lunch, dinner and snacks to make sure nutritional needs are being met.”

Other factors to consider when determining whether skipping breakfast is a god fit for you include:

  • Skipping breakfast increases the risk of binge eating and/or over compensating from the fast – eating more calories than you would have if not fasting, leading to weight gain/undoing any good of the fast.
  • Reduced calorie intake can lead to nutritional deficiencies.
  • Excluding a meal from your eating plan might trigger restrictive eating, especially if there is a history of eating disorders.
  • Reduced calorie intake might lead to low blood sugar and feelings of fatigue.
  • If already stressed, fasting may add an extra stress on the body so not a good idea.
  • The ritual of breakfast and socialising and patting dogs over breakfast is lost.

Is the practice of eating a big breakfast, average lunch and small dinner still relevant?

‘Eat breakfast like a King, lunch like a Prince and dinner like a pauper’ is one you no doubt heard throughout your childhood and teenage years. Either that, or, ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’.

While Bingley-Pullin thinks this ideology still has some relevance, it’s not a hard and fast rule for health, well being or weight loss.

“At the end of the day, number of calories/kilo-joules consumed is going to have the greatest impact on weight. Our body is primed to receive food early on in the morning and therefore uses food more effectively at this time, and eating a protein rich breakfast can help reduce sugar and carb cravings during the day and into the night,” she said.

“Overall, there is some truth in this phrase, but we can’t say conclusively that there is one right way to time meals.”

Wearne added, “I’m not necessarily on board with a big breakfast, I think people need to be in tune with their body and know how much they require at this time of the day. People who have an appetite at this time of morning and people that have worked out or will be very active for the day are likely to thrive off a big breakfast, however those who don’t have an appetite in the morning or who are sedentary for a lot of the day might do better of a smaller portion of food. ”

“Eating large portions of food at night [instead of a big breakfast] is not ideal because you don’t want to distract your body from performing the replenishing and rejuvenating functions it’s meant to do overnight. Those who can’t stomach a big breakfast should utilise lunch and snacks as opportunities to get more nutrients in while keeping dinner still on the smaller side.”

What does the perfect breakfast look like?

If you feel like you can’t face the world without something in your stomach or feel the idea of eating a bigger breakfast suits you better, make sure your breakfast of choice ticks all the right boxes.

Both Bingley-Pullin and Wearne agree the ‘perfect’ breakfast should include protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates.

“Eating a protein rich breakfast can help reduce sugar and carb cravings during the day and into the night. If you can get some vegetables in too, even better,” Bingley-Pullin said.

Examples of breakies that meet these requirements include:

  • Two boiled/poached eggs with a quarter of avocado on sourdough/multigrain toast.
  • A smoothie using milk, yoghurt, hemp seeds, fruit and oat bran.
  • Scrambled tofu on sourdough/multigrain toast with avocado.
  • This one is Wearne’s favourite – scrambled eggs with coconut milk and turmeric, sautéed kale, spinach and mushrooms, avocado, microherbs, and with either sweet potato, hummus or a piece of grainy/sourdough bread.

Side note – if you’re an exerciser, Bingley-Pullin and Wearne recommended eating as soon as you can after your workout. If not, eat your ‘breakfast’ when your appetite is ready sometime between 7am and 9am.

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If you’re following an intermittent fasting program, your breakfast will likely be similar, but eaten as brunch between 11am and 1pm.

Dr Adams said she starts her fast day with a coffee to give her energy first thing, and then will eat a brunch/lunch with hard boiled eggs, tuna and tomatoes around midday/1pm.

Similarly, Accredited Practising Clinical Dietitian and Nutritionist Jaime Rose Chambers will have a coffee to start with on her fast day, followed by eggs and veggies around midday.

Final thoughts on eating breakfast versus skipping breakfast…

  • Rather than choosing one or the other because you think “it’s healthy” or that’ll it’ll help you lose weight, base your decision on when/whether to eat ‘breakfast’ on how you feel.
  • Some people aren’t breakfast eaters, and some people feel like they can’t function without it – both of these are OK.
  • There is some evidence to suggest eating a larger breakfast and smaller meals throughout the day is optimum for weight loss, however, ultimately, it comes down to energy in verses energy out.
  • If you like eating breakfast, go for it and make sure it includes protein, healthy fats and complex carbohydrates.
  • At the end of the day, do what works for you – don’t force yourself to do one or the other.

This article should not be substituted for personalised, professional advice from a qualified health professional. Always seek the guidance of your GP, nutritionist, dietitian or health professional before undertaking a new eating regime.

If this article has raised any issues for you or you’re worried about a loved one, please contact The Butterfly Foundation’s National Helpline for Eating Disorder and Body Image Issues Support on 1800 33 4673. If you’re in immediate danger, call 000.

What do you find works bets for your body and lifestyle? Do you prefer to eat a bigger breakfast or eat later in the day?

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