“There has been a very strong belief that those who eat breakfast are less likely to be overweight [and] it’s also been suggested that people who eat breakfast tend to eat less later in the day,” explains Flavia Cicuttini, PhD, professor at Monash University and head of rheumatology at Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, Australia. “It’s resulted in the idea that eating breakfast will help prevent weight gain and is important for those trying to lose weight.” However, a recent study has found the opposite might be true.
Here’s what you need to know about whether breakfast helps or harms weight loss.
Cicuttini was part of a team that analyzed data from 1990–2018 and found participants who skipped breakfast consumed fewer calories and weighed less than those who ate a meal first thing in the morning. In fact, breakfast eaters consumed an extra 260 calories per day, gaining just under a pound, on average, over a seven-week period.
Additional research examined the connection and found no association between eating breakfast and weight maintenance for women; men who ate breakfast were slightly better able to keep their weight down.
Some research has found eating breakfast may be important for helping to decrease risk of Type 2 diabetes. Eating breakfast may also help enhance performance for tasks requiring attention, memory and executive function, according to another study.
It’s also worth noting a few studies have found those who consume the highest percentage of their daily calories at breakfast had lower BMIs than those who filled up at lunch or dinner, says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area.
“Breakfast is just another time we take in calories,” Cicuttini says. “In order to prevent weight gain we have to watch our overall calorie intake and match it to our calorie needs.” What’s more, Cicuttini notes the decision to eat (or skip) breakfast is an individual one: If you’re hungry first thing in the morning, eat; if your stomach doesn’t start rumbling until a few hours after you wake up, skipping breakfast is OK.
If you eat breakfast, make smart choices. Skip sugary processed foods and pick protein-rich options that fill you up and provide important nutrients. Gorin recommends Greek yogurt topped with nuts and berries or a breakfast sandwich made with eggs and vegetables — both meals offer a combination of protein, mono- and polyunsaturated fats and fiber.