Most dietitians and nutritionists will tell you that breakfast is the single most important meal of the day, and absolutely non-negotiable if you're trying to lose weight .
But how much truth is there to this?
In actual fact, there's no real consensus amongst the scientific community about whether eating breakfast actually helps with weight loss.
Consider the following studies published over the last few years, with totally different and contradictory findings:
- Eating less calories at breakfast is better for weight loss (read this study here)
- Eating more calories at breakfast and less at dinner is better for weight loss (read this study here)
- Whether you're told to eat or skip breakfast has no effect on weight loss (read this study here)
- Skipping breakfast and not eating until midday is better for weight loss (read about this study here)
- Eating a high-carb and protein breakfast including a dessert (cookie, chocolate or doughnut) helps with weight loss (read this study here)
So, if even the experts can't agree on this one, what are we supposed to do?
My advice is simple:
Eat breakfast as soon as you wake up if you're hungry, and if you're not, eat it when you do eventually get hungry.
I love the idea of eating intuitively, which is eating whatever you feel like when you're hungry, and stopping when you're full. I don't think it's a good idea to ever eat something 'just in case' you get hungry later. I can tell you that you will get hungry later, and it's better to take something with you wherever you're going so you can eat it then instead. Not only is eating when you're not hungry deeply unsatisfying, but it also disrupts your hunger-satiety cues. These cues are there for a reason, and listening to them is the easiest way to maintain your weight eating what you want, without ever counting a single calorie.
*However*, there is just one caveat to this advice: if you know that you're the kind of person who will compensate for not having breakfast by indulging in something that isn't very nutritious later in the day (the 'I didn't eat breakfast so I can afford to eat this piece of cake' mentality), then I'd recommend that you do eat something small at breakfast time, even if you're not particularly hungry. If you're trying to lose weight, being in a firm routine is your best ally.
What do I do? If I wake up hungry, I eat breakfast straight away (I don't tolerate hunger very well, which isn't my most attractive quality). And it's something different every day, depending on what I feel like, what's in the fridge and pantry and what the weather is doing. It might be a bowl of porridge, a banana smoothie, toast with tahini or avocado or a pancake.
If I don't wake up hungry, I won't eat breakfast until I am. If I'm going to work, I'll put my breakfast in a container and eat it when I am, which is usually 5 minutes into my 90 minute train commute, but some days isn't until midday (if I've eaten a large meal the night before, usually). But that's okay.
If you don't wake up hungry, it's likely that you're eating too much at night. Supposing you've finished eating dinner by 8pm (and don't eat anything after dinner), go to sleep by 11pm then wake up at 7am, you will have been fasting for 11 hours, and should be feeling pretty hungry. If you think you're truly someone who doesn't wake up hungry, do an experiment for me: have a light dinner meal one night (perhaps a bowl of vegetable soup) and don't snack on anything after dinner. I almost guarantee you'll wake up hungry! If you tend to pick on things after dinner, try getting into the routine of having a cup of a herbal tea and going to bed nice and early.