Earlier this summer, three news articles blasted out of the summer doldrums to shake up everyone’s ideas about weight management and dieting. In a likely futile effort to reconcile what each says with what the scientists are trying to say, I will address each in its own right in this three part series.
First, there are many articles that have been written by diet gurus suggesting the benefits of eating breakfast but few studies that have demonstrated it conclusively. Probably the biggest plus for this piece of advice comes from the National Weight Loss Registry, a project started over 20 years ago to elicit responses from those folks who’ve successfully lost at least 30 lbs and maintained weight loss for at least a year. These are real life findings as they accumulate data from individuals not participating in any controlled studies. Thus, when it shows that 78% of those who’ve signed on eat breakfast, among many other lifestyle changes, it lends heft to those in the fitness and weight loss industries when we advise eating breakfast.
However, since this and many other ‘studies’ are observational in nature, the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, a federal government advice book, is now going to alter the emphasis on this piece of advice. Is this a fair adjustment, one that takes into consideration the bulk of evidence available? I’d have to agree, yes, it is scientifically sound. But I’d also suggest it would be a half-message to do so.
It may not be that eating any kind or amount of food for breakfast will help you lose weight but it may be that eating some of the right kinds of foods – e.g. non-sugary, moderate fatty kinds – and the right amount – i.e. relative to one’s overall needs and likely output – will help people control their appetites later in the day.
Furthermore, some studies have shown that, if you are dieting to lose weight, eating more frequent but smaller meals helps, and that would put breakfast at the top of one’s dietary program with which to start the day.
The other thing to consider here is that some folks are breakfast eaters and others are not, for whatever reasons, dating back to early childhood. Therefore, making non-breakfast eaters eat breakfast may simply add calories that will prevent weight loss; and removing breakfast from breakfast eaters’ lives may enhance weight loss. So, it really comes down to what works for each person.
My advice to overweight non-breakfast eaters is to consume something small like a fruity yogurt that has protein and carbs early in their day to stave off surges in food desires that often occur mid-morning. Otherwise, I try to help them find other means by which to cut calories.
For more on this, read the Washington Post article, “The Science of Skipping Breakfast: How government nutritionists may have gotten it wrong,” linked here: