For the longest time, breakfast has been touted for being the most important meal of the day. The list of its benefits goes on and on: Eating breakfast will prevent weight gain. Eating breakfast helps kids concentrate and perform better in school. Eating breakfast will help prevent your chances of suffering a heart attack.
But a recent study published by a team of Cornell University researchers had even the biggest promoters of breakfast scratching their heads when it suggested that skipping breakfast might actually have its perks. Results from the study found that participants who skipped breakfast did not overeat at lunch and dinner, contrary to popular belief. In fact, they ate an average of 408 calories less than breakfast-eaters.
So what gives? Have all those eggs and toast been for nothing?
Certainly not, says Philadelphia-based registered dietitian Deanna Segrave-Daly, who points out that the word breakfast translates to “breaking the fast.”
Eating breakfast, Segrave-Daly says, is the literal act of “breaking a fast and getting some energy into your body in the morning because your body is on empty and needs something to fuel the fire.”
But, she adds, diet is very individual, and what works for someone may not work for another. Here’s a general breakdown of when eating breakfast is and isn’t necessary.
Before a Morning Workout: Not Necessary
Typically, your body requires energy to burn before putting itself through a workout. But busting out a quick cardio session on an empty stomach won’t hurt you, says Segrave-Daly, who says she usually skips breakfast before her morning workout. However, know that since the body has no extra fuel to burn, your workout is less likely to last as long as you’d like, which means less calories burned. Stick to running three or so miles on an empty stomach — not ten.
And remember: You can skip breakfast before the workout, but it’s vital you replenish your body with its lost nutrients within an hour of finishing. Go for a meal that is protein and carbohydrate-friendly, such as bananas and peanut butter on toast, or gulp down chocolate milk, which contains the perfect ratio of carbs to protein.
To Lose Weight: Necessary
Although the Cornell study showed that breakfast skippers consumed less calories than breakfast eaters, Segrave-Daly says the majority of people who skip breakfast make up for the lost calories later in the day. The study involved a small number of participants — 25 — hardly enough to represent the general population.
Still, Segrave-Daly doesn’t deny a person can lose weight by skipping breakfast for a week or two. But those looking to lose weight should remember that once you’ve lost the desired amount of weight and return to eating breakfast, it’s likely the lost weight will return.
“I’m not surprised some people would lose weight losing breakfast,” says Segrave-Daly. “Certain people might have bigger will-powers, but I would still not recommend making it a habit.”
Again, when weight loss is your goal, aim for a protein-rich breakfast. An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found that those who ate a high-protein breakfast (35 grams was the key) felt full longer and were less likely to fall prey to late-night snacking and overeating.
If You Have a Medical Condition: Necessary
Skipping meals, not just breakfast, can be extremely detrimental to those living with a medical condition, such as diabetes. Skipping breakfast is not a recommended among this group because it causes unhealthy highs and lows in blood sugar levels, according to the American Diabetes Association.
Even for healthy individuals, skipping breakfast means missing out on another opportunity to provide the body with necessary nutrients. You may consume less calories throughout the day, but it’s not likely you’ll make up for the lost nutrients, says Segrave-Daly.
You Hate Breakfast Foods: Still Necessary
No one ever said you had to eat cereal every morning. For those whose palates can’t stomach typical breakfast food, eat whatever nutritious option you please, says Segrave-Daly. Hummus and veggies? Leftover vegetable pizza? Go for it.
In fact, a 2012 study found that even eating dessert for breakfast was beneficial for weight loss. Those who denied themselves dessert during a diet tended to gain all the weight back. However, those who were not denied dessert, and ate some chocolate during breakfast, kept the weight off and continued to lose more pounds. Researchers determined that those who refrained from treating themselves were more likely to experience withdrawal symptoms, and ultimately cheat on their diet.
You’re Just Super Busy: It Depends
Overslept and stuck in meetings all day? It’s not the end of the world if you skimped on breakfast. But there are simple tricks you can try to avoid making this type of situation a habit, says Segrave-Daly. Check out her easy breakfast recommendations.
2. Fill a tortilla wrap with cheese and your favorite veggies and microwave it while you’re getting ready for work.
3. Make a pot of oatmeal the night before and microwave it the next morning, topping it with a fruit of your choice and honey.
4. Blend together your favorite fruits with some banana and yogurt to make a smoothie that you can sip on your commute to work. This smoothie adds a kick of caffeine for when you need an extra boost to start your day.
All photos are courtesy of the author.