When you eat may be just as important as what you eat. HFG puts the first meal of the day under the microscope.
You may be familiar with the old saying to ‘eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper.’ Now it seems the timing of your meals could be just as important as the actual content, with much debate around whether calories consumed in the morning are less fattening than calories consumed in the evening.
Can skipping breakfast help with weight loss?
Breakfast is an important meal because it ‘breaks’ the overnight ‘fast’ and fuels your body after a long period of sleep. However, many people still skip breakfast due to lack of hunger or time, or because they’re trying to lose weight.
While some people avoid eating breakfast in an attempt to reduce their daily calorie intake and lose weight, it doesn’t seem to work that way. Most studies have found no weight-loss benefit to skipping breakfast. On the contrary, eating breakfast has been linked to increased incidental exercise. It seems people who eat breakfast move more than those who don’t. Breakfast helps to fuel movement, and while it’s thought your body goes into energy-conservation mode when you skip it by slowing your metabolic rate, this may not actually be true. Instead, your body may intuitively slow you down in other ways. It appears that when you skip breakfast, your body just doesn’t want to move around as much.
The good news is that we burn calories faster in the morning, so shifting our food intake towards the morning can be beneficial – for both weight loss and blood sugar control. In the mornings our muscles are better at pulling sugar out of the bloodstream to build up energy reserves to be used later in the day. Building these reserves takes energy, and at night our muscles resist taking in extra blood sugar.
The science also indicates that people who eat breakfast are more likely to reach their daily nutrient targets, especially when it comes to protein, calcium, iron and fibre. And their fat intake is typically lower. They’re also less prone to overeating in the evening, whereas non-breakfast eaters are more likely to make up for the missing calories later in the day.
Does eating breakfast boost brainpower?
If you want to feel more alert, studies reveal eating breakfast can boost memory and thinking skills, plus increase attention span. It can also improve mood. When we fast overnight during sleep, our blood sugar levels drop, so are low upon waking. Given that sugar in the blood supplies the body with energy, low sugar levels can result in a lack of concentration, alertness and energy. Eating breakfast can also prevent us from feeling lethargic, irritable, drowsy and restless, or from having difficulty recalling information. A less hungry brain results in a less grouchy or ‘hangry’ mood.
3 easy ways to become a breakfast eater
1. Eat less in the evenings as this helps to boost your morning hunger.
2. Plan what you’re going to eat the night before and prep what you can ahead of time, especially if you don’t have a lot of time in the mornings.
3. Experiment with what works for you, food and quantity-wise. Start off small with a piece of fruit, some yoghurt or one slice of wholegrain toast with nut butter, then slowly build up to consuming more calories.
The bottom line
There’s no one perfect way of eating! If you want to have more energy, think clearer or manage your weight, eating a healthy breakfast is likely to be of benefit. And while there appears to be a metabolic benefit to eating the bulk of your calories earlier in the day, we’re all nutritionally different, so the only ‘rules’ are those that apply to your unique nutritional experience.
Article sources and references
- Betts J et al. 2016. Is breakfast the most important meal of the day? Proc Nutr Soc. 75(4): 464-74.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27292940/
- Bo S et al. 2015. Is the timing of calorie intake associated with variation in diet-induced thermogenesis and in the metabolic pattern? A randomized cross-over study. Int J Obes. 39(12): 1689-95.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26219416/
- McHill AW et al. 2017. Later circadian timing of food intake is associated with increased body fat. Am J Clin Nutr. 106(5): 1213–1219.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28877894/
- Morris CJ et al. 2015. The human circadian system has a dominating role in causing the morning/evening difference in diet-induced thermogenesis. Obesity. 23(10): 2053-8.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26414564/
- Nikhil VD & Binks M. 2017. When to eat! Am J Clin Nutr. 106(5): 1171–1172.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29021284/
- Wehrens S et al. 2017. Meal timing regulates the human circadian system. CB vol. 27(12): 1768-1775.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28578930/