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Obesity Presumptions #1: The Benefits of Breakfast

Over the past few posts, I have commented on the “myths” identified in the New England Journal of Medicine Paper.

This paper also identified six “presumptions” about obesity, whereby the authors describe presumptions as,

“…widely accepted beliefs that have neither been proved nor disproved.”

Presumption #1 is that regularly eating breakfast is protective against obesity. This notion is based on the notion that skipping breakfast may lead to overeating later in the day

The authors note that there have been two randomised controlled trials of eating versus skipping breakfast, both showing no overall effect on body weight – they do, however, consider these data as inconclusive.

Obviously, much depends on whether or not eating breakfast actually does reduce caloric consumption during the rest of the day.

This may depend both on nature of the breakfast (a cup of coffee and a bowl of cereal or a muffin may not exactly be the breakfast that provides the desired benefit) and what else is eaten during the course of the day.

In my practice, countless patients have told me that beginning to eat breakfast (after years of skipping) has changed both their energy levels and cravings during the rest of the day – especially in the evenings.

While these may well be dismissed as “anecdotes”, I have heard this far to often to believe that this recommendation is entirely without merit.

It is definitely a strategy worth trying and something I am likely to continue recommending to my patients.

I’d certainly like to hear what my readers have to say about this issue.

Edmonton, AB


  1. I have been an on-and-off breakfast skipper for the past few years. Whenever I make an effort and make sure I eat breakfast for a couple weeks in a row, I do feel like my cravings are reduced, and that my work productivity is increased – which increases my workday satisfaction – which reduces my need to compensate with junk food in the evening! Nothing scientific there, but I would tend to agree with you.

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  2. Dr. Sharma,
    There are several papers published showing that a 30g protein breakfast stops the protein catabolism that is seen with an overnight fast. If muscle anabolism translates to better weight loss and/or metabolism preservation, this may help in long term weight management. That being said, not sure it has been proven in a blinded study.

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  3. I wholeheartedly agree with you. In over 30 yrs of practice as a dietitian, the majority of clients struggling to lose weight were not in the habit of eating breakfast. Those who changed this habit found it made a big difference in their food choices and habits later in the day, including, as you say, a reduction in cravings.

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  4. In February 2012, I had two episodes of atrial fibrillation, which scared the living crap out of me.

    I weighed approximately 243 pounds (down from 249 at Christmas), stood a towering 5′ 1″ in height, and carried all of my weight, viscerally, in my belly.

    My day’s nutrition consisted of a two-cup mug of chai tea in 2% or homo milk in the morning (with 6 – 10 cigarettes), another mug or two of chai, more smokes, then maybe I’d eat supper. I simply wasn’t hungry throughout the day.

    Supper would be a regular person’s supper: Meat, starch, veggies, fat.

    I could NOT lose weight no matter what I’d tried. The thought of physically eating (I could drink, but not eat) something in the morning made me literally nauseated.

    However, after the A Fib episodes, I quit smoking, gave up caffeine (including coffee, tea, CHOCOLATE!!, and salt), all in the same day.

    I began to eat a breakfast concoction, which I tweaked along the way, of one egg, flax or hemp milk, red peppers, red onions, broccoli, Swiss (low fat) cheese, tomato and my own secret blend of 11 different herbs and spices. Ok, maybe it’s like… six different herbs and spices.

    Then I ate a snack, lunch, snack, and supper… and a snack. Every day. I kept my caloric intake to around 1500 calories per day.

    By the first week of August, I weighed 197 pounds and lost approximately 6″ from my belly. I weigh roughly 205 pounds at the moment, but life threw me a couple of curve balls in the last few months, so I got a bit off course. I’m back on track now.

    So, I guess the short answer to the question is, yes. Yes, I believe that eating (a protein-rich) breakfast helps your metabolism get a kick start in the morning, and assists in promoting your body to embrace the idea of weight loss.

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  5. Personally I find that having breakfast is beneficial to me. If I eat properly at the start of the day it is easier to make good decisions the remainder of the day.

    I would be interested in hearing opinions on the big trend – intermittent fasting.

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  6. Never forget that every study has its outliers. If I eat breakfast, I am guaranteed to increase my daily caloric intake, and if I want to lose, I need to skip lunch as well. It may be informative to note that I am never hungry in the AM.

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  7. I’ve known quite a number of people professionally and personally who fall into the not eating in the morning category with variable results. Anecdotally the only trends I’ve observed are 1) that people who were striving to skip breakfast out of a belief it would help them lose weight suffered more cravings and a tendency to overindulge later in the day, and that 2) people who are never hungry in the morning didn’t necessarily benefit at all in these respects from changing a diet to include breakfast.

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  8. I’ve often wondered if part of the problem with skipping breakfast is how dysfunctional the standard food environment is. So instead of eating at home, where you have a wide selection of healthy foods, you put yourself in the situation of being at the office where your options tend to be from the vending machine. If you skip breakfast at home and get ravenously hungry mid-morning, your healthy options can be pretty limited.

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  9. We shouldnt confuse causation with correlation. Maybe obese people skip breakfast BECAUSE they are not hungry in the morning, and that something about their obesity makes them not hungry in the morning and thus makes them likely to skip breakfast.

    My own research has led me to believe that breakfast is completely against our physiology. Cortisol is high in the morning, making you insulin resistant, not the best time to be eating.

    I know many obese people who eat breakfast. It aint helping them lose weight.

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  10. I always thought that the purpose of making sure to eat breakfast was to get your metabolism started or booster earlier in the day. Does it make any differance?

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  11. Whether or not blinded studies in the future demonstrate eating breakfast decreases appetite and over eating later in the day, stops overnight protein catabolism…etc. I think there are other variables surrounding breakfast that may also contribute to long term weight loss/maintenance. Breakfast sets the foundation for a healthy start to everyday. It helps clients to develop a better understanding of the importance of fuelling your body for best physical and mental ‘performance’ throughout the day. I think it also creates an opportunity to be more mindful about what we will eat later in the day. For example, planning what is available for healthy choices for lunch, what we need to pick up from grocery store after work to complete a supper meal.

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  12. I apologize in advance for listing my website incorrectly. Hopefully this has corrected the issue.

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  13. I hate eating in the morning, but do it anyway. If I eat a big breakfast, my appetite is sluggish the rest of the day, and I’m uninspired to eat much. If I skip hungry, I feel hungry and snacky all day.

    The standard breakfast in my ‘hood seems to be a big of chips and a soda. Maybe if people ate a better breakfast, they wouldn’t murder each other so frequently, but that’s a different conversation.

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  14. I mean if I skip breakfast, I’m hungry all day.

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  15. Plenty of protein, especially at breakfast, is essential for me to stay on an even keel throughout the day. I eat an egg plus a side dish of some kind (toast, sauteed mushrooms, grits) every morning without fail. Yesterday we were out of eggs, and I ate some polenta for breakfast instead. Was bothered by feelings of hunger throughout the day and had to eat frequently. Ate a small, starchy dinner (bean and rice burrito). Then, shortly before bed, I surprised myself by devouring a PINT of ice cream. I was just so hungry and it didn’t even make me feel full. I cannot remember the last time I ate that much ice cream in one sitting or even wanted to. Seriously, I’m sure it’s been more than a decade. So there’s another anecdote for you.

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  16. As a slim teenager (5’6″ & 125 lbs) I developed a condition where if I didn’t eat breakfast my blood sugar would drop and I’d feel like passing out. So I have always eaten breakfast. However, that didn’t help with maintaining a normal weight. At 60, I’m now over 300 lbs. I think some of that steady gain is as a result of a fear of my blood sugar dropping so years of eating high calorie snacks instead of good quality protein.

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  17. We got into the habit of a “good’ breakfast which often included eggs and other quality proteins to make sure our young daughter had the nutrition to keep alert in school. It made a positive difference in her day. Fruit & yoghurt didn’t seem to work anywhere near as well.

    Now that the whole family is used to these types of hearty breakfasts, switching to low carb overall has allowed my husband to lose nearly 80 pounds, and me to lose 130 pounds now.

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  18. Dr. Sharma,

    I am a student, Most of the times i sleep late at night makes me wake up late in morning. Eventually i take break fast very rarely, but due to avoiding breakfast my concentration power gradually decreases till the lunch. after the lunch i would be normal.

    Skipping breakfast would result in craving and over eating at next available meal.

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  19. Dear Dr Sharma thaks for this series.
    I was one of those people who could not possibly leave the house without breakfast and this was the case of 41 years. My problem was that eating breakfast even a healthy paleo style with lots of protein seemed to tell my body that there was plently of food around so that i would consume more both at lunch and dinner. In fact the bigger the breaksaft the hungrier i felt at dinner despite eating all the right things and not snacking during the day. I was often sluggish during the day as my body digested the two day time meals. Then I disovered 20/4 fasting where I take one paleo high fat low carb meal a day in teh evening after 17;00. This has been a revelation for me. All sluggishness gone. No weight loss mind you but an astoniging gain in muscle. I think when we eat breakfast we signal to our bodies that there is a lot of food to go around and I suspect our resting metabolic rate increases. Skipping breakfast and lunch as I do now signal a food shortage and we go in saving mode and make the most the calories/nutrients consumed. However fasting of this type comes with many added health benefits and advantages including an increased release in growth hormone (not IGF-1 which is bad) hence the muscle growth and a well deserved rest for the GI whilst we tackle every day tasks. The low carb diet makes this relatively long interval between meals eminently possible and even enjoyable after getting used to it. Thue crucial thing is to keep the food eaten healthy and ancestral very basic and avoid bingeing. THis way fasting and caloric restriction go hand in hand. For me a new life. Not for everybody if they don’t feel ready to do long term but something to consider or try at least. the social aspect is also OK as most meals with friends tend to be in the evening.

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  20. many of the people avoid the breakfast cause of obesity but they don’t know tacking breakfast is not reason of obesity.but not tacking proper breakfast is one of the reason of obesity.

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  21. I have always struggled with my weight. I’ve recently began forcing myself to eat a high protein, low carb bar for breakfast with the belief that it will help me lose weight. I haven’t noticed a huge difference in the last couple of months, so the jury is still out for me. Time may change my opinion.

    To add an observation – many obese people aren’t hungry in the morning…..actually many obese people (this was me many years ago) never wait long enough between meals to ever feel real hunger. I found it took me about 2 or 3 days of eating light to began to feel geniune hunger, instead of head hunger or wanting to eat for reasons other than a true need for nutrition.

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  22. I was 100 lbs overweight for 20 years. I lost that 100 lbs a few years ago and have maintained that loss. I am a member of NWCR, and they do ask whether or not I eat breakfast and I note that is often one of the parameters they report as a tactic of successful weight loss maintainers. However what bothers me about this is I was never asked about if I ate breakfast while I was heavier. I have ALWAYS eaten breakfast. The only difference in my breakfast habit is now the breakfast is a lot lower in calories.

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