The Breakfast Myth: Don’t Eat it, Get Fat
The idea that skipping breakfast will result in obesity is not a new one, so why do people do it?
Some people skip breakfast because they believe they have no time for it. Others skip breakfast in an attempt to restrict calories to lose weight.
While there are many methods to successfully lose weight, science claims skipping breakfast is not one of them and is actually detrimental for weight loss.
The Heart of the Myth
The breakfast myth is based on the following process:
- Person A wants to lose weight.
- Person A decides to skip breakfast
- Person A is a grouch until lunch time then scarfs what they packed
- Person A goes home and eats a truckload of food because their lunch did not cut it
- Person A has now likely consumed a ton of calories and will therefore become obese, the end.
So in short, if you skip breakfast you lose.
This seems pretty logical and sound. You may have experienced the “Oops I forgot my breakfast” work day yourself and promptly scarfed a bunch of food later.
However, have you ever actually stopped to see if you consumed more than you would have had you eaten breakfast in the first place?
Debunking The Breakfast Myth
This is where we’ll introduce exhibit A: The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN).
The AJCN takes all of that science and all of those fancy studies and pretty much stomps all over them.
You may be wondering, how? Has my whole life been a lie? Are pigs in fact flying by my window at this very moment? Apparently, it was not very hard to discredit the notion of No Breakfast = Obese.
The New York Times reported that the director of the Nutrition Obesity Research Center at the University of Alabama at Birmingham Dr. David B. Allison and his colleagues could only find one reliable medical study “that randomly assigned people to routinely eat or go without breakfast and then measured the effect on their body weight”. That study was published in 1992.
You know what else people believed in 1992?
- That there would be not one, but TWO raptures.
- That shark’s could cure cancer
- That your brain stops developing after the age of 3 (I guess this is what spawned Baby Geniuses)
Clearly, 1992 is not the year of scientific breakthroughs.
So what’s wrong with touting this study focusing on skipping breakfast and expanding waist lines? A whole lot.
Firstly, the results were incredibly mixed.
Participants who routinely skipped breakfast and were moderately obese were instructed to start eating it again. On average, they lost around 17 pounds. Seems pretty legit, right?
Well here’s the problem: moderately obese participants who ate breakfast on a regular basis were told to cut it out. They lost nearly 20 pounds on average. Womp, womp.
Additionally, both groups of participants consumed an identical amount of calories, resulting in more weight loss than those who were in a program where their breakfast habits did not change.
So basically, yes, if you skip breakfast and eat a whole freight truck of food, you will gain weight.
This is basic calories in vs. calories out. However, the mere act of eating or not eating breakfast isn’t going to do diddly in regards to your waist line.
This new study by the AJCN actually asserts that, in general, those who eat breakfast do end up eating more calories than those who don’t.
Where Did the Myth Originate?
The point of the study is it’s not so much that breakfast isn’t good for you, there is just no correlation between skipping breakfast and being obese.
Many of the studies that assert otherwise rely on association rather than causation or are biased. This study right here is the basis for a lot of the misinformation.
Here’s how it went down. Researchers looked through the National Weight Control Registry, a system for tracking 1000s of people who lost weight and successfully kept it off for a year. The data showed 80% of those individuals ate breakfast regularly. And there you have it. There is the science that says not eating breakfast will lead to obesity.
What, did you miss it?
This is a matter of association not equaling causation but was extrapolated as such.
Metaphors Are Fun
That may not be how you should go about losing weight. Try raspberry ketones instead.
Let’s see why this conclusion is nonsense. Say we have a database full of people, thousands of them, and they are all individuals who successfully lost weight and kept it off for a year.
Then we send them a survey asking about their favorite book, favorite food, favorite activity, and so on.
When we get all our data back we then notice 80% of the individuals listed Harry Potter as their favorite book.
Well, by golly, I guess it’s time to declare Harry Potter as a weight loss aid. Clearly, reading Harry Potter is what allowed them to maintain their weight loss.
This is what researchers did with the data from the National Weight Control Registry. Unfortunately, instead of setting out to prove or disprove the study, dozens of other research articles on the correlation between breakfast and weight loss drastically overstated the results.
This is how the association became a causal relationship and cemented as fact. And because of those studies, others like the one performed by the AJCN were overshadowed.
However, this is no longer the case. Multiple studies on this very issue are under way and the results should prove to be interesting.
So will you eat breakfast on the regular or ditch it in favor of hitting the snooze button a few more times?