Is Breakfast Really the Most Important Meal of Your Day?

Is Breakfast Really the Most Important Meal of Your Day?

If you’re like me, you grew up with the understanding that breakfast was the most important meal of your day. But is that a fact or a myth?

In this post, we will dive into breakfast to find out if it is necessary to rev up your metabolism and prevent muscle loss.

We’ll also take a look at the research to see if there is any truth to the thought that skipping breakfast backfires causing you to overeat later in the day. 

Quick Guide:

Is Breakfast Necessary? [Video]

In this video, you’ll learn…

  • What causes your metabolism to “wake up” in the morning.
  • The effects of skipping breakfast on your eating habits later in the day.
  • The relationship between children and breakfast.

Does breakfast Jumpstart Your Metabolism?

I often hear that breakfast is necessary to jumpstart your metabolism. But is eating what really wakes us up and gets our metabolic engine going? The answer is no.

The metabolic wakeup call that we receive is orchestrated by a complex ensemble of nerve and hormone interactions that begin to stir a few hours before you rise.

This sophisticated network of events raises your body temperature and blood pressure. It also boosts a host of wake-up hormones including cortisol (1) (2)

You can argue that we get a metabolic boost from eating. This is true because the digestion of food is a very energy-demanding process. That process produces heat, which is a reaction referred to as the thermic effect of food.

That effect will lift your metabolism above what is normal for your body. The increase, however, is more of a bump rather than a spike, so breakfast is not the metabolic jumpstart that we thought it was at one time. 

Will skipping breakfast make you overeat later in the day?

There is also a belief that skipping breakfast causes a rebound effect that makes you overeat later in the day.

It seems logical that if you skip breakfast, your hunger will be greater at lunchtime compared to days when you have something to eat. It is also logical that the hungrier you are, the more calories you’ll consume.

There is research that supports the assertion that we eat more at lunch when we skip breakfast (3). However, the extra lunchtime calories might not be enough to match the calories you missed out on by skipping breakfast.

In fact, there seems to be little evidence that skipping breakfast contributes to more calories consumed over the course of the day and it might even reduce your overall calorie intake (4) (5)

skipping breakfasts and calorie consumption for the day

Will skipping breakfast push you into starvation mode?

Another concern that you may have about skipping a meal, like breakfast, is that it will push your body into starvation mode and cause you to lose muscle.

A study published in Nutrition Reviews helps us understand the relationship between periods of fasting and body composition (6)

What we see is that fasting can result in the appearance of more urea nitrogen, which is a waste product that forms when the body breaks down proteins like the ones that make up our muscles.

However, that increase does not show up until a person has been fasting for days. The very brief fast that you perform by skipping breakfast will not breakdown your muscles. 

What that short fast will do is cause your body to pull energy out of the natural reserves that you carry with you in the form of glycogen and fat.

In other words, your body will burn glucose and fat before turning to muscle.

skipping breakfast will not break down muscles

Can kids skip breakfast?

Research has proven that the importance of breakfast is not as ironclad as we once thought it to be.

The studies presented in this post looked at adult participants. What about kids?  Is breakfast important for a child? That question requires more investigating.

There are studies on pre-school children that show that regular breakfast eaters weigh less than those that skip breakfast and school-age children do better in school when they eat in the morning (7) (8)

It’s also worth noting that a child’s body uses calories for growth. It is possible that children get more advantages from eating breakfast than adults.

However, studies on children rely on things like surveys and observations to draw their conclusions. It is not easy to perform sophisticated studies on children that would involve requiring a group of kids to skip breakfast to see if it is harmful.

Without a more conclusive look, we can’t be certain that the positive results we see in young breakfast eaters are due to the breakfast itself or other healthy habits that they might have in common.  

Skipping breakfast is not for everyone.

Many of the reasons we have for eating breakfast are not rooted in science, but rather in soundbites that we have adopted as fact. Yet, that doesn’t mean that everyone should be skipping breakfast.

  • If you are taking a medication that requires eating food in the morning, then breakfast is the right choice for you.
  • You might also find skipping breakfast to be unwise if you don’t feel good, or experience low blood sugar, shakiness, or fatigue when you skip it.

Breakfast and intermittent fasting.

Skipping breakfast has become a topic of interest due to the popularity of intermittent fasting, which is a weight loss and health strategy that involves splitting your day between a period of eating and fasting.

I have several blog posts that you can read to learn more about intermittent fasting:

References: 

(1) Longo, Valter D., and Satchidananda Panda. “Fasting, circadian rhythms, and time-restricted feeding in healthy lifespan.” Cell metabolism 23.6 (2016): 1048-1059.

(2) Bush, Bradley, and Tori Hudson. “The Role of Cortisol in Sleep.” Natural Medicine Journal, https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/journal/2010-06/role-cortisol-sleep.

(3) Astbury, Nerys M., Moira A. Taylor, and Ian A. Macdonald. “Breakfast consumption affects appetite, energy intake, and the metabolic and endocrine responses to foods consumed later in the day in male habitual breakfast eaters.” The Journal of nutrition 141.7 (2011): 1381-1389.

(4) Levitsky, David A., and Carly R. Pacanowski. “Effect of skipping breakfast on subsequent energy intake.” Physiology & behavior 119 (2013): 9-16.

(5) Dhurandhar, Emily J., et al. “The effectiveness of breakfast recommendations on weight loss: a randomized controlled trial.” The American journal of clinical nutrition 100.2 (2014): 507-513.

(6) Tinsley, Grant M., and Paul M. La Bounty. “Effects of intermittent fasting on body composition and clinical health markers in humans.” Nutrition reviews 73.10 (2015): 661-674.

(7) Dubois, Lise, et al. “Breakfast skipping is associated with differences in meal patterns, macronutrient intakes and overweight among pre-school children.” Public health nutrition 12.1 (2009): 19-28.

(8) Giovannini, Marcello, Carlo Agostoni, and Raanan Shamir. “Symposium overview: do we all eat breakfast and is it important?.” Critical reviews in food science and nutrition 50.2 (2010): 97-99.

About the Author

Becky Gillaspy, DC graduated Summa Cum Laude with research honors from Palmer College of Chiropractic in 1991.