Should you really “breakfast like a king” if you want to lose weight?

Written by Catherine Saxelby on Wednesday, 24 April 2019.
Tagged: breakfast, healthy eating, healthy lifestyle, nutrition, weight loss

Should you really “breakfast like a king” if you want to lose weight?

As nutritionists, we were always taught that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”, especially for people who want to lose weight. Now a review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ 2019;364:l42 ) throws doubt on this old adage.

What did the study look at?

A meta-analysis is “a statistical analysis that combines the results of multiple scientific studies”*. In this meta-analysis, the researchers (Sievert K, Hussain SM, Page MJ, Wang Y, Hughes HJ, Malek M, Cicuttini FM.) studied randomised controlled trials performed on adults from high-income countries. The studies compared breakfast consumption with no breakfast consumption and measured either body weight or energy (kilojoule or Calorie) intake. 

The researchers looked at 13 trials – 10 of which looked at the effect of breakfast on energy intake, and seven looked at the effect of eating breakfast on weight change.

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What did they find?

Before delivering their findings, they did advise that the results be viewed with caution as the quality of the included studies was mostly low. That being said, the article did suggest that “the addition of breakfast might not be a good strategy for weight loss, regardless of established breakfast habit.”

The authors suggested caution “when recommending breakfast for weight loss in adults, as it could have the opposite effect.” However, they noted that “Further randomised controlled trials of high quality are needed to examine the role of breakfast eating in the approach to weight management.”

 The bottom line

We can’t really take a definitive stance one way or the other based on this evidence. However, my experience is that the effect of breakfast varies from person to person.  I know people who, if they eat breakfast – even a substantial one – feel hungry again at 10.30a.m. but if they eat no breakfast don’t feel hungry until 1 or 2pm! Others can eat breakfast and feel satisfied until lunch time.

But if you get hungry around 10.30, then you definitely should eat something but make it healthy like an egg on wholemeal toast or a bowl of high-fibre cereal with yoghurt, fruit and milk. Not chips or a muffin which are always on offer mid-morning.

If you are trying to lose weight then I guess the best advice here is to listen to your body. In other words, eat when YOU ARE hungry, not because a diet tells you to! Just remember to listen in and stop eating when you are almost full. It’s hard but it sure helps with weight loss. 

Important note:

It’s important to note that this study was on adult data. It does not apply to children or teenagers who need a good breakfast to enable them to perform at their best during the school morning. 

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meta-analysis

Catherine Saxelby

About the Author

Catherine Saxelby knows nutrition! She is an accredited nutritionist, food commentator, blogger and award-winning author. Her latest book Catherine Saxelby's Food and Nutrition Companion answers all those tricky questions on healthy eating, diets and supplements. It draws together a lifetime of advice and gives you all you need to know to eat right! It's a complete A to Z. A handy desk go-to reference.