It's sound advice we heard from our moms since we were little: eat breakfast; it's the most important meal of the day. As we got older, that advice evolved into "if you eat breakfast, you're less likely to feel famished and gorge at lunchtime." It was a tried-and-true trick for people looking to lose weight; a small randomized trial in 1992 found that eating breakfast helped minimize impulsive snacking and "therefore may be an important part of a weight-reduction program." And a 2003 review published in the American Journal of Epidemiology also found that skipping breakfast was associated with an increased prevalence of obesity.
As time and nutrition advice evolved, we had to wonder: is breakfast all it's cracked up to be? It's supposed to give you energy and fuel you for the long day ahead, but people who practice intermittent fasting (IF) swear by the health benefits of forgoing breakfast and only eating during an eight-hour window, usually just lunch and dinner.
Although breakfast is important when you're a kid so you can pay attention during school and aren't starving by lunchtime, our habits and appetites evolve as we get older. What if you just aren't hungry when you wake up or don't care for eggs and avocado toast? We spoke to four dietitians, who broke it down for us.
The Health Benefits of Eating Breakfast
If you wake up dreaming of eggs, bacon, and toast, there's no need to change your breakfast-loving ways. "Every meal is important, but breakfast does provide energy for morning activities as well as glucose for the brain," sports dietitian Cindy Dallow, PhD, RD, told POPSUGAR. Plus, eating soon after you wake up ensures that your blood sugar will be stabilized throughout the day, explained Elora Bazanele, RD, LD, founder of Love Food B Fit. "Eating breakfast can help prevent us from overeating at other meals and can help to ensure that we get all the nutrients that our bodies need to conquer the day," Bazanele told POPSUGAR.
Of course, what you eat for breakfast matters; you can't expect to eat doughnuts and croissants for breakfast every day and lose weight. Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club, recommends eating at least 20 grams of protein at breakfast to help with muscle growth and repair. Loading up on this macronutrient will also ensure that you stay full until your next meal and may even boost your metabolism. Need some inspo? Check out these 21 quick high-protein breakfasts.
What Happens When You Skip Breakfast
Some people just aren't hungry in the morning or practice intermittent fasting, where they eat during an eight-hour window, such as from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. or noon to 8 p.m. Overall, skipping breakfast every once in a while isn't going to hurt you, Dr. Dallow said. "However, skipping breakfast puts you at risk for several things: overeating later on in the day, low energy level later in the morning, [and] low blood sugar level, which can cause lightheadedness." She said people who practice IF may have low energy and feel lightheaded if they fast during the morning, especially when they are just starting out.
Dr. Dallow explained that if you're just not hungry in the morning, it could be from eating too much the night before; getting into a cycle of eating a large meal at night and nothing in the morning could set you up for an eating pattern where you consume more calories than you should because it's easier to eat more at night.
If you do practice IF, you may want to shift your eating window so you get some calories earlier in the day, like from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. or 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
All in all, it's up to you. There's no real black-and-white answer for the great breakfast debate. "If you find eating breakfast starts you off on the right foot, then eat it," registered dietitian Laura Ligos, MBA, RDN, told POPSUGAR. "If, however, you find you are forcing yourself to eat breakfast but are not hungry, then you may not need breakfast and can wait until later in the morning to [eat]. You need to eat enough to fuel your day, but you should never force yourself to eat."
In 2014, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that whether people ate or skipped breakfast had "no discernible effect on weight loss" for adults who were attempting to lose weight, and in 2016 the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics put out a position paper stating that, overall, consuming breakfast doesn't improve weight-loss outcomes and that it boils down to each person's nutritional needs. And while children and adolescents should still eat breakfast, both for brain and overall health benefits, you don't need to eat your morning meal as an adult unless you want to.
There are some groups who should regularly eat breakfast, such as those with diabetes who need to regulate their blood sugar or if you take specific medications that need to be consumed with food. Otherwise, it's best to talk to your doctor or a registered dietitian to find a plan that works best for you. You shouldn't force-feed yourself a meal as soon as you wake up if you aren't hungry, but you shouldn't skip breakfast if it's something you enjoy that keeps you feeling satisfied. Listen to your hunger cues and make the best decision that fits your lifestyle.