Anyone who has been on a weight-loss journey knows that it doesn't only matter what you eat, but it also matters when you choose to sit down for a meal. There have been a few differing opinions over the years about which meal is the most important, and the role breakfast plays in weight loss seems to come into question more often than not.
We grew up hearing that breakfast was the most important meal of the day, but there has been a lot of talk lately about intermittent fasting, which is a diet that recommends you fast for 16 hours a day and only eat during the other eight hours. For many, this means skipping breakfast and eating later in the day, usually around 11 a.m. or 12 p.m. It's meant to promote weight loss and help prevent disease, but it's the exact opposite of what we've been taught about breakfast in the past.
It can be hard to wade through all this information if you're trying to lose weight, so we spoke to a dietitian, who gave us her expert thoughts on the matter. Spoiler alert: she believes that breakfast truly is the most important meal of the day.
Dr. Luiza Petre, board-certified cardiologist and weight-management specialist, told POPSUGAR, "Breakfast immediately raises the body's energy level and restores the blood glucose level to normal after an overnight fast. It also raises the muscle and liver glycogen stores."
Just as importantly, "breakfast lowers the blood level of the stress hormone cortisol immediately, which peaks during the early morning hours." Why is this important? Well, cortisol is a stress hormone that "causes the breakdown of fat and muscle protein." Dr. Petre said high levels of cortisol are linked with increased risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and coronary heart disease. In order to lower this stress hormone, you need some nutrients in your system, which is why you really shouldn't skip out on that omelet.
"Individuals that usually eat breakfast have a much greater chance of being a healthy weight than those who skip it," Dr. Petre continued. "One last benefit of breakfast is that it increases cognitive function and helps your ability to concentrate." When you have all that energy, you make better choices with your diet and fitness throughout the day, leaving you with a greater chance of reaching your weight-loss goals.
Dr. Petre says that lunch also needs to be a larger meal "to avoid extreme hunger and set us up for consuming a large dinner." But one of the most important things she says to remember is that "we need to eat dinner as early as feasible. The longer we give ourselves as an overnight fast, the better."
"In order to maintain a healthy weight and keep many diseases at bay: think big breakfast, medium lunch, and small dinner with no snacking. Turns out, like life, when eating, timing is everything," she said in conclusion. Now that's a rule we can remember.
A recent study of over 50,000 individuals confirmed Dr. Petre's advice to be sound. The research found that those who ate one or two meals a day, which included breakfast, had a lower body mass index (BMI) than those who ate large lunches and dinners.
Perhaps even more interesting is that the study suggested that those who finished eating by early afternoon and didn't eat again until the next morning had the lowest BMI of all. This goes back to what Dr. Petre said about giving yourself a long overnight fast. Additionally, the authors of the study pointed out that insulin, which processes sugars and stores glucose, functions at its best early on in the day, which means your body metabolizes nutrients much more efficiently in the morning.
Of course, just because you have to eat a big breakfast doesn't mean you get to eat whatever you want (sorry, chocolate chip pancakes). You have to eat "a considerable amount of high-quality protein," which "contributes to a better production of neurotransmitters," according to Dr. Petre. These neurotransmitters play a crucial role: they send messages to the rest of your body, determine how you feel emotionally, boost your memory, and help you focus.
"All breakfasts start with a decent preparation. Sometimes it's just a matter of getting up five minutes earlier or preparing before bed and making sure your fridge is nice and full," Dr. Petre said. "Outcome? A happy, energetic, and thinner you!"