why breakfast is the most important meal of a day

According to some, the idea that “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” was generated by Kellogg’s to sell cereal designed to decrease libido and control masturbation.

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Today, many people like to skip breakfast because they are busy in the morning or to help manage their food intake across the day.

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But what can half a million days of MyFitnessPal data tell us about whether eating breakfast is optimal to manage our appetite in order to stay healthy and lean?

To understand the effect of breakfast on our appetite we plotted the proportion of calories consumed at breakfast versus the degree to which people were able to achieve their calorie goal when logging in MyFitnessPal.  A score of greater than 100% means that a person was not able to achieve their target calorie intake.  A score of less than 100% indicates that a person’s reported consumption was under their goal.

is breakfast the most important meal of the day - scatter

Granted, there are limitations with self-reported data versus a metabolic ward study, but many of the concerns are common across the board and cancel themselves out.  While there is plenty of scatter, there is a definite trend towards eating less across the day in the people that consumed more of their daily calories at breakfast.

To help make sense of all the scatter, the chart below shows the average for the different “bins” of data based on the proportion of a person’s daily calories consumed at breakfast.

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Most people instinctively prefer to eat a larger dinner with a minimal breakfast.  But keep in mind that our instincts have developed to help us avoid starvation and store fat in preparation for winter, not to avoid diabetes or look good naked.

It’s often more convenient to eat at night when we are with our family and friends and have unlimited access to our fridge and cupboard.  It’s easy to sit down in front of Netflix with a bag of chips and chocolate and eat mindlessly.  Afterwards, you go to sleep which maximises your body’s opportunity to store the food you just ate.

This data seems to align with emerging research indicating that early time restricted-feeding (eTRF) approach with a hearty meal eaten earlier in the day helps to improve satiety and reduce appetite.

The study from Satchin Panda’s lab found that, on average, people eat for 14.75 hours per day.  On average, people consume their maintenance calories by 6:36 pm, but many continue to eat as long as they are still conscious.

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In the second phase of the study participants were encouraged people to follow a more compressed eating window with their the bulk of their food consumed earlier in the day.   Although it took some time to adjust, they unanimously loved the change!

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Stay tuned for future articles where we’ll look at:

  • What should you eat at each meal if you want to maximise satiety and lose weight with less effort (spoiler alert: it’s not starchy cereal)?
  • How many meals a day is optimal?
  • Which meals are most important?

In the meantime, if you’re looking for some nutrient dense breakfast ideas tailored to your goals, head over and get your free Nutrient Optimiser report.  We hope you love it!

 

Notes

  • Analysis was limited to people who logged more than one meal a day to eliminate people who did not log meals.
  • Analysis was limited to people with goal energy intake between 1000 and 2500 calories to focus on people aiming for weight loss.
  • Analysis limited to people who achieved between 50% and 300% of their goal calorie intake to eliminate incomplete days and extraordinary eating days.
  • n = 310,479 days of data

 

  • BobM says:

    I ALWAYS eat more if I eat breakfast. Always. If I don’t eat breakfast, I typically get hungry at lunch time. If I eat breakfast, I typically get hungry…at lunch time. Thus, I eat lunch AND breakfast, instead of just lunch.

    I do think that eating all of your calories earlier in the day is better than eating them later in the day. But the US is not situated for this.

  • For peak performance events such as presenting all day a “breakfast” of burning my own body fat until around 6:00pm is optimal. I am fat adapted and that works for me. If the goal is to reduce calories consumed all day then eggs for breakfast keeps me going without need of lunch and then a light dinner. Thanks for posting.

  • Victoria West says:

    I’ve been a MFP user off and on for many years, and I’ve often thought what a wealth of data that they must have. I am sure the low fat/low car debate could be easily settled by seeing which diet produced the most weight loss. Thanks for sharing this.

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