Is Skipping Breakfast to Lose Weight Ever a Good Idea?

Is skipping breakfast good for weight loss? In short, maybe—but there are potential pros and cons. See if cutting out the first meal of the day gets a yay or nay from dietitians, plus what studies show on the matter.

Many of us were raised with the adage that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Our parents may have been onto something, as studies show that eating breakfast can help kids and teens concentrate and do better in school. Yet there is a lot of confusing information out there when it comes to the relationship between the first meal of the day and slimming down. That said, can skipping breakfast help you lose weight?

To find out whether or not skipping breakfast for weight loss is a good idea, we turned to dietitians to get their expert takes.

Skipping Breakfast While Intermittent Fasting

First, it’s important to discuss what we mean when we’re talking about skipping a meal, which often comes into play when people follow an intermittent fasting protocol. Intermittent fasting (aka IF) is the practice of setting aside a period of time when you don’t eat or drink. It’s often an extension of the natural fast you do overnight. However, it’s not the same thing as starving your body or restricting calories. So by skipping breakfast, it doesn’t mean that you’re cutting hundreds of calories out of your day.

Some studies show that intermittent fasting can be effective for weight loss, and skipping breakfast could be part of your plan. Trying this approach could be beneficial for those who are struggling to see results or who need somewhere to start, says Molly Snyder, RDN, owner of Full-Filled Nutrition.

For those trying this method, she recommends an 16:8 ratio of fasting to eating and eating a well-balanced diet for the rest of the day. However, you can also start with a shorter fast—say, of 12 to 13 hours—and build your way up from there. Women can also follow specific intermittent fasting hacks to support their hormones and metabolic health.

Woman drinking coffee while intermittent fasting to support weight loss

After about 12 hours of not eating, your body begins burning fat. So, if dinner was the last food you ate before going to sleep, your body is already likely in this stage by the time you wake up. Your body starts burning fat because it turns to the stored fat to fuel itself due to the absence of food being consumed—and when your body burns fat, it can contribute to weight loss.

These points considered, fasting isn’t necessarily Snyder’s first choice for weight loss. “People often are not selecting the correct food when they are in their eating window,” she explains. “Just because it’s your eating window, it doesn’t mean that candy bars and cocktails are your best option.” Instead, you should focus on healthy complex carbohydrates—like fruit, vegetables, nuts, beans, whole grains—as well as lean proteins, she shares.

In order to avoid potential impulsive eating due to feeling hungry later on in the day, she also advises planning out your meals for the week, making note of special events and activities so you can be prepared. This way, you can also ensure you’re still getting the right amount of nutrients and calories in your diet.

Moreover, it’s important to know that intermittent fasting is not recommended everyone, including those who:

  • are pre-diabetic or diabetic
  • have a history of disordered eating
  • are pregnant
  • struggle with certain medical conditions

All said, skipping breakfast while on IF can be effective to lose weight—so long as it works for you. This means that you don’t deprive yourself and you prioritize diverse, nutrient-rich foods throughout your eating window to keep you fueled and energized.

POtential Cons of Skipping Breakfast to Lose Weight

On the other hand, skipping breakfast to lose weight is complicated because there are a few different factors at play. One is that just because you eat your first meal later in the day, it doesn’t mean that you’ll automatically lose weight. 

Another issue with skipping breakfast to lose weight is that you can wind up feeling hungrier later in the day. “When we don’t respect hunger [cues] and skip meals, our bodies typically respond later on by compensatory eating behavior that can feel like bingeing,” says Laura Geraty, RD, a certified intuitive eating coach and owner of What We Eat. “It’s just your body making up for the deficit you tried to create.”

If you ignore natural hunger cues from your body, you may potentially eat more impulsively later on because your brain makes food your number one priority when you’re experiencing hunger. What’s more is that skipping a meal can make you feel tired and sluggish, lead to headaches, and affect the overall way your body functions.

“Having a consistent supply of sugar—which is energy—in our bloodstream means our bodies can carry out all of their functions efficiently,” Geraty continues. “Functions include obvious things like movement, but [also] less obvious things like digestion, breathing and even thinking.” Skipping meals can also slow down your metabolism and absorb calories more efficiently, which could actually work against weight loss. And if you’re skipping meals while exercising regularly, you may not have enough stamina to get through your workout.

Moreover, some studies show that skipping breakfast could cause people to gain weight because they make up for the missed meal with extra snacking or larger-than-normal lunches and dinners. Other studies suggest that people who lost weight and actually kept it off were more likely to be regular breakfast eaters.

Dividing up your caloric intake evenly throughout the day—meaning making breakfast, lunch, and dinner all the same size—might even lead to better weight loss success, says Erica Baty, MS, RDN, owner of It’s a Flavorful Life. “It is more pleasant for the participant as they feel fueled and energized throughout the day and not hangry or constantly thinking about food,” she says. “And, it’s metabolically more ideal to consume calories throughout the day when you are more active rather than consuming the bulk of your calories in the evening.”

Woman cracking an egg for breakfast to lose weight with protein

How to Build a Balanced Breakfast for Weight Loss

Eating a well-balanced breakfast with protein, healthy fats, and fiber-rich foods can help you feel full and energetic throughout the day. In turn, this can curb cravings and help avoid impulsive eating—such as consuming foods and excess calories that could hinder weight loss—due to hunger.

 “I think all meals play an equal role in sustainable weight loss,” says Baty. She suggests making breakfast just as important as lunch and dinner to provide you with the fuel you need for your day, rather than consuming most of your food in the evening when you’re more likely to be sitting down and relaxing.

When putting together a healthy breakfast, getting enough protein and fiber is crucial to feel fuller for longer. “By eating more protein in the morning, we are less likely to be hungry again in an hour or constantly reach for snacks throughout the day,” says Baty. Overall, she recommends consuming around 30 grams of protein at breakfast. “That could include any sort of protein like chicken, salmon, tuna, beef, tofu, edamame, beans, or lentils,” she continues. In addition, eggs and Greek yogurt are great protein sources for breakfast.

You’ll also want to include healthy fats and complex carbohydrates in order to get more important nutrients in, Geraty points out. Nuts and nut butters are easy healthy fats to eat for breakfast to complement your weight loss goals. As for your complex carbs, you can look to whole grain bread or oatmeal, or try breakfast potatoes for a heartier option. Fruit on the side or in yogurt will give you a fiber boost; so will adding veggies to an omelet. “The most important factor is to eat a balanced meal in the morning,” says Baty.

The Takeaway

In some cases, skipping breakfast to lose weight may be beneficial—such as if you follow a healthy, non-restrictive intermittent fasting routine. Those who do skip breakfast on IF (as well as those who simply don’t prefer eating breakfast for whatever reason) should prioritize protein at their first meal of the day, as doing so can help stave off potential cravings or hunger pangs later on. “It is best to break your fast with protein to ensure you feel satisfied longer,” says Snyder. “Protein also helps sustain your blood sugar without a spike you can get from simple sugar carbohydrates in highly processed food.” 

Even if you’re someone who doesn’t eat breakfast or who chooses to eat their first meal later on, skipping breakfast isn’t necessarily the ideal option to help you lose weight. Instead, focusing on healthy behaviors—such as enjoying a variety of foods regularly throughout the day and listening to your body’s natural hunger cues—is more sustainable and beneficial for overall well-being in the long run.

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