Is Breakfast the Most Important Meal for Weight Loss?

Most experts agree, a morning meal is a good idea. But does it really help you slim down?

Medically reviewed in August 2020

You've heard it before: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But is it really pivotal for weight loss?

Most research concludes a morning meal has little or no effect on your waistline. However, dietitians frequently recommend breakfast as part of a plan to drop pounds or maintain a healthy weight.

"I think it's a good idea to always eat breakfast," says Lauren Zimmerman, RD, a registered dietitian with Summerville Medical Center in Summerville, South Carolina.

According to Zimmerman, in terms of weight loss, it comes down to calories in versus calories out. She says, "research does show that eating more of your calories early on in the day can help with weight loss."

Many successful dieters agree, and often report breakfast as part of their daily regimen. According to the National Weight Control Registry, 78 percent of their 10,000 members who've lost weight and continue to keep it off, eat breakfast every day.

So, what's the deal? Here's what you need to know about breakfast and weight loss.

What science has to say
Eating breakfast, made of the healthy foods your body needs, isn’t a bad idea, but it may not deliver the slimming benefits we've long been promised. In fact, research suggests breakfast has little impact on weight loss.

"The composition of your diet, whether it's low carb, high fat or high protein, doesn’t strongly matter either—it comes down to the amount of calories you consume," Zimmerman says. "Sometimes this just takes a small shift in calories to result in weight loss."

One 2014 study of 283 adults published in The American Journal for Clinical Nutrition suggests neither skipping nor eating the meal had any notable effect on dropping pounds. Another review, published in October 2016, supports this claim. The author found, generally speaking, eating breakfast doesn't have a big impact on body weight.

Before you throw in the towel on your morning meal, here's what the results from another 2016 study had to say: eating breakfast won’t likely aid weight loss, but it may help keep pounds you've already dropped from coming back.

The study included 354 participants who lost 10 percent or more of their initial body weight. Results suggest men who ate their first meal of the day—let's call it breakfast—at home were more successful at maintaining their new weight.      

Weight loss aside, there may be other benefits to consuming breakfast.

An argument for breakfast
Despite the lack of scientific evidence linking breakfast to weight loss, dietitians and coaches often suggest breakfast as part of a healthy eating plan.

Enjoying a good-for-you morning meal may help you make better food choices throughout the day, Zimmerman says. According to a 2017 scientific statement from the American Heart Association, breakfast consumption is linked to a healthier diet overall, as well as a lower risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

That's not all. "People who eat breakfast tend to have healthier lifestyles and exercise more," Zimmerman says. It's possible, since both breakfast and exercise are part of a healthy lifestyle, those who do one are more likely to do the other. "This goes to show, it is never one isolated food, meal or habit that makes you healthy, but rather a combination of these efforts." she adds.

There's another connection, too. Breakfast replenishes energy levels. Though you may be asleep, your body is still working to make proteins, breathe and digest the food you consumed that day. Come morning, your fuel tank—or glycogen stores—is essentially depleted, and a healthy breakfast is a quick way to replenish the energy your body requires.

A combination of whole grains, lean protein and healthy fats is likely the boost you need to hit the gym, tie on your walking shoes or get your bike in gear. When you do hit the trail, strive to reach the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity weekly physical activity.

Choosing a balanced breakfast
If you decide to make breakfast part of your morning ritual, be sure to fill your plate with the healthiest options. Zimmerman recommends some of her favorites, and they may not be the typical morning options we often gravitate toward.

"I love eating an egg with sweet potato and avocado for breakfast," Zimmerman says. "Greek yogurt on a sweet potato is really good, too."

Like any healthy meal, a good breakfast should include a mix of produce, protein, whole grains and healthy fats. Some wholesome morning eats include:

  • A slice of whole grain toast with peanut butter and an apple
  • A smoothie blended with fresh fruit, leafy greens and low-fat milk
  • A veggie omelet with a side of mixed fruit
  • Plain nonfat Greek yogurt topped with whole grain cereal and an orange

Another one of Zimmerman's favorite meals: "I think a bowl of oatmeal is a great way to start the day. You can add fruit and some kind of nuts or seeds, like flax seeds, almonds or walnuts. I usually end up adding almond butter too, depending on how hungry I am."

No time to whip up a morning meal? Try making one of these freezer-friendly breakfast recipes ahead of time.

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