By Jill Levy
We’ve all heard it before: “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” For decades, health authorities have linked a solid, healthy breakfast with better overall health and weight management.
You may be wondering, therefore, “Is it unhealthy to skip breakfast?”
The truth is, there’s both pros and cons to skipping breakfast, depending on the specific person and their goals and preferences. Lately, the trend of intermittent fasting — eating an early dinner, and then not having a meal until after noon the next day; in other words, skipping breakfast! — has taken off and confused many people in terms of what’s working for their health and weight.
In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the benefits of delaying or skipping altogether the earliest meal of the day, as well as some drawbacks to this approach. As always, you should consult your healthcare professional prior to embarking on any diet or lifestyle regimen, including intermittent fasting.
Why Many Skip Breakfast
Many people find that sticking to only two meals per day helps them to manage weight more easily, usually without feeling any more deprived. This basically turns the old belief that “skipping breakfast leads to a slow metabolism and weight gain” on its head.
What happens when you skip breakfast? There’s a good deal of evidence showing that people who skip breakfast altogether might not be at a greater risk for weight management issues and might even have an advantage when it comes to weight management and fat burning.
If you personally find that skipping breakfast helps you better manage your hunger levels, cravings and food intake — while still allowing you to eat plenty of whole-nutrient foods later in the day — it might be a good option for you.
Pros vs. Cons
Overall, when we look at research focused on the topic of breakfast eating, we see very mixed results in terms of what constitutes ideal meal timing.
Some studies show that people can maintain their weight more easily when they “front load” their day with bigger meals and more calories, but other studies show the opposite can work, too.
It’s true that eating breakfast is associated with lower body weight in many observational studies, and we know that public health authorities commonly recommend breakfast consumption to reduce the risk of unhealthy weight gain. But overall, the effects of eating breakfast on changes in weight are still debatable.
Reasons to Skip Breakfast
Contrary to popular belief, there’s evidence suggesting that there is no metabolic increase after eating breakfast, no suppression of appetite or calorie intake later in the day, and no difference in terms of weight gain or loss between people who ate breakfast and those who don’t.
Many adults who do eat breakfast most days of the week might not choose the best things to eat. By avoiding the meal altogether, one can reduce their sugar and calorie intake considerably.
For some, skipping breakfast benefits can include:
- Help with weight management.
- Support for healthy metabolic and blood sugar management.
- Regulation of cravings and reduced “emotional eating” (such as due to boredom or habit).
- In some cases, improved focus and cognitive performance (for example, skipping breakfast can support cognitive performance among people following a ketogenic diet).
- Help to support healthy blood sugar levels already in the normal range, and healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
- Help maintaining a healthy weight over time without needing to count calories or give up entire food groups.
- Potentially helping to support cellular health, and promoting a healthy response to inflammation, which can support overall healthy, normal aging.
Reasons to Eat Breakfast
What are the disadvantages of skipping breakfast?
Some stand behind the idea that a balanced breakfast helps kick-start one’s metabolism after they’ve been “fasting” (and sleeping) all night. Breakfast may support steady, normal blood sugar balance, reduce hunger later in the day, and make it more likely that you’ll eat less and stick to a healthy meal plan overall.
All of these factors have given breakfast a reputation of being helpful for healthy weight management.
One major concern with skipping breakfast is that it may be harder to choose healthier foods in the right portions later in the day. There’s some evidence indicating that people who skip breakfast experience differences in responses to foods consumed later in the morning, higher appetites and an increase in energy intake compared to people who eat breakfast.
The big-breakfast approach works for some people, especially those who like to exercise in the morning and need to refuel with a healthy breakfast afterward. Children and teens also usually benefit from an early meal, since it gives them energy to power their day.
If you’re a “morning person” and someone who loves waking up for breakfast, chances are you can’t imagine being any other way. And if that’s the case, you’re in good company because there’s plenty of research suggesting that a balanced breakfast (such as one with lots of fiber and protein) can be beneficial.
Here are some of the cons of skipping breakfast and reasons to eat a meal within several hours of waking up:
- Can lead to support for healthy, normal hormonal and neural signals that control food intake regulation, offering some support for healthy weight management.
- May support healthy and normal levels of ghrelin, our main hunger hormone.
- May help decrease food intake at night, when some feel they “can’t stop eating” or snacking. Skipping breakfast often leaves people overly hungry so they’re more likely to make poor decisions when it comes time to eat lunch or dinner.
- May decrease the desire to snack on unhealthy foods throughout the day.
- Can support healthy blood sugar levels already in the normal range.
If you do enjoy having breakfast, be sure to fill up on healthy breakfast foods (like eggs, veggies, oats, avocado, whole fruits, etc.) upon waking up, especially kinds that are high in protein, fiber and healthy fats.
With this approach, you might find you’re more prepared to work, move and make better decisions all day long.
Part of an Overall Intermittent Fasting Strategy
If you're going to skip breakfast, make it purposeful so you help maximize your healthy weight management potential.
As mentioned above, an eating approach called intermittent fasting (IF) is getting a lot of attention these days. What does it mean to fast intermittently?
There are a few different approaches, but basically IF involves eating between a small window of time each day (usually eight hours) while abstaining from eating for the remainder of the day/night. Alternatively, some people practice IF by reducing their intake a bit more every other day.
Intermittent fasting is praised as a simple step for healthy weight management without feeling overly hungry or deprived. The theory behind the meal timing of intermittent fasting is this and in general terms:
- The average person can experience support for healthy blood sugar levels already in the normal range by fasting for a 16-hour period each day — which for many people means skipping breakfast.
- While you restrict your eating to a specific eight-hour window of time, you can support healthy blood sugar already in the normal range, which is also tied to healthy weight management.
- Practicing IF may help people worry less about healthy weight management without any strict calorie counting or deprivation involved.
That being said, despite the health benefits of fasting, it might not be a realistic option for many people. It likely comes down to the quality of food you consume when you do choose to eat, plus personal preference as well as input from your healthcare professional prior to making any dietary or lifestyle changes.
In other words, is it a good idea to fast in the morning and then eat junk throughout an eight-hour window? No, of course not!
- So is skipping breakfast a good idea or not? Some people do best when eating a big breakfast (especially one with high-protein foods) because it may help them to not overeat later in the day and have food cravings. Others have no appetite in the morning and might not benefit from forcing themselves to eat — especially if they’re going to have a “standard American breakfast” that’s devoid of nutrients and filled with sugar and processed foods.
- Potential benefits of skipping breakfast can include an easier time managing a healthy weight, less cravings, improved focus, and healthy blood sugar levels support.
- Skipping breakfast as part of an intermittent fasting routine can work well for healthy weight management.
- Why might skipping breakfast be unhealthy? For some, skipping breakfast can have disadvantages such as increasing hunger and calorie intake later in the day, and impacting cognition, blood sugar levels or energy levels. .
- One important aspect of meal timing is that it really depends on what and how much you eat. What’s more important than the timing itself is that we eat the right foods in the right amounts. The quality of the food is very important!
Jill Levy has been with the Dr. Axe and Ancient Nutrition team for five years. She completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology from Fairfield University, followed by a certification as a Holistic Health Coach from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Jill takes a “non-diet” approach to health and really enjoys teaching others about mindful eating, intuitive eating and the benefits of eating real foods.