When it comes to losing weight, breakfast shouldn't be taken lightly — literally or figuratively.
Breakfast — and when, what, how and if you eat it — can have a significant effect on your weight-loss goals. Unfortunately, there are some common missteps many of us take when it comes to eating in the a.m. Do you bypass breakfast as a means to cut calories? How about eating a bowl of cereal while working at your desk — sound familiar?
Here, we call out six of the most common breakfast mistakes that may be hindering your weight-loss efforts and offer easy solutions to help change these behaviors.
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Mistake 1: Skipping Breakfast to 'Save' Calories
If you nix breakfast as a means to reduce your overall calorie intake for the day, you may want to rethink your strategy. Yes, skipping breakfast means you'll probably consume fewer calories in the morning, but what kind of effect does this have on the rest of your day?
Eating breakfast increases what's called your "postprandial energy expenditure," aka the amount of energy (calories) you burn to digest and metabolize the food you eat. In fact, a November 2018 review published in Advances in Nutrition found that you burn an extra 40 to 200 calories just by eating breakfast.
Plus, a June 2016 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition found that eating breakfast not only helps you lose weight, but is key to helping make sure you don't regain it.
The fix: If weight loss is your goal, eat a hearty breakfast and then cut calories from your other meals and snacks. This way, you'll still consume fewer calories throughout the day but you'll burn extra calories by consuming something in the morning. You'll likely have more energy and feel less hungry, too.
Mistake 2: Limiting Yourself to 'Breakfast Foods'
When it comes to what we're actually eating for breakfast, it appears we're filling up on cereals, pancakes, baked goods and the like. Our breakfast meals skew higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein compared to lunch and dinner, according to a June 2014 study published in The Journal of Nutrition. The study found we're eating about 13 grams of protein at breakfast and three times that (39 grams) at dinner.
This is important when it comes to weight loss because, as the study points out, balancing our protein intake throughout the day stimulates muscle protein synthesis more effectively, compared to eating very little protein earlier in the day and loading up in the evening hours. Building muscle protein prevents muscles from breaking down and allows them to build back up, especially after exercise. Ultimately, this has a positive effect on our ability to exercise and metabolism.
The fix: If you find yourself favoring more carbohydrate-rich foods in the morning, try adding a bit of protein to help offset your intake later in the day. Yogurt, eggs and lox are all great sources of protein that you can easily add to your morning meal.
Mistake 3: Making Breakfast Your Smallest Meal of the Day
If you tend to go light at breakfast in an effort to eat less, again, you'll want to rethink this strategy. Research shows that eating more in the morning and then less at lunch and even less at dinner may be a more effective approach.
A February 2020 intervention study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism found that eating about 70 percent of your calorie needs at breakfast, 20 percent at lunch and just 10 percent dinner increased diet-induced thermogenesis (calories burned after eating) by 2.5 times, compared to eating 10 percent of total calories at breakfast, 20 percent at lunch and 70 percent at dinner.
These findings are in line with other research like a pilot study published August 2018 in Physiology & Behavior, which found that eating 50 percent of calories at breakfast, 30 percent at lunch and 20 percent at dinner was also beneficial.
The fix: Adjusting to eating a bigger breakfast may take some time, especially if you typically keep it to a minimum. Start by slowly adding in more foods — a piece of fruit, an extra tablespoon of nut butter on toast, adding an additional egg to your omelet. Overall, the goal is to eat more of your calories earlier in the day and less towards the end of the day, before you go to bed.
Mistake 4: Eating Breakfast While Distracted or On-the-Go
Multi-tasking, especially when eating, could be hurting your efforts when it comes to weight loss. A May 2019 study published in Physiology & Behavior found that when we're distracted, we eat more.
The findings showed that whether subjects were eating while using their phones or reading a magazine, they consumed 15 percent more calories than those who ate without distraction.
The fix: If you tend to eat breakfast while commuting, watching the morning news or working at your desk, you'll want to stop this ASAP. Sit down (without distraction) and pay attention to the food you're putting in your mouth. You'll likely enjoy the meal more and end up eating less without trying.
Mistake 5: Opting for Juice Instead of Whole Fruit
Yes, sipping on juice can be an easy way to get more fruits and vegetables, but the truth is, you're really not getting the best bang for your buck. When fruit and vegetables are juiced, the majority of the fiber (part of what makes them so healthy) is removed.
The fix: If you enjoy drinking juice because of the convenience and the ease of eating more fruits and vegetables, try smoothies instead. When you sip on a smoothie, you're still getting all of the fiber found in fruits and vegetables.
Mistake 6: Overloading Your Coffee
Having a cup of coffee in the morning can absolutely be part of a healthy diet and a helpful component of your weight-loss journey, with one caveat. It depends on how you "take" or make your coffee.
Coffee is a source of antioxidants and it may aid in weight loss, but if you're adding spoonfuls of sugar and/or creamer to your cup, these benefits are a wash.
Sweeteners and creamers high in saturated fat quickly increase the amount of calories in your cup of joe.
Artificial sweeteners don't have the added calories and sugar, but research shows they can mess with your gut, and not in a good way. Indeed, an October 2014 study published in Nature found saccharin, aspartame and sucralose consumption may increase the risk of glucose intolerance (a risk factor for diabetes) by altering our gut microbiome in favor of harmful bacteria.
The fix: In place of creamer, try adding milk or nut milk instead, preferably with minimal added sugars, if any at all. When it comes to adding sweetness, keep in mind the American Heart Association recommends limiting daily intake to 25 grams or 6 teaspoons for women and 36 grams or 9 teaspoons for men.
- Advances in Nutrition: "A Review of the Evidence Surrounding the Effects of Breakfast Consumption on Mechanisms of Weight Management"
- The Journal of Nutrition: "Dietary Protein Distribution Positively Influences 24-h Muscle Protein Synthesis in Healthy Adults"
- Physiology & Behavior: "Daily Pattern of Energy Distribution and Weight Loss"
- Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism: "Twice as High Diet-Induced Thermogenesis After Breakfast vs Dinner On High-Calorie as Well as Low-Calorie Meals"
- Physiology & Behavior: "Smartphone Use While Eating Increases Caloric Ingestion"
- Mayo Clinic: "Is Juicing Healthier than Eating Whole Fruits or Vegetables?"
- American Heart Association: "Added Sugars"
- British Journal of Nutrition: "Breakfast consumption and weight-loss maintenance: results from the MedWeight study"
- Nature: "Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota"