Can Skipping Breakfast Cause You to Gain Weight?

While conventional wisdom suggests you eat breakfast daily -- no matter what -- you don't necessarily need a morning meal to avoid gaining weight. Some research links eating breakfast to better weight control, which suggests that breakfast can be helpful for some people, but other research shows it makes no difference if you eat breakfast or not. The bottom line for avoiding weight gain is to make healthy food choices, control your calorie intake and choose a meal schedule that works well for you.

Skipping breakfast doesn't necessarily mean you'll gain weight, but a healthy breakfast might help with weight loss. (Image: Monkey Business Images/Monkey Business/Getty Images)

Skipping Breakfast May Trigger Weight Gain

Skipping breakfast isn't always the healthiest dietary habit, and it has been linked to weight gain, according to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2003. The study authors looked at the dietary patterns of approximately 500 subjects over the course of a year, to pick up diet trends linked to weight gain. They found that people who regularly skip breakfast had a higher risk of obesity. A second study, published in the Journal of Rural Medicine in 2014, found similar results and even noted that skipping breakfast was more strongly linked to weight gain than eating before bed -- another common dieting faux pas.

While these studies show that people who skip breakfast had a higher risk of obesity, that doesn't necessarily mean skipping breakfast is the reason they gained weight. It could be that people who skip breakfast tend to have other lifestyle habits that cause obesity -- for example, hitting the drive-through or eating packaged convenience foods.

But Breakfast Might Not Be Essential

Other studies found that eating breakfast doesn't play a significant role in whether you gain weight or not. In fact, it might have no discernible effect on your weight, reports a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2014. The researchers split almost 300 study subjects into three groups -- one that followed a normal diet, one that followed a weight-loss diet that included breakfast and one that followed a weight-loss diet that skipped breakfast. Both groups of weight-loss dieters were able to stick to their weight-loss programs, and they both lost about the same amount of weight over 16 weeks -- so whether they ate breakfast or not made no significant difference.

While this study is still relatively small -- it involved just a few hundred people and a short time frame -- it hints that skipping breakfast won't automatically make you pack on the pounds. Just make sure you're following a healthy, calorie-controlled diet during the day to avoid weight gain.

Start With Protein for Weight Loss

Certain breakfast foods may have more weight-loss benefits than others. Eating eggs for breakfast, for example, seems to be more effective for weight loss than a high-carb bagel breakfast, according to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity in 2008. That might be due to eggs' high protein content. A high-protein breakfast seems to be especially useful for triggering hormonal changes that control your appetite for the rest of the day, reports a study published in a 2013 issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The authors in this study found that, while eating any breakfast affected hunger hormone levels, high-protein breakfasts had the greatest effect and actually reduced nighttime snacking in the study subjects.

Healthy Breakfasts to Try

If you decide to eat breakfast, stick with healthy sources of protein, like eggs, lean beef, poultry and fish. Try serving thinly sliced salmon on a slice of whole-grain toast with a glass of skim milk on the side, or make breakfast "tacos" from eggs, lean beef -- like thin slices of flank steak -- and veggies, using firm romaine leaves in place of a tortilla to keep your breakfast low-calorie. Make a healthy parfait from Greek yogurt -- or almond or coconut yogurt -- and mixed berries, or blend a smoothie made from skim milk, frozen peach slices, a dash of cinnamon and a container of nonfat vanilla Greek yogurt.

Whether you choose to eat breakfast or skip it, keep track of your calorie intake. Eating as many calories as you burn each day -- and no more -- will prevent weight gain.

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