Skipping breakfast may do a dieter good

07/29/2013 4:27 PM

08/08/2014 10:18 AM

Last week, researchers reported that skipping breakfast was linked to heart disease. A few days later came word that skipping breakfast could be a good weight-loss strategy because people don’t make up for all those calories later in the day.

Should we tear our hair out in frustration? Or cozy up to the scrambled eggs?

“I’m very concerned about that. We in nutrition seem to put out contradictory diet messages,” said David Levitsky, a Cornell professor of nutritional sciences and psychology and the senior author of the breakfast and calories study.

His work, published in the July issue of the journal Physiology and Behavior, suggests that people trying to lose weight might find skipping breakfast a few times a week a reasonable strategy.

It’s common belief that people who skip breakfast overeat later in the day. But that’s “based on a myth, not on hard data,” Levitsky said. So the Cornell researchers had students either eat or skip breakfast in their food lab, and they measured what those people ate the rest of the day. By the end of the day, those who went without breakfast had eaten an average of 408 fewer calories.

“If you skip breakfast, you may be hungrier, but you won’t eat enough calories to make up for the lost breakfast,” Levitsky said in a statement.

What about people who have kept off at least 30 pounds for a year or more and are part of the National Weight Control Registry? They eat breakfast.

“You’re talking about the exceptions,” Levitsky said. Those people are more health-conscious, they exercise more, they’re extraordinarily watchful over what they eat. “It’s dangerous to extrapolate from them,” he said.

In another study, released last week in the journal Circulation, researchers in Boston found that men who skipped breakfast had a 27 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease than men who ate breakfast. The researchers also found, using a large ongoing study of mostly white men, that those who ate late at night had a 55 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease.

If you dig deep into both studies, Levitksy said, there may be no contradiction. Larger people are more likely to skip breakfast, “and we know larger people have a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease,” he said. So the results could be related to the person’s overall condition.

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