Big Breakfast, Small Breakfast or No Breakfast?

April 15, 2011

The role of breakfast energy in total daily energy intake is a matter of debate. I recently red in the January issue of the Nutritional Journal an article entitled “Impact of breakfast on daily energy intake - an analysis of absolute versus relative breakfast calories”.
According to such research if you’re trying to lose weight than the answer to the question “Do you need breakfast?” is maybe not.
In fact, the study concludes that “reduced breakfast energy intake is associated with lower total daily intake”. Thus, overweight people should consider reducing breakfast calories as a simple option to improve their daily energy balance.
But what about all those studies and researches conducted over the years that have established that breakfast is the only meal you’re not supposed to skip?
Several experiments in the past have demonstrated that an energy-rich breakfast does not induce subsequent under-eating to compensate for the extra calories consumed in comparison to a day that started with a breakfast containing 45% less energy. But, on the other hand, different researches have demonstrated that an increasing percentage of breakfast to overall energy intake is associated with lower daily energy intake.
The results of these studies are apparently contradictory. However, these studies have most of the times a substantially different methodological approach. Their analysis is based either on absolute breakfast calories in relation to total daily intake or on the percentage of breakfast to total calories in relation to total daily intake on people.
So, let’s see more in detail what this ultimate study is about...

The research

In this study researchers have analysed the intra-individual relationship between breakfast and total daily energy intake in a group of 280 obese and 100 normal weight subjects.
All had maintained their weight for at least 12 months without any period of intentional or spontaneous weight loss. The normal weight subjects were recruited by advertisement and the selection was made according to age and gender to match the obese group as much as possible.
In those two groups data were analyzed on the basis of:
(1) absolute breakfast energy intake; and
(2) the ratio of breakfast to overall energy intake, respectively.

A detailed analysis of total daily and single meal food intake was then reported recently for both groups.
As part of the routine treatment program all patients had to complete a food diary over 10 consecutive days prior to the start of therapy. They were instructed to record in as detailed a manner as possible every item that they either eat or drank, the time they consumed it, the amount they ate and how the food was prepared.


Breakfast energy intake correlated positively and significantly with daily energy intake in both normal weight and obese subjects.
In the obese group the ratio of breakfast to overall energy intake was also positively correlated with daily energy intake. The correlation coefficients, however, were much smaller than those for the absolute intake data. In the normal weight group the ratio of energy intake was inversely and significantly correlated with daily energy intake.
The analysis demonstrated in obese subjects a significant positive influence of breakfast energy while the ratio was inversely related to daily energy intake. In the normal weight group breakfast energy and the ratio of breakfast to overall energy intake were significantly related to daily energy intake, respectively. In both groups the strongest influence had absolute breakfast energy intake.

Let’s breakdown the results of the analysis: increasing breakfast energy was associated with greater overall intake in normal weight and obese subjects.
The increasing ratio of breakfast to total daily energy intake was associated with a significant reduction of overall intake on days where post-breakfast energy was significantly reduced.
This means that smaller breakfast is associated with lower total daily intake. The influence of the ratio of breakfast to overall energy intake largely depends on the post-breakfast rather than breakfast intake pattern.
Therefore, overweight and obese subjects should consider the reduction of breakfast calories as a simple option to improve their daily energy balance.


I find the results of this study a little disturbing, as I’ve been told over the years that skipping breakfast is associated with a significantly higher risk of obesity and that breakfast skippers are 4.5 times more likely to become obese than regular breakfast eaters (these were the result of a 2003 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology).
So who’s right? I sincerely have no idea. Until the real truth will be finally unfold I’ll just stick to my guns and definitely have my balanced and yummy breakfast: green tea, oatmeal and fat-free greek yogurt with blueberries...I just can’t start the day without it!



  1. I think it ultimately comes down to an individuals perception of their food intake. If you ate a big breakfast you might think "I shouldn't eat that much I had a big breakfast, I'm full" Or you might pysche yourself out and say "I had a big breakfast, but I have to eat, I can't go too long without eating or I'll get really hungry, and since I'm going to eat, I'm used to eating certain foods at a certain portion size" and so what we end up with is individuals eating out of habit and/or how much and when they think they should eat.