It’s often called the most important meal of the day and people assume that if you skip breakfast then you are going to gain weight.
In fact, people often based their eating decisions on that idea, without ever looking to see whether or not it is true.
Indeed, even in the scientific community, belief in the idea that skipping breakfast causes weight gain is stronger than the evidence to support that claim (1).
Socially, the idea of skipping breakfast is also condemned.
The end result is that people often eat breakfast because they feel that they are supposed to.
That’s not a particularly good way to make health decisions.
This brings up the question, is it ok to skip breakfast?
It turns out that there are arguments for both perspectives.
The Theory Behind Eating Breakfast
Skipping breakfast is appealing for anyone trying to lose weight.
After all, you are skipping one whole meal and the calories that go with it.
But, it isn’t as straightforward as that.
A lot of people argue that skipping breakfast makes it more difficult to control what you eat. After all, skipping breakfast does tend to make you hungry.
For some people, skipping breakfast might mean that they eat more at their next meal, or that they eat more snacks to get them through to lunch.
If you do that, then skipping breakfast mightn’t end up helping much for weight loss.
Likewise, skipping breakfast can mean that you have less energy.
That can be a major issue if you are going into something that requires a lot of thinking, like school, college or an intensive job.
There are also some arguments that eating breakfast can help to kick-start your metabolism and get you ready for the day.
All of those points really do suggest that eating breakfast is important. But, surprisingly the research isn’t as solid as you might expect.
Why You Can Skip Breakfast
One of the most common ideas about skipping breakfast is that you eat more later.
That perspective is probably the main reason that people ask, is it ok to skip breakfast.
In many cases, this may well be true.
However, eating more later doesn’t actually mean that your overall calorie intake is higher.
Instead, that really depends on what you eat.
For example, skipping breakfast meant that you ended up buying fast food for a morning snack then yeah, you would probably gain weight.
But, that isn’t really true for most people.
In most cases, the extra calories you eat will be less than the calories that you would have eaten for breakfast.
Research also supports that idea, showing that skipping breakfast can potentially result in a decrease in calories consumed overall (2).
Likewise, another study found that skipping breakfast increased hunger, but that this did not increase subsequent energy intake (3).
This does make sense.
If you are skipping breakfast so you can lose weight – you would probably be paying close attention to what you eat and when you eat.
Additionally, many people trying to lose weight count their calories and this can help them avoid overcompensating for skipping breakfast.
To me, this reinforces the idea that the impacts of skipping breakfast are highly individual.
After all, people do respond very differently to being hungry or skipping a meal.
People Who Eat Breakfast Aren’t Necessarily Healthier
One idea that surrounds breakfasts is that people who eat breakfast are healthier than those who don’t.
To a degree, research supports that perspective.
But, it all depends on how you look at things.
Realistically, many people who skip breakfast are unhealthy.
Often they might skip the meal because they are rushing out the door and have little time, or because they slept in.
People who skip breakfast because of time limitations are also likely to make other choices that aren’t great for their health.
For example, they might rely on frozen dinners and takeout, they might rely on coffee for energy instead of sleep and they might not take the time to exercise.
Indeed, research has found associations between skipping breakfast and higher body weight, increased alcohol consumption, decreased levels of physical activity and an increased likelihood of smoking.
Additionally, people who skipped breakfast were more likely to work full-time (12), which fits the idea that some people skip breakfast because they have little time.
Those are all unhealthy patterns and they can compromise health.
Many people who skip breakfast aren’t like that, of course.
But the problem is that the pattern I described is common in people who skip breakfast.
That can cause some pretty significant issues in research.
For example, one observational study found that in general, people who ate breakfast tended to be healthier than those who did not (13).
Many of these studies have been large and extensive, but they still suffer from the limitation of observational research.
Specifically, observational studies can’t detect cause and effect, they just look at patterns.
So, in general, people who skip breakfast are less healthy than those who eat it.
But, does that mean that skipping breakfast is the cause?
In fact, some studies have failed to find that relationship at all and a cause-and-effect relationship has simply not been established (17).
Eating Breakfast Doesn’t Boost Your Metabolism
Another common perspective in the breakfast debate is that eating breakfast helps to kickstart your metabolism, and literally breaks the fast.
The problem is that while there is a lot of talk about this idea, there isn’t all that much proof.
For example, one study found that the amount of calories burned are the same regardless of whether you eat breakfast or skip it (18).
Metabolism is an interesting topic.
People often talk about metabolism in relation to losing weight, but that discussion tends to be a lot of theory and not a lot of fact.
In reality, having breakfast raises blood sugar, but it doesn’t really have an effect on metabolism itself.
After all, humans have had periods of plenty and periods of fasting throughout history – and food never used to be as reliable as it is in the present day.
The truth is that eating breakfast isn’t going to do a whole lot for your metabolism, although skipping it might actually help (19).
The idea that eating breakfast boosts your metabolism is connected to the idea that lots of small meals us better for your metabolism. That’s actually a myth and something I talk about in my post on nutrition myths.
Some Diets Focus on Breakfast Skipping
Defining a healthy diet is hard.
Realistically, there are a lot of different ways to eat healthily.
Which approach you choose might depend on your own needs and your values.
For example, intermittent fasting is one type of diet that can involve skipping breakfast.
Intermittent fasting is actually a very general term and it applies to a range of different eating approaches that involve periods of non-fasting and fasting.
One form of this diet is the 16/8 method.
Under this form, people fast for 16 hours each day and eat within an 8-hour window.
This can also be varied, with people often fasting from 14-16 hours, and eating from 8-10 hours. Often women will choose a version of the diet that involves less fasting, because this seems to be easier for women to maintain and potentially more effective.
I bring this approach up, because one of the most natural ways to do it is not to eat anything late at night and then to skip breakfast.
For example, you might stop eating at 7pm and not eat again until 11am the next day.
Doing the fast that way makes the process much easier than it seems on paper.
There are also other forms of intermittent fasting out there. Some of them do involve skipping breakfast while others don’t.
This diet type can be hard for some people to follow, but it is something that many people do get used to and do find effective.
Some research has even suggested that intermittent fasting may offer health benefits, especially in terms of weight loss (20,21) and there is even a link between intermittent fasting and the potential to increase lifespan (22).
These potential impacts also offer indirect evidence about the benefit of skipping breakfast.
After all, skipping breakfast does get you pretty close to intermittent fasting, especially if you don’t eat late the night before.
However, there hasn’t been a lot of research conducted, so the information we have is still very preliminary.
At the same time, the effects of intermittent fasting do vary from one person to the next.
Is it Ok to Skip Breakfast?
Advice like ‘always eat your breakfast’ is incredibly general.
Yet, what is healthy for one person isn’t necessarily healthy for another.
In fact, being healthy is more about watching and planning what you eat than it is about following a specific pre-defined set of rules.
For example, if you took a packed lunch to work every day, your food consumption is going to be pretty similar regardless of whether or not you skip breakfast.
Furthermore, in the work environment, your ability to snack is often limited, so skipping breakfast might not have much effect at all on how much you eat.
Another example is the fact that some people find it hard to get going in the morning, which can also affect their desire to eat.
For people in that situation, skipping breakfast can be a natural approach, and it might have limited effects on their hunger or on what they eat next.
When Did You Last Eat?
Unless you are doing intermittent fasting, when you last ate is a very relevant topic.
For example, if you had a late meal or snack before, then skipping breakfast might make a lot more sense.
On the other hand, if you ate dinner at around 6pm and then had nothing else, by breakfast time it would be important to get food into your body (25).
Eating meals late is actually an interesting topic.
Generally speaking, eating meals late at night is considered to be an unhealthy practice, and is one that society frowns on.
Yet, if you ate late and skipped breakfast, the length of your fast would end up being pretty similar to a ‘normal’ eating pattern.
Likewise, the impacts on metabolic profiles tend to be similar.
Part of the problem with late eating may be simply that many people tend to still have breakfast at a normal time the next day (26).
People Who Shouldn’t Skip Breakfast
At the end of the day, whether or not you skip breakfast is a personal decision.
But, there are some groups of people who should eat breakfast no matter what.
Children are one of these groups.
Children really do need the energy from breakfast to be able to function effectively, especially as they are still growing and developing.
You should also be careful about skipping breakfast if you have a medical condition.
This is particularly true for people who have diabetes (27) and people who have any issues with blood sugar or blood pressure. Likewise, people who are underweight or have a history of eating disorders shouldn’t skip breakfast.
In fact, people with diabetes should focus on having a high energy breakfast (28).
The same is true for people who are pregnant or breastfeeding.
All of these are significant because skipping breakfast does have an impact on the nutrients you receive and on your blood sugar.
So, if you do have a medical condition or if you are on medications, it is best to talk to your doctor before you look at skipping breakfast regularly. That should be standard if you make significant changes in your diet anyway.
More than anything, anyone who skips breakfast should pay close attention to their own bodies.
That’s true if you are doing intermittent fasting or if you are simply skipping the meal.
Our bodies are great at telling us when something is wrong.
For example, if skipping breakfast makes you feel light-headed or dizzy, then the practice is probably not a good idea.
However, if the only real outcome is being hungry, then your body is probably adjusting fine to the process of skipping breakfast.
Research Into Breakfast Skipping
Earlier I mentioned that observational research into skipping breakfast might not be accurate because it can’t see cause and effect.
This makes it easy for the research to be biased by issues
That is a serious limitation, and there are also some other significant limitations in the research about skipping breakfast.
For one thing, studies often consider breakfast as a single thing.
As such, they look at whether or not people eat breakfast. In doing so, they overlook how much breakfast people had or what type of breakfast it was.
Yet, as I’ll show you in a little, the type of breakfast you choose does have impacts on your body.
Another limitation is in relation to eating times.
For people who eat late at night, skipping breakfast is likely to have a much smaller impact than it would for people who eat earlier in the night.
Despite this, most research doesn’t pay attention to the timing of other meals.
This makes it so much harder to know what the true impact of skipping breakfast is.
Nevertheless, it is clear that there isn’t nearly as much scientific support for eating breakfast as people assume. Likewise, there is a good chance that skipping breakfast doesn’t do much harm – if it does any harm at all.
Types of Breakfast
When it comes to breakfast, there is so much variation.
Some people rely on breakfasts that are heavy in carbs, like toast, cereal or bagels.
This is very relevant, because the food you choose to eat can have a major impact on your body.
What we eat and when we eat it is strongly tied to our own lifestyle and needs.
After all, two people can follow the same diet and it will have different effects on each of them.
Likewise, the effect of eating breakfast can be very different depending on who you are and what you eat (33).
This is very true when it comes to the question ‘is it okay to skip breakfast’.
For some people, skipping breakfast is a very natural approach and one that has relatively little impact on how they feel for the rest of the day.
For others, having breakfast is essential for making sure they have enough energy and that they feel good physically.
So, whether or not you skip breakfast is really a personal decision.
As long as you are aware of your food intake, skipping breakfast won’t make you gain weight. In fact, it may even help you lose it as you are decreasing your calorie intake.
However, if you do plan to skip breakfast, there is one thing to keep in mind.
One recent study suggested that negative outcomes from skipping breakfast were mainly found in people who had previously eaten breakfast regularly (34).
This suggests that it might take some time for you and your body to get used to skipping breakfast.