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Some studies say no, some say yes, and others just “I don’t know.” With everything we know about nutrition, researchers seem to have a difficult time figuring out if breakfast is really all that important.

Despite what research says, this is why you really should be eating breakfast.

A calorie is a calorie, no matter when we eat it, right? Well this is true . . . but when we ignore our body’s natural rhythm and don’t fuel ourselves properly for the day, that’s when trouble arises. And it’s not just skipping breakfast I’m talking about, but eating too much before going to bed can be just as problematic. What’s worse is these two behaviors often go hand in hand, since eating too much before bed can make you less hungry in the morning for breakfast.

When you wake up in the morning, you should be hungry soon if not immediately. Assuming you got a good night’s sleep, you may not have had any food for the past 8 to 12 hours, depending on when you had your last meal. During sleep, hormone levels rise and fall as the body prepares to go into starvation mode. To get our body back on track and our metabolism up and running for the day, food should be consumed soon after waking. Without breakfast, the body continues to go into starvation mode, leading to a sluggish metabolism in an attempt to preserve energy.

A study in healthy women showed that skipping breakfast for just two weeks led to a decrease in insulin sensitivity, which could lead to diabetes and obesity in the long run (Farshchi, Taylor, & Macdonald, 2005). Even if you’re not hungry (especially if you ate too much the night before), eating something will signal to your body that it is safe to start burning energy and the metabolism can speed back up. In addition, you’re less likely to overeat later in the day to make up for that morning’s energy deficit.

Despite mixed results in the past, new research is beginning to match what nutritionists have known all along—If you’re going to skip a meal, you should rethink skipping breakfast. A recent study analyzed data from almost 6,000 children who skipped either breakfast, lunch, or dinner, and found an association between an increased percent body fat and those who skipped breakfast (Wijtzes et al., 2016). In adults, data from a 1946 prospective cohort study now reveals that 43-year-old participants with irregular energy intake at breakfast had an increased risk of metabolic syndrome 10 years later, as well as increased BMI, waist circumference, and diastolic blood pressure—all also contributing to increased cardiovascular risk (Pot, Hardy, & Stephen, 2015).

Today, most dieticians would probably agree that eating breakfast is essential, especially if you’re trying to lose weight. However, a poll by ABC News reveals that only 4 in 10 adults eat breakfast, with the lowest percentage among 18–34 year olds. It’s time to start grabbing a banana on your way to work; skipping breakfast is a bad habit that may be setting you up for failure in terms of both your weight and long-term health.

References

Farshchi, H. R., Taylor, M. A., & Macdonald, I. A. (2005, February). Deleterious effects of omitting breakfast on insulin sensitivity and fasting lipid profiles in healthy lean women. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 81(2), 388–396.

Pot, G. K., Hardy, R., & Stephen, A. M. (2015, November 9). Irregularity of energy intake at meals: Prospective associations with the metabolic syndrome in adults of the 1946 British birth cohort. The British Journal of Nutrition, 1–9.

Wijtzes, A. I., Jansen, W., Bouthoorn, S. H., van Lenthe, F. J., Franco, O. H., Hofman, A., … Raat, H. (2016, January). Meal-skipping behaviors and body fat in 6-year-old children. The Journal of Pediatrics (Published online Oct. 28, 2015), 168, 118–125.e2. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jpeds.2015.09.039