Here’s one conventionally cited bad habit that turns out to not be so bad: skipping breakfast. Scientists and weight loss experts have long advocated for breakfast as part of a weight-loss regimen, designed to make you snack and overeat less later on in the day. But a recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition dives deep into the research surrounding this assumption and concludes that “missing breakfast has either little or no effect on weight gain,” according to the New York Times. The reality is that breakfast-eaters often end up consuming more daily calories than those who skip the first meal of the day.
There’s only one 12-week study from 1992 that actually attempted to control for breakfast-eaters and breakfast-skippers who were determined to lose weight. But those results were mixed, according to the Times:
Moderately obese adults who were habitual breakfast skippers lost an average of roughly 17 pounds when they were put on a program that included eating breakfast every day. And regular breakfast eaters who were instructed to avoid eating breakfast daily lost an average of nearly 20 pounds.
Despite those results, which seemed to demonstrate that altering routine was more important than the routine itself, many subsequent researchers misinterpreted those results and began pursuing the association between weight loss and breakfast through further work.
For example, a study in 2002 found that eating breakfast was a common tactic among people successfully trying to keeping weight off more than a year after losing it. The study didn’t say that those people lost weight because of eating breakfast, yet that’s how its findings were misconstrued in later papers. Newer studies that have focused on depriving people of breakfast show that it “can lead them to eat more calories at lunch,” according to the Times. “But those extra calories do not make up for the calories they missed at breakfast, so at the end of the day, they still end up eating fewer calories over all.”
That reality seems to confirm the most basic fact about weight gain: more than anything, it’s eating an excessive number of calories that makes people fat.
Researcher David B. Allison, who co-authored the paper for AJCN, hopes the paper will make scientists stop pursuing this line of research. “We’re doing studies that have little or no value. We’re wasting time, intellect and resources, and we’re convincing people of things without actually generating evidence,” he told the Times. “At some point, this becomes absurd.”