The conventional wisdom that eating a big breakfast reduces hunger for the rest of the day has never made much sense to me: as someone who isn’t particularly hungry in the morning, I’ve found that skipping breakfast has never left me ravenous at lunch or dinner, and is much easier than nixing another meal to keep calories down.
Now, a new study confirms my suspicion that the notion of a big breakfast as a weight loss tool may be, well, propaganda for Big Breakfast Food. As the BBC reports, the research, which was published in Nutrition Journal, found that people who ate a big breakfast actually consumed more daily calories overall compared with people who ate less or skipped eating in the morning, rather than shifting the bulk of their caloric intake earlier in the day. (More on Time.com: 5 Weight Loss Apps That Work)
The study by University of Munich researchers followed 380 people — 280 who were obese, and 100 who were of normal weight — who kept a food diary for two weeks. Some ate large breakfasts, some ate small ones; some skipped the meal altogether. The BBC reports:
People who had a big breakfast, on average 400 calories larger than a small one, consumed around 400 more calories in a day.
Dr Volker Schusdziarra, lead researcher, said: “The results of the study showed that people ate the same at lunch and dinner, regardless of what they had for breakfast.”
Although prior research has associated weight loss with higher caloric intake at breakfast, that link seems to hold up only if the total number of calories consumed remains constant. In other words, you’re more likely to drop pounds if you have your biggest meal in the morning (i.e., you reduce the size of your subsequent meals accordingly) than if you simply add a big morning meal to your regular diet. (More on Time.com: Big Breakfasts Are Out. 5 Better-For-You Morning Meals)
But diet research is notorious for conflicting and non-replicated findings, and it remains true that people who eat breakfast tend to have healthier diets overall and are less likely to be overweight than people who skip the morning meal. What could explain the difference? Could be that people who are healthier and thinner to start are more likely to follow advice about diet, which has been to have breakfast? It’s hard to say for sure. I urge you to remain skeptical about diet studies — even when, or especially when, you find studies that confirm your pre-existing beliefs, like this one did for me.