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Lose Weight: Eat Breakfast

Studies show making breakfast a daily habit can help you lose weight - and keep it off.
By
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

What's for breakfast - coffee? Most mornings, we barely glance at the kitchen. Fixing breakfast takes up precious time that's in short supply. But there's ample evidence that the simple act of eating breakfast -- every day -- is a big part of losing weight, lots of weight.

"People skip breakfast thinking they're cutting calories, but by mid-morning and lunch, that person is starved," says Milton Stokes, RD, MPH, chief dietitian for St. Barnabas Hospital in New York City. "Breakfast skippers replace calories during the day with mindless nibbling, bingeing at lunch and dinner. They set themselves up for failure."

The Benefits of Breakfast

Eating breakfast is a daily habit for the "successful losers" who belong to The National Weight Control Registry. These people have maintained a 30-pound (or more) weight loss for at least a year, and some as long as six years.

"Most -- 78% -- reported eating breakfast every day, and almost 90% reported eating breakfast at least five days a week - which suggests that starting the day with breakfast is an important strategy to lose weight and keep it off," says James O. Hill, PhD, the Registry's co-founder and director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center.

Two studies in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association backed up this finding. Though they were funded by cereal companies, dietitians say they underscore the message - breakfast is important to weight loss.

A group of researchers analyzed data from a government-funded study that followed more than 2,000 young girls from ages 9 to 19. They found that regular cereal eaters had fewer weight problems than infrequent cereal eaters. Those who ate cereal occasionally had a 13% higher risk of being overweight compared to the regular cereal eaters.

Another research group analyzed government data on 4,200 adults. They found that regular breakfast eaters were more likely to exercise regularly. And women who ate breakfast regularly tended to eat fewer calories overall during the day. Those men and women who ate breakfast cereal had lower overall fat intake -- compared to those who ate other breakfast foods.

It makes sense: Eating early in the day keeps us from "starvation eating" later on. But it also jump-starts your metabolism, says Elisabetta Politi, RD, MPH, nutrition manager for the Duke Diet & Fitness Center at Duke University Medical School. "When you don't eat breakfast, you're actually fasting for 15 to 20 hours, so you're not producing the enzymes needed to metabolize fat to lose weight."

Among the people she counsels, breakfast eaters are usually those who have lost a significant amount of weight. They also exercise. "They say that before having breakfast regularly, they would eat most of their calories after 5 p.m.," Politi tells WebMD. "Now, they try to distribute calories throughout the day. It makes sense that the body wants to be fueled."

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