How often have you heard that eating breakfast boosts your metabolism? It might seem logical that eating a meal first thing in the morning gets your metabolism revved up, but the fact is that there's no evidence to prove it actually does. In fact, scientists are clear about the benefits of a healthy breakfast, and a boost in metabolism isn't one of them.
Breakfast and Metabolism: What Scientists Say
In a recent conference, members of the American Society for Nutrition met to discuss how eating frequency affects our weight. They evaluated a wide range of studies that investigated meal frequency, weight and metabolism. Their conclusion? Since eating habits are very hard to study, research hasn't been able to establish a clear link between an increased metabolism and eating breakfast. In fact, they found no data to suggest that eating frequency, in general, has an effect on how many calories we burn each day.
A statement released by the International Society for Sports Nutrition reinforced that conclusion, saying, “Increased meal frequency does not appear to significantly enhance diet-induced thermogenesis, total energy expenditure or resting metabolic rate.” In real terms, that means that eating regular meals does not have a direct effect on the number of calories we burn every day.
Breakfast and Metabolism: What Dietitians Say
You might be tempted to dismiss the scientific findings, because it does seem logical that eating breakfast is good for you. But even registered dietitians are clear about what breakfast can and cannot do for you if you want to lose weight.
Nutrition and diabetes educator Jill Weisenberger, M.S., R.D., CDE, explains that many people misunderstand the benefits of eating breakfast.
“Eating breakfast doesn't affect metabolic rate in the way people like to say it does. There are studies to support breakfast eating for weight management, but not for a calorie-burning boost.”
Her opinion is supported by the position statement of the American Dietetic Association, which is endorsed by the American College of Sports Medicine. In their statement about eating breakfast, they confirm that, while eating breakfast has been associated with a lower body weight, there is no clear evidence to suggest that it has any effect on metabolism.
Benefits of Eating a Healthy Breakfast
So does this mean you should skip breakfast? No. Just because eating breakfast may not improve your metabolism doesn't mean that you should skip the meal entirely. There are certainly benefits to eating a healthy breakfast, and to eating regular meals throughout the day.
But it’s important to put the benefits in context if you want to lose weight. Modest calorie intake during regular mealtimes is likely to help you stave off hunger and avoid binge eating, but it won’t help you burn more calories—so you can’t eat more to compensate. At the end of the day, it’s your total calorie intake that matters, not the timing of the meals.
McCrory MA, Campbell WW. " Effects of eating frequency, snacking, and breakfast skipping on energy regulation: symposium overview." Journal of Nutrition, January 14, 2011.
American Dietetic Association. " Position of the American Dietetic Association: Weight Management." February 2009.
Paul M La Bounty, Bill I Campbell, et al. " International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: meal frequency." Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition March 16, 2011.
Jill Weisenberger. "Personal interview via email." November 5, 2012.