Skipping Breakfast: What happens when you skip breakfast?

Each day millions of Americans rush out the door without eating breakfast, thinking that by not eating they are saving calories and that this will contribute to weight loss.

This is just not so.

In fact a large percentage of those people who are overweight and/or obese, seldom eat breakfast.

Over 80% of people who have a serious fat problem – not necessarily a weight problem – do not eat breakfast regularly.

Many of these people eat very little, if anything, at lunch time, and then eat a large meal usually late at night.

They are then not hungry the next morning and repeat the same cycle over and over.

Think back to when you were a child.

What did you want as soon as you awakened?

Unless you were really different from the rest of us, you wanted food.

Although you might have had your favorite foods, you probably didn’t turn down anything that was offered. Why?

While you were sleeping your body had been burning fuel without new fuel being provided, and your stores of quick energy were slowly being depleted.

You need to think of your body as a campfire.

If you have ever built a campfire you know what happens to the fire overnight.

It continues to blaze as long as fuel is added but when fuel is no longer supplied, the fire decreases in intensity.

By morning it may be nothing but ashes.

However, if caught early enough and more fuel is added, the fire can be rekindled and it will burn vigorously again.

When you wake up in the morning, you are in a fasting condition with your metabolism at a very low level.

You need to break the fast by eating breakfast and in so doing you will “rev- up” your metabolism.

If you choose not to eat breakfast, not only does your metabolism remain in a “slowed down” state but it will slow down even more.


skipping breakfast

Common sense should tell you that breakfast is important.

When you wake up in the morning, it has probably been at least 8 hours since you last ate.

It does not make sense to not eat, or to start the day with just a cup of coffee, a glass of juice or a slice of toast.

You need more food than this for breakfast to get a sufficient amount of the various nutrients that you need, and to start the day filled with energy so that you can perform at an optimal level throughout the day.

The results from a recent national survey showed that the majority of those surveyed felt that they were less productive when they skipped breakfast and more productive when they ate a healthy breakfast.

They stated that a good breakfast “gave them more energy” and “helped to get them going in the morning.”

Carbohydrates are used for fuel by the body throughout the night.

They are stored as glycogen in the muscles and the liver.

However there is only enough stored to provide fuel for about 14 hours of fasting.

So, after sleeping all night, if you skip breakfast, by mid-morning the carbohydrate stores will be almost depleted.

Unless some carbohydrates are consumed you will begin to feel tired and will probably become irritable as your quick energy supply runs out.

When your carbohydrate stores become depleted, your body is programmed to use protein for energy.

It will conserve your fat stores to use only as a last resort.

Unlike carbohydrates, protein is not stored in the body.

You must convert muscle and other lean body sources of protein into fuel.

You do not want to use your lean body mass for fuel.

The less lean body mass you have, the less calories you will burn throughout the day.

The greater your lean body mass, the more calories you will burn and the greater your chances of maintaining a healthy body weight.



In a recent national survey, more than 90% of those surveyed, indicated that eating breakfast is important and the majority of them even indicated that it was the most important meal of the day.

Unfortunately for many of them this knowledge did not translate into action.

In fact, in America, only 54% of adults eat breakfast regularly, 19% sometimes, and 27% never.

In Canada, only 12% of adults regularly eat a nutritionally healthy breakfast.

If so many people indicate breakfast is important, why don’t more people eat a healthy breakfast?

The four most common reasons are:

  • “I just do not have time.”
  • “I am on a diet and I want to save calories.”
  • “I am not hungry in the morning.”
  • “If I eat breakfast I get hungry again quickly.”

If you think that by not eating you will save on calories and that this will contribute to weight loss, this is just not so.

A large percentage of those people who are overweight and/or obese, seldom eat breakfast.

If you are not hungry in the morning, it is probably because you ate a large meal the night before.

Possibly this meal was consumed late at night.

Whether you are hungry or not, you should initially force yourself to eat breakfast.

You can start out by eating a small amount of food and then gradually over a week or so you can increase the amount of food that you eat.

For example, start by eating a piece of fruit and then have a bagel a little later in the morning.

If this doesn’t work, try a little exercise first thing in the morning, and then eat something even though you are not hungry.

And if you are like most people, you will find that after a few weeks you will actually wake up wanting to eat breakfast.

If you “get hungry” again soon after breakfast, it is probably because of the foods that you ate.

Some foods make you hungry again quickly while others leave you feeling full.

You will learn more about them in the chapter on carbohydrates.

For now try combinations of different foods for breakfast and you will soon learn which foods might be best for you.

Most nutritionists prefer that you sit down at a table at home to eat almost all of your meals.

We too, would like you to come as close to this recommendation as possible but we also realize that for many of you, this will be difficult.

It will be easier at breakfast if you plan to eat foods that are ready to eat.

Foods such as cold cereals, milk, yogurt, bagels, frozen waffles, fruits, and instant breakfast mixes would qualify.

Several breakfast plans are included later in this chapter showing you how to combine foods like this to provide a healthy breakfast.



If you eat a nutritious breakfast each morning you will feel better throughout the day and will usually be more successful at controlling your weight and percentage of body fat.

There are several reasons for this:

1-Eating Breakfast Can Positively Influence Your Metabolism

If you are like most people, after eating your evening meal, you are usually less active than you are during the day.

You probably try to relax by reading a book or watching television.

This reduced activity level decreases the rate at which you burn calories.

When you wake up in the morning, your body is still burning calories at a very slow rate.

It has been a long time since you last ate.

If you do not eat breakfast, or simply do not get a sufficient amount of food, you actually force your body into a “starvation mode.”

Your metabolic rate will not only remain at a low level, but will slow down even more as your body tries to preserve precious calories.

This means that as you perform your routine activities throughout the day you will actually burn fewer calories.

In addition, you will not be getting the carbohydrates and protein that you need, and you will often feel tired and weak and be lacking in energy.

In all likelihood, this will result in you being less active throughout the day.

A decreased activity level combined with a reduced metabolic rate makes weight loss almost impossible.

Each meal that you eat increases the rate at which you burn calories.

This is referred to as the thermic effect of food.

If you eat just one or two meals each day, you will actually burn fewer calories than someone who eats the same amount of food eaten over three meals.

A study by Calloway at George Washington University showed that metabolic rates were 5% less for those who skipped breakfast regularly, when compared to regular breakfast eaters.

2-Skipping Breakfast Frequently Results In Overeating Later In The Day

Skipping breakfast does not necessarily mean that you will eat less food for the day.

This is because a large percentage of those who do not eat breakfast are inclined to eat more food – and often less-nutritious food – later in the day when food is readily available.

They frequently eat a large meal for dinner, and snacking – particularly on foods high in fat and sugar – often gets out of control.

A problem with eating a large percentage of your calories late in the day is that many of the foods that we traditionally eat later in the day, contain large amounts of fat, while many of the traditional breakfast items are very low in fat.

At least two research studies have shown that those who skip breakfast do in fact finish up getting a higher percentage of their calories from fat than those who eat a healthy breakfast.

In both studies those with the lowest fat intake for the day were those whose breakfast included cereal and low-fat milk.

Another problem associated with eating large amounts of food later in the day is that calories eaten during the day are much more likely to be used for energy, whereas those eaten later in the day are more likely to be stored as fat.

One reason for this is that most of us are much more active during the day and we are thus more likely to “use” the calories that we eat during the day for energy.

3-Breakfast Enhances The Overall Quality Of Your Diet

Breakfast consumption has been shown to greatly enhance the overall quality of your diet.

This means that you have a much better chance of meeting your nutritional requirements for various nutrients for the day if you eat a healthy breakfast.

This is particularly true if your breakfast includes cereal, milk and fruit.

These typical everyday breakfast foods are “nutrient dense” and give breakfast eaters a huge head-start in getting a sufficient amount of the nutrients they need each day.

Research shows that the one thing most breakfast skippers made up for was calories.

However, despite the fact that they actually consumed more calories each day than those who ate a healthy breakfast, they never “made-up” for the nutrients that they missed by skipping breakfast.

When you skip breakfast you must get a sufficient amount of all the nutrients that you need from two meals rather than from three.

This makes food choices at lunch and dinner time much more important.

Additional Benefits

Eating breakfast has been shown to increase alertness, learning and memory at all ages.

Brain function is extremely sensitive to variations in the blood’s supply of glucose.

So, even if you do not eat breakfast to help control your weight, eat it for proper nutrition and for mental alertness.

The carbohydrates in breakfast are the nutrients needed for mental alertness.

A high fiber diet has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and some types of cancer.

It requires planning to get the recommended daily amount of fiber.

If you eat a high fiber breakfast, you have a much better chance of meeting this requirement.

At least two studies have shown that those who eat breakfast generally had a lower cholesterol level than those who skipped breakfast altogether.

Again, the effect was even greater when the breakfast consisted of cereal, low-fat milk or yogurt, and fruit.

One final comment about the additional benefits of beginning the day with a healthy breakfast.

Researchers at the University of California showed that those who eat breakfast outlive those who do not because of a healthier immune system.


Making healthy choices is important when deciding what to eat for breakfast.

Your breakfast each day should contain a significant amount of complex carbohydrates, an adequate amount of protein, and should contain very little fat and simple sugar.

It should always be the meal that contains the lowest amount of fat.

Importance Of Complex Carbohydrates

Each day your body needs carbohydrates to supply energy.

If your breakfast contains a significant amount of carbohydrates you will feel more energetic throughout the day.

One of the most frequent comments we hear from participants in our weight management classes who start eating a nutritious breakfast is, “I can’t believe how much more energy I now have since I started eating breakfast.”

It is also important to keep in mind that you need an adequate intake of carbohydrates to metabolize fat efficiently.

When you skip breakfast – or one of the other meals – your body will metabolize fat less efficiently.

This is one reason why those who skip breakfast are more likely to accumulate more body fat compared to those who eat a nutritious breakfast each day.

It is important to re-supply your body with carbohydrates, but not just any carbohydrates will do.

Your body needs glucose for use by the brain and central nervous system.

Glucose can easily be derived from simple sugars.

Unfortunately, glucose becomes so readily available that it triggers the release of insulin that results in the conversion of excess glucose into fat.

This is not what you want your body to do.

Carbohydrates are also found in our foods in more complex compounds that require more time and energy to break down into glucose.

The delay allows for a more gradual release of glucose than we see from many of the simple sugars.

Breakfast cereals with a high fiber content will generally have a stabilizing effect on your blood glucose level.

You will learn much more about this in the chapter on carbohydrates.

Importance Of Protein

Protein is essential to the minute-by-minute functioning of your body as it performs a variety of important functions.

However, your body does not store protein for use in the body, like it stores fats and carbohydrates.

So, when you skip breakfast your body will continue to function normally, but because you have no protein coming in, you force your body to “use” its existing protein for the important functions that protein performs.

Your body will usually use protein from your muscle tissue because it is most readily available.

For this reason it is important to make sure that you eat foods containing an adequate amount of protein at regular intervals throughout the day.

With a very low caloric intake it is also virtually impossible to get the amount of protein that your body needs.

This explains why very low calorie diets often result in loss of a significant amount of lean body weight.

Losing lean body weight will result in a decrease in your resting metabolic rate.

An 8 oz. of milk and a bowl of cereal provide approximately 12-15 grams of protein.

This is an adequate amount of protein for the average person to consume for breakfast.

If you eat just a piece of fruit or a slice of toast or drink just a glass of juice for breakfast you will be depriving your body of the essential protein that it needs.