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Breakfast like a king: Can a big breakfast help reduce weight?

by on 2022/12/13

Written by Sophie Hoetzel, public engagement masters student, University of Edinburgh and Dr Esther Papies, School of Psychology and Neuroscience, University of Glasgow.

New diet plans and information about how to lose weight seem to appear weekly. However, there is no ‘one size fits all’ advice. Nutrition is complex; numerous factors like our genes, physiology, psychology, and lifestyle affect our food habits and how food affects our health. Nevertheless, or potentially because of this, there seems to be a desperate need for an easy solution. The media frequently reports about new pieces of nutritional research, and the different ways media outlets write about them can be confusing and contradicting.

A study recently published by Leonie Ruddick-Collins and colleagues in Cell Metabolism looked at the impact of eating times on weight loss in otherwise healthy obese people. More specifically, the aim was to see if consuming most calories (45%) for breakfast would lead to a greater weight loss compared to eating most calories at dinner (morning-loaded vs evening-loaded). They found that the timing did not affect the participants’ metabolism or the number of calories burned throughout the day. No significant weight loss difference was evident between the big breakfast group and big dinner group. However, the timing did affect certain hormones, including the ‘hunger hormone’ ghrelin. The big breakfast group had lower ghrelin levels and felt lower appetite (i.e. less hungry) during the day compared to the big dinner group. As participants only ate the food provided by the researchers, neither of the groups snacked, whilst in the ‘real world’, more appetite could have led to more snacking. 

How did the media cover this research?

The Daily Mail titled their article: ‘Why eating ‘breakfast like a king’ might not help you lose weight: Age-old diet advice to consume bulk of calories in morning does not help you burn more calories, study finds’. It suggests the time of calorie consumption is not linked to weight loss in anyway, whilst the title of an article by The Sun claims the opposite: ‘GO LARGE Best time to eat the biggest meal of the day when trying to lose weight revealed by health experts’. Interestingly, both articles explained the original study and summarised its findings well. However, the ‘health experts’ The Sun referred to in their title were not the study’s researchers, but rather Dr. Mosley, a former doctor and now TV presenter. He expressed his surprise at the result as he compared it to the previous Tel Aviv University study with different results. The study was carried out in a less controlled setting with participants with raised blood sugar levels as opposed to healthy individuals. Their participants lost more weight after eating big breakfasts. However, a less controlled setting meant participants could snack during the day. Other differences included the original study being significantly shorter, but it assessed energy expenditure (calories burned) more accurately. So, differences in the results are not surprising. Nevertheless, both studies showed a decrease in appetite after a big breakfast, which can potentially help weight loss.

Finally, the BBC found a straight-forward and clear way to summarise a key finding of the study: ‘Bigger breakfasts better for controlling appetite, study suggests’. Taken together, research suggests that people could potentially lose weight by eating big breakfasts due to behavioural changes as a result of reduced appetite (e.g. less snacking). However, the new study found no association between eating times and calories burned. It is important to remember that nutrition is complex; everybody is different, and what works best for one person does not necessarily work for another. 

From → Health

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