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Here's What Happens to Your Body When You Don't Eat Breakfast

You've heard it before: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Does the old adage still hold true?
Displeased young woman doesn't want to eat her breakfast

From your kindergarten teacher telling you it was the most important meal of the day to that fitness influencer touting the benefits of putting off morning eating, there is a lot of mixed information out there around the role that breakfast plays in a healthy lifestyle. So is it actually bad for your body when you skip breakfast?

Before we put away the cereal for good (because who could even imagine a life with no cereal or omelets again), we went straight to the source, talking to experts in nutrition about the benefits and drawbacks of skipping breakfast. And, what we found might change your morning routines in the name of health.

1

It can aid weight loss.

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Intermittent fasting can be an effective tool to aid in weight loss. There are many different approaches, each with potential benefits to fat loss. While skipping breakfast isn't always part of a successful fasting plan, it is a common way to get started.

"For some, skipping breakfast can be a method of intermittent fasting which has been linked with lower inflammation and body fat," says Lauren Popeck, RD, a registered dietitian and clinical nutrition manager with Orlando Health. "If desired, I usually recommend fasting methods for short periods of time. Often when someone finds that they have hit a plateau with weight or health goals, making a variation to their eating routine or pattern is helpful to ignite change."

2

You might feel less energetic.

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"I think all meals are important, but breakfast sure does set the tone for the day. Since food is fuel for the body, eating breakfast helps jumpstart your energy," says New York City-based registered dietitian Natalie Rizzo, MS. "If you skip breakfast, you may have low energy levels and poor concentration."

Rizzo explained that skipping breakfast is also associated with weight gain, higher overall BMI, and an increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

3

Overeating will feel more tempting.

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By delaying your first meal of the day, your body might increase hunger signals that lead to overeating when you decide to eat later.

"If a daily healthy breakfast is a part of your life, you are much less likely to overeat later in the day and more likely to lose excess weight and then maintain your weight," says Laura Burak, MS, RD, CDN.

She explained: When you skip breakfast, you tend to make up for those lost calories or energy at night when you don't really need them anymore.

4

You should track your macros.

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If you do decide that skipping breakfast is the right choice for you, it is important that you still pay attention to what nutrition you are getting for the rest of the day. What you decide to break your fast with can be just as important as deciding to fast at all.

"As I suggest in any meal, it's really important physiologically to pair higher fiber carbs with protein and fat," Burak says. "This macronutrient trio manages blood sugar well and helps prevent cravings later in the day."

She suggests a slice of whole-grain toast with natural peanut butter and some berries, eggs with avocado mashed on bread, or Greek yogurt with nuts and fruit.

5

Don't eat if you aren't hungry.

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The most compelling reason not to eat breakfast is if you simply aren't hungry, Popeck says. While there are benefits to eating shortly after waking up, they don't outweigh the drawbacks of forcing yourself to eat when you don't want to.

"Listen to your body and see if skipping breakfast is having negative health consequences such as lacking energy, weight gain or missing essential nutrients," says Popeck.

If you do decide to skip breakfast, Popeck suggests limiting fat and sugar, usually found in beverages, processed foods, and fast food later in the day.

6

The best way to avoid cravings is by eating a balanced breakfast.

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If your options are unhealthy breakfast or no breakfast at all, sitting the meal out may be your best option, Burak says. But it is still far from ideal.

"Compare scarfing down a sugary donut vs. enjoying a protein and heart-healthy meal of eggs and avocado toast," says Burak. "The single donut may make matters worse than skipping breakfast altogether so make sure to pick healthy choices too."

Instead, opt for eating breakfast within an hour or two of waking up to jumpstart that metabolic engine. Look for healthy, easy recipes for breakfasts that can make it easy to incorporate morning eating into your lifestyle.

"Don't forget smoothies too which are popular for anyone who enjoys a portable nutritious shake in the morning. Blend up a combo of protein-rich yogurt, nuts or seeds with fruit, greens and a milk of your choice and you have a tasty meal in a cup!" Burak says. "I guess it's safe to call myself a smoothie expert at this point since I just published a new book Slim Down with Smoothies, with 100 healthy yummy recipes."

7

Find what works for you.

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Everybody is different. For some, intermittent fasting by skipping breakfast might help with weight loss and feeling healthy. For others, it might lead to bingeing and an undesirable relationship with food.

"If you love breakfast and make healthy choices then that's great," Burak said. "If you don't like eating it, just make sure it doesn't backfire and turn into excess calories later in the day."

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Carleigh Stiehm
Carleigh Stiehm is a health and food writer. Read more