Of all the meals of the day, breakfast may be the easiest one to make weight loss-friendly. After all, most of us don't eat all that much at our first meal, compared to lunch or dinner, and healthy, low-calorie foods like fresh fruits and whole grains make regular appearances on most breakfast tables.
Still, that doesn't mean the first meal of the day doesn't have its pitfalls for weight gain. If you're struggling to reach or maintain a healthy weight, it may be time to look at what you're taking in after rolling out of bed. A number of breakfast habits could be sabotaging your best intentions.
Check out these 21 habits nutritionists say could unintentionally lead to extra pounds. Read on, and then don't miss 15 Best Healthy Breakfast Foods for Weight Loss.
The first step toward weight loss at breakfast could actually be eating more! "One breakfast habit that can lead to quick weight gain is skipping breakfast or not eating a balanced breakfast that's high in fiber and moderate in protein and carbs," says Steph Magill, MS, RD, CD, FAND. "Fiber and protein help give you that full feeling, so you're less likely to reach for snacks an hour after you eat."
Magill points out that research has shown you're less likely to eat more snacks in the evening if you ate breakfast in the morning. So go ahead and eat up in the mornings!
Getting too many calories from coffee
For weight loss, it's worth taking stock of your morning cup of joe. Is it a simple brew or a frothy calorie bomb? "Consuming intricate coffee drinks or creamers and other additions into coffee without tracking it can contribute to weight gain because the calories are not accounted for and can lead to a calorie surplus," says Nicole Swingle, RD. Make fancy coffee an occasional treat, not an everyday indulgence.
Only drinking coffee
We get it—sometimes you don't feel like a full breakfast first thing in the morning, or a hectic schedule keeps you from sitting down for a healthy meal. But a cup of coffee, even with cream, doesn't contain the nutrients you need to fuel your morning, ultimately leaving you hungry. Avoid getting ravenous (and then downing whatever's in sight) by adding some protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats to your liquid breakfast.
Grabbing breakfast at the convenience store or gas station
You'd be hard-pressed to find anything at most convenience stores or gas stations that makes a healthy breakfast. If possible, don't make these locales your morning food stop.
"Choosing a muffin and latte at a convenience store could lead to weight gain if you have more calories than you need throughout the day," says Melissa Altman-Traub MS, RDN, LDN. "A muffin could have 500 calories or more with 50 grams of added sugar, and a flavored grande latte may contain 350-400 calories with at least 30 grams of added sugar, which is more added sugar than most people should have all day."
Going out for a sit-down breakfast
The occasional restaurant sausage-and-egg combo may not be a dealbreaker for weight loss, but making a habit of dining out for breakfast is a quick path to added pounds. Large portions, high calorie counts, and epic levels of fat in restaurant meals won't do your health any favors.
Not reading labels
News flash: some granolas contain as much added sugar as a bowl of ice cream, and a protein bar can pack more calories than a candy bar. Just because a product touts itself as healthy doesn't necessarily make it so. When choosing breakfast foods, do yourself the favor of diligent label reading. You might be surprised by what you find.
Eating straight from the cereal box
Sure, mornings can get crazy, but if they're so crazy you're reaching directly into the cereal box for sustenance, it's probably time to set your alarm a little earlier. Without a bowl for visual context, it's hard to judge the portion size of a serving of cereal. After multiple handfuls, you may have consumed far more calories than you really intended.
Going all in on carbs
You've probably heard that, for weight loss, there are good carbs and not-so-good carbs. "Breakfast foods like pancakes, bagels, and oatmeal may be fan favorites, but prepared traditionally, are carb-heavy," says Amanda Liptak, RDN, a registered dietitian nutritionist and CEO of Nutrient Rich Life Nutrition Coaching. "They lack the fiber and protein needed to help regulate your blood sugar, which keeps you staying fuller longer. The result is feeling hungrier faster."
Stabilize blood sugar and promote satiety by adding a protein source like lean chicken sausage or pistachios to a carb-heavy breakfast. (Try Applegate Naturals' chicken and sage breakfast sausage or Wonderful Pistachios' fun variety of flavors for something novel in the mornings.)
Eating in your car
Is there really any hope of mindful eating when you're speeding down the highway, one hand on the wheel, one hand clutching a breakfast bar? Probably not. The many distractions of driving are enough to take your focus off your food, leading to mindless consumption. Keep your eyes on the road and try eating breakfast at a time and place where you can give it your full attention. Research shows that eating mindfully can be an effective means of weight loss.
Choosing the wrong smoothie ingredients
Smoothies can be an excellent way to sneak in extra fiber and nutrients as you start your day. That said, pay attention to the macronutrient balance in your blender. "Having a fruit smoothie over a protein-rich smoothie can contribute to weight gain, as a fruit smoothie primarily consisting of carbohydrates without healthy fats and protein will not keep you satisfied," says Swingle.
Need a good-for-you protein base for your smoothie? Check out Vega's plant-based Real Food Smoothie protein powder, which not only packs 20 grams of protein, but real food ingredients like spinach and oats, too.
Drinking fruit juice
As nutrient-rich as some fruit juices may be, drinking your calories doesn't tend to fill you up. Plus, most fruit juices are high in sugars, elevating your blood sugar. Keep juice portions moderate at breakfast time to reap the benefits of vitamins and minerals while keeping calories to a minimum.
Eating too much after a workout
Maybe you just worked your tush off at an early morning Pilates class or on a long run—but don't sabotage your calorie-burning efforts with a jumbo-sized breakfast. Rather than overcompensate calorically after an intense workout, try eating breakfast beforehand, then having a smaller snack post-exercise.
Adding a pastry to your order
"Coffee shops make it easy and inexpensive to add a sweet start to your day. But that donut or pastry can easily add several hundred extra calories to your day, equaling several pounds per month of weight gain!" says Kimberly Wiemann, MS, RDN. If you're swinging through the coffee shop or fast food drive-thru, consider a better-for-you option like a fruit and yogurt parfait or egg white wrap.
Always making your breakfast low-fat
The low-fat fad of the 1980s and '90s probably did more harm than good for weight loss—yet its legacy lingers in our brains. In your efforts to trim down, you might find yourself nixing fat from your breakfast entirely. Not so fast! Fat is a satiating macronutrient that serves all sorts of important functions in your body. In the mornings, lean on healthy fats from foods like smoked salmon, eggs, and yogurt.
Doing your overnight oats wrong
"Overnight oats have become an increasingly popular go-to breakfast meal. Little do people know that this can be leading to gaining weight!" says Michelle Saari MSc, RD, founder of The Dietitian Prescription. Saari notes that overnight oat recipes often add multiple high-calorie items. "These ingredients are nutritious by themselves, but items such as nut butters, maple syrup, and crushed nuts are inherently high in calories in small portions."
Her solution for a more weight loss-friendly oat bowl: "I suggest measuring out your ingredients so you have a greater awareness of how many calories you're taking in. Try to strike a balance between carbohydrates, protein, fat, and fiber."
Eating too early in the day
Up before the sun? *Yawn.* Unfortunately for early risers, eating breakfast just after getting up could actually lead to weight gain. (If you're hungry by mid-morning, you may end up adding an unintentional fourth meal to your day.) Consider timing your breakfast a little later to prevent taking in excess calories before lunch.
Eating and scrolling
It's an all-too-common habit at any meal: checking out your social media feed or reading emails while you eat. Unfortunately, catching up on your favorite news site over breakfast is a prescription for mindless consumption. "Watching TV or being on your phone and eating your breakfast can make you overeat without paying much mind to portions, which in the long run can cause weight gain," says Moushumi Mukherjee, MS, RDN.
Only eating protein bars
"Protein bars are meant to be grab-and-go snacks, not full meals," says sports dietitian Ashley Harpst, RDN of Go for the Gold Nutrition. Regularly reaching for a protein bar for breakfast (especially one on the smaller side) could leave you hungrier than you might expect. "Most protein bars are not satiating and people who regularly eat protein bars instead of a full meal often eat snacks excessively the rest of the day."
Drinking enough water can suppress your appetite and boost your metabolism—so if you're skipping a glass in the mornings, it could make a difference to your weight loss efforts. At breakfast time, make water your weight loss buddy by filling up a bottle you can tote along wherever your morning takes you.
Not planning ahead
Meal planning for breakfast? Yep, it's totally a thing. On busy mornings, if you don't have a plan for a healthy meal, it's all too easy to make poor choices. Consider incorporating breakfast plans into your weekly meal planning and grocery shopping.
Not getting enough sleep
Our final habit isn't exactly about breakfast—but what comes before it! According to Harvard's T.H. Chan School of Public Health, there's mounting evidence that not getting enough sleep can predispose you toward weight gain and obesity. Set yourself up for sleep success by maintaining a regular bedtime routine, creating a calming environment in your bedroom, and limiting screen time before turning in. This way, you'll wake up refreshed and ready to eat (what else?) a healthy breakfast.
- Source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6215927/pdf/nzy074.pdf
- Source: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31368631/
- Source: https://hub.jhu.edu/at-work/2020/01/15/focus-on-wellness-drinking-more-water/
- Source: https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/sleep-and-obesity/