For years, obesity experts insisted you have to eat breakfast to lose weight, but new scientific research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that breakfast is not necessary for weight loss. The findings seem to support the idea behind intermittent fasting, which posits that skipping meals enhances weight loss and fat-burning.
"There's a fundamental belief that if you don't eat breakfast, you will compensate for the lost calories at lunch or later in the day," said study author Dr. David Levitsky, a professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell. "We've found there is no caloric compensation in a normal group of eaters."
Another Diet Myth Shot to Pieces
Dr. Levitsky and a team of researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) found that dieters who ate breakfast did not lose any more weight than those who skipped breakfast — contradicting longstanding diet dogma.
The UAB study tracked 309 overweight or obese adults over 16 weeks. One group was told to eat breakfast, while another group was told to skip it. The researchers found no significant weight loss difference between the breakfast skippers and the breakfast eaters.
Over the years, weight loss experts routinely stated that you must eat breakfast or you'll overeat later. But the latest research shows this conventional diet advice does not pan out. "If you skip breakfast, you may be hungrier, but you won't eat enough calories to make up for the lost breakfast," said Levitsky.
Researchers hope this study will dispel common misconceptions about dieting and weight loss, especially as obesity rates have soared in the United States.
"The field of obesity and weight loss is full of commonly held beliefs that have not been subjected to rigorous testing," said study co-author Dr. David Allison. "We have now found that one such belief does not seem to hold up when tested."
Skipping Meals Via Intermittent Fasting Accelerates Weight Loss
The UAB report bolsters claims made by intermittent fasting proponents, who say skipping meals enhances weight loss by reducing digestion-related blood sugar spikes. Research also shows that intermittent fasting can protect brain health and slow down aging by limiting the oxidative and metabolic stresses that damage cells, the Wall Street Journal reported.
According to research by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), intermittent fasting is better than conventional dieting for fueling weight loss, improving cognitive functioning, and maintaining lean muscle mass. "Just as exercise makes muscles stronger, fasting makes the brain stronger," said Dr. Mark Mattson, chief of the NIA's neurosciences lab.
Mattson said the chemicals produced by fasting also appear to boost people's moods. Mattson and his team conducted studies on animals with Alzheimer-like conditions, and found that alternating between days of fasting (typically this means calorie restriction, not eating nothing) and normal eating seemed to slow or even reverse brain impairment.
What's more, this pattern of intermittent fasting helped the animals maintain their lean muscle mass even as they aged — the exact opposite of what happens to both animals and people as they get older.
Similar experiments conducted on humans (alternating between days of normal eating and calorie restriction) showed the same effects. Dr. Mattson said fasting for short periods of time like 16 to 24 hours induces a state of stress in the body, which responds by releasing neurotrophic proteins that stimulate neurons and other cells.
Actor Hugh Jackman recently credited intermittent fasting for helping him achieve his rippling Wolverine body. Jackman, 45, said IF sculpted his physique, gave him more energy and improved his sleep.
Hugh's 16/8 intermittent fasting protocol involves doing all his eating for the day during an eight-hour window and then not eating at all (except for water) for 16 hours. Jackman typically consumes all his calories between 10 am and 6 pm. It's an eating plan he follows even when he's not training for a role.
Intermittent Fasting Boosts Human Growth Hormone
Research indicates that periodic fasting also dramatically increases human growth hormone. According to the Intermountain Medical Center Heart Institute, men who fasted for 24 hours experienced a 2,000% spike in HGH, while women saw a 1,300% increase. Studies show fasting stabilizes blood sugar and improves cholesterol.
Intermittent fasting has soared in popularity, thanks to the blockbuster success of The Fast Diet (or 5:2 diet), which calls for fasting (500 calories a day) for two days of the week and eating whatever you want the other five days.
Another popular intermittent fasting diet is the "Every Other Day Diet," where you alternate every other day between fasting and regular eating. Thousands of people claim they rapidly shed dramatic amounts of weight on both these IF regimes.
While most people may think dieters will overeat on their "feasting" days, this rarely happens, said Dr. Krista Varady, author of the Every Other Day Diet. "Something keeps people from really binging on that feed day,” said Varady.
“Something changes in the body on the fasting days. We're seeing that the people in the every-other-day group are losing more weight — about 5 to 7 pounds more — because they're just able to stick to it longer. They like that they're always able to look forward to the next day when they can eat whatever they want."