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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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April 12 2016

Why Breakfast Isn’t the Most Important Meal of the Day (For Everyone)

By Mark Sisson
78 Comments

Why Breakfast Is Not the Most Important Meal of the Day FinalIf you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you know I’m always interested in exploring those time-tested bits of advice, those old wives’ tales, that folk wisdom handed down generation over generation because they’re often right, or at least contain a kernel of truth. And if a piece of conventional folk wisdom turns out to be wrong or misguided, understanding why it endured for so many years is a fun exercise and usually reveals other messages and truths. Today, I’m looking at the importance (or lack thereof) of breakfast. For years, you’ve heard how important breakfast is. Your grandma says it. Your doctor probably scolds you if you’re not eating it. We all grow up having this “fact”?breakfast is the most important meal of the day?drilled into our subconsciouses. Even the people who just don’t feel hungry in the morning feel guilty about it and compelled to stuff something into their craws.

Is it right or wrong?

Before I begin, I’m a little biased. I follow a compressed eating window, from noon/1 to about 6 or 7 at night. On a typical day, I’ll wake up and grab a mug of coffee with a splash of heavy cream and a teaspoon of sugar. And that’s it until lunch, my biggest meal of the day. Since I’m such an effective fat burner, this schedule clearly works for me. I experience even-keeled energy on a consistent basis. My productivity is high, I’m happy with my physical performance and ability to recover, and I don’t stress over food because I’m just not hungry. It makes things easier overall. Plus, though solid research in humans is scant on this, I stick to a compressed eating window to promote autophagy (cellular maintenance) and hedge against aging and neurodegeneration (if those things ever come!). Based on what I’ve heard from thousands of readers, I’m not alone on this. But a single anecdote, or a collection of thousands, doesn’t prove much. We need to look deeper.

Well, what do the breakfast proponents actually claim? Let’s examine some of the claims and see what the evidence says.

Breakfast makes you lean, skipping breakfast makes you fat

The epidemiology of breakfast skipping certainly seems to suggest a connection between skipping breakfast and obesity:

  • In a cohort of Japanese adults, skipping breakfast was linked to greater body weight and waist size.
  • Among American young adults, breakfast skippers weigh more, have more abdominal obesity, and an elevated cardiometabolic risk profile.
  • In both white and black American teenage girls, eating breakfast is linked to higher calcium and fiber intakes and lower body weights.

But these are observational studies, and observational studies cannot establish causality.

So what’s going on here? A few things.

Unhealthy user bias: As breakfast skipping is widely considered to be unhealthy, breakfast skippers may be unhealthy in other areas. They eat more and exercise less, and they’re more likely to drink more alcohol and smoke more cigarettes. Iranian children, for example, who skip breakfast are heavier with larger waists than non-skippers, but they also eat more fast food, fruit juice, salty snacks, and sugary soda than their breakfast-eating counterparts, who favor fruits, vegetables, and milk. Unless you can establish that skipping breakfast causes these lifestyle differences, you can’t say that skipping breakfast plays a causal role.

Dieter bias: Breakfast skippers are likely to be actively dieting, and active dieters usually only diet because they have weight to lose.

The a priori effect: When you presume “breakfast is important” to be true, all your research and results must flow from that presumption.

And a few years ago, a group of researchers took a close look at the evidence other researchers were using to prove the “casual link” between obesity and breakfast skipping. They weren’t very impressed, finding that:

  1. Most researchers suffered from confirmation bias, throwing out or disregarding evidence to the contrary and emphasizing evidence that supported their views. They favored observational studies showing a link and ignored the controlled trials showing no effect.
  2. They used “casual terms” when discussing their work and the work of other scientists researching the breakfast/obesity question when no causality had been established.

Instead of observational studies, there are a couple intervention studies (where causality can be examined) worth examining.

In a study from the late 1990s, overweight women were randomized to either eat large breakfasts (with smaller dinners) or large dinners (with smaller breakfasts). Those in the large breakfast group lost the most weight, but they also lost the most lean mass. The large dinner group, who didn’t skip breakfast but ate a meager one, lost the most fat mass and preserved the most lean mass. Like I always ask, what kind of weight are you trying to lose?fat or muscle?

In 2014, researchers randomly divided a group of dieting adults into two groups. One group was told to eat breakfast, the other was told to skip it. After 16 weeks, weight loss was basically identical across both groups. Neither skipping breakfast nor eating it had any discernible or unique effect on weight loss.

Other studies have indicated that skipping breakfast may actually reduce the overall amount of calories a person eats throughout the day. A spontaneous reduction in calories eaten is generally a path to weight loss.

Breakfast gives you boundless energy

“Energy” is difficult to measure objectively. There’s no blood test for “chi” or “life force,” so we have to rely on subjective reports of things like “alertness” and extrapolate from related objective markers. Energy expenditure is a decent marker for how much energy you have. If you’re burning more energy, your body obviously has “enough” to spare. Another is blood glucose control. If your blood sugar takes a dive, that typically manifests as hunger and sleepiness.

“Breakfast” doesn’t tell us much. Some breakfasts will give you better energy than other types of breakfast. A higher protein, lower carb breakfast tends to increase energy expenditure and improve “postprandial wellness” (basically, how do you feel about life after eating this breakfast?). If you throw in some fat with the protein, you can even improve a type 2 diabetic’s glucose tolerance throughout the day, which corresponds to steadier energy levels.

Meanwhile, high-carb breakfasts do the opposite: they make people hungrier sooner, cause greater elevations in insulin and a subsequent drop in blood sugar at 3 to 4 hours after breakfast. The reduced satiety, heightened insulin spikes, and low blood sugar combine to make people “hangry,” sleepy, and susceptible to break room donuts to take the edge off.

It’s true that some studies find connections between skipping breakfast and low subjective alertness or cognitive or physical performance. But these studies are either observational, conducted using standard sugar-burning subjects (as opposed to fat-adapted subjects), or concern children and adolescents (a more energy-intensive subset of humanity for whom breakfast skipping is often nonconsensual, unnecessary, and counterproductive). And the ones that do find a positive relationship between teens, breakfast, and subsequent cognitive function find the greatest benefit from low-GI (read: low-carb, higher fat and protein) breakfasts.

Skipping breakfast destroys your metabolism

If skipping the occasional breakfast is enough to send you into starvation mode, surely all-out fasting for 72 hours will do the trick. Right? Except when healthy humans are told to fast for three days and their biomarkers are monitored, we find that the resting metabolic rate only drops by 8%. 8% is 8%, sure, but that’s a full 72 hours without food. Skipping breakfast doesn’t even compare.

Skipping breakfast makes you overeat

It does seem to make people overeat at lunch, but not enough to make up for the skipped breakfast. In one study of free-living adults, skipping breakfast led to earlier and bigger lunches. Despite the increased hunger and larger lunches, breakfast skippers still ate fewer calories per day than the breakfast eaters. This is consistent with earlier studies showing that breakfast skipping does not lead to compensatory food intake at lunch and dinner, and in fact may reduce calorie balance by over 400 per day. You might feel hungry enough to eat twice as much, but at the end of the day you end up in an energy deficit.

So, can everyone safely skip breakfast?

Not exactly.

If you’re eating a higher or moderate carb diet, breakfast may be the best time to get your carbs. Insulin sensitivity follows a circadian rhythm. Muscle insulin sensitivity is highest in the morning and lowest at night?meaning your muscles are primed to accept and store glucose as glycogen with minimal insulin input?so breakfast is a good time to eat some carbohydrates. Skipping breakfast and then eating a high-carb lunch exacerbates the insulin and blood sugar spike you’d normally get. Eating a carb-rich breakfast “preps” your body for the carb load at lunch.

Side note: The circadian sensitivity of carb tolerance can be overcome with training and physical activity, since exercise restores insulin sensitivity independent of circadian phase. So if you’re going to carb-up during a phase of circadian insulin resistance, make sure to train.

If you compete or train really hard in the morning, a small breakfast could be a good idea. On Sundays, when I play my big Ultimate Frisbee game, I’ll have a small breakfast with my coffee?usually a couple scoops of Primal Fuel mixed in water.

If you’re a child or adolescent, you should probably eat breakfast. You’re growing. And the observational studies finding links between breakfast skipping and overweight tend to focus on kids and teens. Just to be safe, eat something.

If you’re a type 2 diabetic eating a high-carb diet, you should eat breakfast (preferably egg-based). A recent study in diabetics found that skipping breakfast drastically increased the glucose spikes that occurred after lunch and dinner. However, lunch and dinner were high-carb and low-fat (20% fat, 54% carb, 26% protein, 700 calories each), which is a terrible combination for type 2 diabetics.

Side note: This presupposes the type 2 diabetic in question insists on eating a high-carb diet. When you give them healthier meals lower in carbs?salmon, nuts, leafy greens, olives, garlic, tomatoes, cucumbers, and a little bread?diabetics can actually skip breakfast and get more favorable glucose numbers at lunch. If you’re a Primal type 2 diabetic eating low-carb, high-fat meals, your meals won’t provoke those kinds of glucose spikes?breakfast or no breakfast.

If you’re a woman, you might do better with breakfast. In general, women function more poorly skipping meals. I’ve covered this before; skipping breakfast just doesn’t seem to work as well for women. That said, a slightly later breakfast?say, at 10 AM instead of 8 AM?may be a good compromise for women who want to try breakfast skipping.

All that said, there is one huge confounding variable the “breakfast is awesome” controlled trials never account for: meal timing entrainment. Almost everyone eats breakfast. The “normals,” at least. So the average study participant is a habitual breakfast eater whose body expects and likely functions best (at least for now) with regular breakfast intake. You get a group of them together, “starve” them, and you’ll see awful results. Huge insulin spikes, glucose crashes, fatigue, general malaise. It’s like fast tracking the low-carb flu, and it’s going to skew your results. People habituate to the eating schedules they follow. If you’re a natural breakfast skipper, skipping breakfast isn’t going to have the same effect on you.

In a recent study, the authors actually tested this, separating overweight women into habitual breakfast skippers and habitual breakfast eaters and then having them either skip breakfast or eat breakfast.

Breakfast eaters who skipped breakfast experienced way more hunger at lunch. They had worse blood lipids and their insulin skyrocketed. Breakfast skippers who skipped breakfast experienced none of these deleterious effects.

Breakfast eaters who ate breakfast were more satiated at lunch. They had better blood lipids and fairly normal insulin levels. Breakfast skippers who ate breakfast were just as hungry at lunch as normal; the extra meal couldn’t abate their regular lunch-time appetite.

As long as they stuck to their normal eating habits, they had normal responses.

What’s the big takeaway here?

If you’re the type who “never feels like breakfast,” keep skipping it. If it’s easy, don’t eat it. If you’re not hungry, don’t force yourself.

If you’re the type who wakes up ravenous, eat! Don’t skip it just because you read a study somewhere. 

What do you think, folks? How do you respond to skipping breakfast?

Thanks for reading. Take care and be good.

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78 thoughts on “Why Breakfast Isn’t the Most Important Meal of the Day (For Everyone)”

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  1. What a wonderful, nuanced perspective on the subject, Mark. That’s what I love about your articles. You cut down the middle. You offer up what you do personally, make it clear that your routines are not for everyone, and provide evidence for possible lifestyle modifications for a wide breadth of people. Another great article!

  2. I’m with you, Mark. I guess I’m one of those lucky people who rarely ever wake up hungry. It sure does make intermittent fasting and eating in a compressed eating window a heck of a lot easier when you have 8 hours of sleep behind you. I’ll continue to skip breakfast, since it’s clear that my body tells me it makes the most sense.

    1. But both you and Mark aren’t really skipping breakfast. Breakfast means to literally break your fast. No matter how long you delay it after waking, your first meal of the day is still breakfast. And from reading this blog for a while most people, including Mark, do consider their first meal pretty important.

      1. I agree with you, on your first meal you will break your fast, no matter what time it is. But “breakfast” has a new connotation these days, that is to eat a meal not longer after waking up!

  3. I’m curious to what stimulates some people to be ravenous upon waking while others feel fine until near lunchtime. Of course diet has an effect (I notice that if I eat too much sugar/processed food the day/night before I’ll wake up hungry.) But for two people who eat primally, I’m sure there are folks out there with a different baseline preference. Sure, like you said Mark, conditioning can have an effect. But it’d be interesting to take a look at hormone levels, etc. to see what’s different in the groups. Thanks for the article!

    1. For me…it’s what I ate and what time I ate the night before. If I eat large and late, I wake up ravenous.

      1. Right!! I’m sure there’s some leptin/ghrelin dysregulation that goes on when we do that, hence the early morning hunger pangs.

  4. I’m a breakfast eater myself (and always have been). Now, the KINDS of breakfasts I eat have changed radically since I went primal–somehow blueberry waffles just weren’t giving me the sustained boost in energy I needed to survive the day. Who would have thought? Some pastured raised eggs and veggies, on the other hand, seem to do the trick every time. 🙂

  5. I do the mini-fast compromise. I still need breakfast, but I don’t need it right upon waking (or even in the first hour or two). Pushing my first bit of food until 10 or 11, if I wake up at 6:30-7, seems to work just fine.

    1. That’s exactly my schedule, but I do have my body weight workout a couple hours after waking and before I eat.

  6. I love skipping breakfast. I like to work out mid morning and I feel like I get the best fat burning mileage working off a 10-12 hour fast. Good stuff!

  7. I prefer to drink a couple cups of coffee with HWC then eat later in the day. It just works for me.

  8. Great article as always. I have been following the Primal way of eating now for about 53 days I think it is now. Really loving it. Not trying to lose weight or anything really, just trying to feel the best I can, and so far its working great. 23 years old, 5’11 Male @ 170lbs.

    I have always tended to skip breakfast, but now that I am adapted to this way of eating I don’t even think about eating in the morning. I am quite happy to wait until my lunch around 1PM and have a nice giant primal salad.

    I really like how your articles/approaches are very balanced and account for the differences in everybody’s individual bodies. If it works for you then it works for you!

  9. I’m a long term diabetic controlling it with diet and it’s all about the blood sugar. I have a protein meal within an hour of rising. If I skip breakfast, energy coasts down and I’ll end up with a headache. Breakfast is my largest meal, lunch is smaller, and “dinner” is a snack, often berries and full fat yogurt. I keep them at least five hours apart. I couldn’t do that on my work schedule, but it works great in retirement!

  10. Great post….Mark, I would like more information on “meal-time entrainment”. My experience has been that it was always easy and felt natural for me to skip breakfast. This also helped me control my weight and just generally feel better. I don’t know whats happened but in the last few years I have developed the habit of having a small breakfast, not high in carbs, but not high in anything else either. I feel as though it would be very difficult to skip eating in the mornings but I would really like to get back to it because I find that I can’t seem to avoid gaining weight and all the other annoying things that I thought I got rid of when I used to skip that morning meal.

  11. I’m a 40-something female who is a breakfast eater. Was drilled into my head ad nauseum when I was young. As a 20-something and 30-something, I did not eat breakfast regularly as I was just not hungry. I wouldn’t say I skipped breakfast, exactly, but definitely delayed it. I do eat a small breakfast now as my training time (heavy lifting) begins at 5:30 a.m. and I find I need a little sumpin’ to have more energy for those workouts. I have worked out in a fasted state with no ill effects but prefer a small meal of protein and fat beforehand. I do a 21 hour fast every weekend and usually do cardio or a short burst-training session in a fasted state and feel great.

  12. Sorry, didn’t post my question: How do I get back to being “entrained” to not eating breakfast?

  13. If I eat breakfast (eggs and some kind of meat, late a.m.), then I skip lunch. If I’m planning to do lunch, then I don’t eat breakfast. This means I generally eat only twice a day, around 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. I rarely eat anything following dinner, and I don’t often feel like snacking during the day. Since going Paleo a few years ago and sticking with a higher-protein, more nutrient-dense diet, this method of eating works well for me. I don’t get hungry between meals even though I’m probably consuming less food than I did back in the days when my carb consumption was much higher.

  14. Here’s what I do….I have my own version of bullet-proof coffee at the crack of dawn while I have my quiet time. With all the fat and the collagen I’m good for a few hours. If I have to be out of the house early, like today (was working on my blog at Starbucks, sipping tea) I throw some raw nuts in my purse and snack on those. If I’m at home I usually cook pastured eggs in ghee, and serve over a bowl of leftover veggies from the night before. But I always listen to my body. If I’m not hungry, I don’t eat.

  15. Great summary. It’s like everything else when it pertains to diet, health, and wellness – just be intuitive. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re not, don’t.The same instincts worked for our ancestors for thousands of years.

    1. Agreed completely. Being intuitive and going based upon your feeling is key.

  16. I have always been a breakfast eater, so I was nervous when I first saw the title of this article! I think the big thing is what you are eating for breakfast. If someone is eating poptarts and a McMuffin every morning, it is probably not doing them any favors, but if you are cooking eggs, possible an animal protein, and veggies and fruit, it is a great way to start your day off right. I find when I eat a good breakfast it makes me stay on track nutritionally for the rest of the day and I stay satiated until lunch time. This way, I can easily avoid the office snacks.

    Thanks for this post Mark!

    1. Same here! I eat 4 eggs every morning with steamed veggies and sometimes some wellness meats bacon. Honestly when I wake up and start getting ready for work I get hungry. I think its different for everyone.

      Also I tried skipping breakfast and I would have to ignore my hunger long enough until it was annoying. Then I would have to make sure I packaged not only lunch for work but breakfast as well. And I like my breakfast fresh personally.

      For me I just listen to my body. If I could skip any meal I find dinner easier to skip or eat a smaller portion

      1. I agree with you. Now that I’ve been following primal for awhile now, I find that some days I’m good with 2 meals a day but by following my natural lack of hunger, it’s either lunch or dinner that I skip…so I have a Dunch or Linner sometimes. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day for me. I’ve tried drinking only high-fat coffee (a little grassfed butter, coconut oil, and heavy cream) before in the morning but that leaves me with cravings so I need to pair that with some eggs at least to feel full in the morning. I’ve always been a person who seems to need breakfast.

      2. I’m with you on this one. I’ve always been a breakfast and lunch eater. Dinner is a meal I’d rather skip, so I only eat it when it involves a social occasion. Generally, when I have dinner, breakfast happens much later the next morning, or not at all.

  17. Great article, thank you Mark. I have eaten breakfast regularly for a few years on the advice of lots of people and my weight has slowly crept up. Before this, I rarely could stomach breakfast and found if I ate late morning or waited till lunch, this was better for me. Whenever I’ve needed to lose weight I would automatically drop breakfast and it would work, but EVERYONE I spoke to advised me against this. Wish I’d have known about this research before gaining the weight I had. From now on, it’s ‘listen to my body’ and eat if I’m hungry, not because someone tells me it’s the most important meal of the day!!!

    1. You and I are in the same boat. Currently a little heavier then I would like to be, but not too worried about it coming off soon enough. I am going to stick to my roots of no breakfast from now on and not give in to those people who tell me otherwise. I know my body better then they do. Oh well, you live and learn.

  18. Thank you so muuch for sharing this!!! This happened to me a couple of months ago, I noticed some good results the firsts months but afterwards I felt it wasn’t working anymore, so I tried everything , I looked up for the reasons and everything you posted is so true about the breakfast, the only thing I was missing was the time to relax and recover, I thought that wasn’t important enough to actually do it the right way until I was so frustrated that I felt I was about to explote, so I started to make some changes in my life including eating breakfast every morning, I tried to relax but it was really hard for me until a friend of mine gave me some meditation exercises, I focused on that and my routine too and I started to notice the change, not only in my body but how I felt, I re design my bathroom into a spa so when I come back from the gym I don’t have any excuse to say that I can not relax after workout or that I can’t meditate and is actually working, is amazing how important is this step in order to see real results!!

  19. Hi Mark,

    Could you do an essay sometime regarding snacking versus non-snacking? A month ago I stopped snacking. It took a bit of adjustment and willpower. I now eat twice a day at Noon and at 7pm. My six-pack is better than ever, my teeth sparkle and my sleep has improved.

  20. I skip breakfast typically as I do the compressed eating window from noon to seven daily w/ some exceptions. I do drink coffee in the morning either black or w/ cocnut oil and butter (bullet style). It works for me and I enjoy the fasting to clear me out and burn the fat I have on me. I usually work out right before lunch and if its high intensity I enjoy the hormonal effect from testosterone and hgh boost in my bloodstream unhindered by my body having to digest food. And when I eat I really eat. It been a very steady routine and I don’t have hunger swings while maintaining steady energy.

  21. If I’m hungry I eat. If I’m not hungry I wait. The only exception is religious fasts. I figure this is nice and simple, and few people will argue with me about it.

    1. Makes perfect sense to me 🙂 Most days I easily go til 10, 11, or even past noon but occasionally I wake up ravenous. Hungry = eat. Not hungry = wait.

  22. I used to IF pretty frequently but found that as my stress level would go up, skipping breakfast (for me IF was compressed eating window) seemed to make me crankier. I’m back on breakfast–works better for me.

  23. I eat 4-6 raw eggs (depends on the schedule and how far away the next meal may be) in the morning with some heavy cream and cocoa (blend the whole works). This usually keeps me full for around 5 to 6 hours, longer if I am busy and don’t notice I am hungry. It is a lot to eat, but I am bigger than most Primals due to my powerlifting, and I do not eat a significant meal again until dinner. When I am done competing it will probably be a smaller meal.

    Cheers

  24. The article misses an important point: in the morning, your gallbladder is chock-full of concentrated bile awaiting to be released. For optimum digestive function and health, you will want to empty that gallbladder as quickly and as completely as possible. Of all the macronutrients, fat has the most effect on bile release/gallbladder emptying, therefore a high-fat (and, should I add, high-fiber) breakfast is in fact the most important meal of the day.

    Examples:
    3 softboiled eggs and a handful of sauerkraut
    An entire avocado with a dash of balsamic
    A tin of sardines mixed into a fresh salad
    etc.

  25. I’m wondering what the effects of skipping on the weekdays and having a delicious brunch on the weekends would be. Probably increased caloric intake, but it might be worth it for some amazing food!

    1. That’s what we do every weekend. Have a larger breakfast/brunch late morning and then dinner between 4-5pm. Since I work and have a long commute weekdays we eat 3 meals. But I don’t want to stand in the kitchen all weekend cooking meals so we have compressed them giving me time to play and relax.

  26. Growing up I hated breakfast. My mom was not a happy morning person, so we usually got a glass of Carnation Instant Breakfast, a cookie, and Flintstone vitamin. Once I was old enough to start making my own choices, I just skipped the whole thing. I might have a glass of milk or juice but that was it. I was usually nauseous in the morning anyway from not enough sleep and stress about school. Fast forward to now and after experimenting with all kinds of breakfast routines, I am currently eating around 1030 in the morning–usually a root veg hash and some meat, then around 3 pm I have a handful of nuts and a kombucha, and then dinner around 730 pm is usually fish or another dead animal, and green veggies. I find eating my carbs in the morning sets me up for good energy during the day, and allows me to skip lunch as long as I get a nice amount of protein in that first meal. I do drink 2-3 cups of black coffee during the day as well. My beverages are basically coffee, water, kombucha(homemade) and red wine. I don’t track my calories but I’d estimate I’m getting around 1300 a day. I know lots of ‘experts’ would say that’s too low, but it works for me.

  27. In the family I grew up in breakfast was huge and by far the largest meal of the day. But it was not “breakfast” food. It was like a big supper every morning. Then they went out and did physical labor all day. I think the kind of breakfast and what you do after it is important. More than half a century later my breakfast –four days a week — has nothing to do with “breakfast” food. The other three mornings I don’t eat breakfast because I am fasting AND exercising.

    1. Agreed. On the rare occasion I have breakfast it’s usually a salad that’s heavy on the meat, olives, and feta (mmmm…), or eggs. I’ve heard it said leftover steak from the night before is good, too, but what the hell is “leftover” and “steak” doing in the same sentence? 😉

      I’ve gotten very strange looks for having a salad or meat or a “dinner type” breakfast, yet it’s perfectly acceptable (socially) to have doughnuts, Rice Krispie bars, or Pop-Tarts.

  28. I’m more likely to eat a small breakfast, usually a green shake with protein powder and skip lunch, on my non training days anyway. On training days I usually have my green shake preworkout then a protein heavy breakfast about an hour after my workout. I’ve found if I don’t know my shake right away it changes my “regularity”

  29. Truthfully, the “IF vs. starvation mode” thing just damn well SLAYS me because if going without food for 16 hours puts me into that mode, I should have been dead and buried decades ago. To be honest I find the idea that skipping a meal because I’m just not hungry as a sure fire way for me to lose all muscle mass, and waste away and die one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever seen/heard.

    Fun times on social media had someone attempting to “educate” me about how not eating 4-6 meals per day was going to kill my metabolism and throw me into said starvation mode. Not to mention, *not* stuffing myself with 6-11 servings a day of grains was going to give me heart disease. Interestingly enough, this person had been fighting to lose a good 20-30 pounds for a long, long time via calorie counting, portion control, WW, and those stupid little Dannon light and fit containers of crap.

    On the subject of CW and grains, even if I ate grains as well as the next SAD eater…11 servings a DAY? Come on.

    1. Wow! Just looked up the food pyramid. It really is 6-11 servings of grain per day!! That’s 11 slices of bread. I was at about half that even before I went off wheat, and it left me feeling constantly bloated.

  30. Do what works best for YOU. Or my other truly favorite mantra:

    It’s more important what comes out of your mouth than what goes in it.

  31. Thanks for the reminder Mark, I need to eat a meal. I’ll call it breakfast … because I’ll be breaking my unintended fast. 🙂

  32. I think it comes down to 2 things, are you hungry, and do you have cortisol issues.

    Providing you have no cortisol issues, are you hungry? Forcing yourself to eat when not hungry I can’t imagine being very good as it’s going to cause some sort of stress. If your hungry at breakfast, eat, if your not, don’t eat.

    If you have cortisol issues and elevated cortisol, skipping breakfast will cause it to elevate further. Elevated cortisol is basically a recipe for your body to store fat. You will not burn fat if your hormones aren’t in check, meaning your body’s cortisol levels act normally throughout the day. I’ve read that it’s estimated that 85% of the population has cortisol issues.

    This is why it varies from person to person. One person is not like the next; and some of us do need to be eating in the morning to reclaim our cortisol sensitivity if you will.

  33. Breakfast is one of my favorite meals and I often wake up ready to eat. However, I prefer to exercise on an empty stomach and over the years have conditioned myself to not eat anything until after my workout (running). In the beginning I ate something light before the run and had snack food on standby to eat immediately following the run. I was pleasantly surprised how much energy and endurance I had running on an empty stomach.

  34. I’m someone who does best without breakfast. I follow a high-fat, high-protein, low-carb/sugar paleo-primal eating pattern…and, aside from my morning “bulletproof coffee,” only eat between lunch and dinner. No breakfast. No snacks.

    My body, mind, energy level, and metabolism thrive on this breakfast-less routine, snack-less (though really appreciate your thorough explanation of why it’s not for everyone).

    Thanks for this–will be very helpful to share with clients who are convinced skipping breakfast = “slowed metabolism.”

  35. Great read! I’ve always been one who can’t stomach the thought of eating food first thing in the morning. It makes me feel queezy. I’ve tried over the years, since I’ve heard my whole life about how unhealthy it is to skip breakfast, but I just can’t do it. I need to be out of bed for at least an hour or two before I can eat, but I’m generally good until noon or later.

    Now, since my career chance (moved into the trades after 10 years of desk work), I do bring a glass of milk, or some fruit to eat at break time (around 10am), but I’m still more than good on the days I don’t.

  36. I’m closing in on 20:4 myself, ala Edward J. Walsh’s book. It’s nice, I can relax and eat what I want in those four hours and not worry about it. If I ate too many simple carbs the day before, my hunger pangs today will be stronger. But, they don’t last more than 10 minutes either way.

  37. Lovely article, Mark.

    My eating habits have evolved over the years. But I’m in the “must eat something” in the mornings camp.

    My routine is thus:
    Get up, go walk for 1-2 miles.
    Come home, stretch, exercise, plank, yoga, push ups, pull ups, lunges, squats, etc.
    Shower, get ready for the day.

    Eat a smallish breakfast, between 300-400 calories. Currently is composed of full-fat yogurt with a spoonful of jam, pine nuts, coffee with cream and collagen.

    Lunch time – this is my biggest meal. Today was homemade spaghetti-type meat sauce over steamed broccoli with a bigass salad.

    Dinner time – a smaller meal. Tonight, left over chuck roast with carrots and potatoes.

    One of the nicer things about going full Primal is that I can eat less, but still feel full and satisfied!

  38. An interesting thought I just had. Could it be that breakfast people tend to think of breakfast skippers as being lazy, rather than simply listening to their natural biological rhythm? Kinda like how morning people often view themselves as superior to us night owls? Could this societal attitude be an influencing factor in the confirmation bias?

  39. As a recently married woman, I’ve found negotiating meal timing to be one of the biggest challenges! I typically eat my first meal of the day anytime between half an hour to two hours after waking, depending on how late my dinner had been the night before. My husband, on the other hand, usually doesn’t eat anything until lunch (sometimes at 3 or 4 pm), which means that we’re not hungry for dinner at the same times. I’m very supportive of each person listening to their own hunger cues, but the desire to share a meal together at the beginning or end of the day is still strong enough to pose something of a problem.

  40. Thank you for once again validating my behavior patterns, Mark! I never wake up hungry. At best, I will be hungry a few hours after getting up. Normally, I am not interested in food for at least 5 hours after rising.
    As a kid, my parents forced me to eat something for breakfast, and argued with me semi-daily. As an adult, roommates and husbands have all tried to get me to eat a breakfast. I hated constantly having to fight against this!
    I do not want to eat until I am hungry! Eating early in the day makes me sleepy and low-energy, and sometimes vaguely nauseous. And then, by lunchtime, I am hungry for lunch anyway.
    I have been relatively lightweight and active for all my adult life (I am 57, 5’5″, and 140 lbs now – about 10 lbs overweight, which I blame squarely on my desk job). I do not think skipping breakfast is anything but a normal pattern for my body. I have 2 daughters. One of them has always woken up ravenous first thing in the morning, the other, like me, is not interested in food until at least mid-morning. I don’t think this has made any difference in their tendency to gain or lose extra weight.
    All these generalizations about what is good for “everybody” are just generalizations; there will always be those that live on the ends of the bell curve. Thank you!

  41. Breakfast is my favorite meal and has the best foods. If I had my way I would have breakfast at every meal and I would pass a law that breakfast must be served all day at restaurants. I could probably skip dinner many days, but not breakfast.

  42. Isn’t it normal to quit breakfast or to have no breakfast first in the morning? our ancestors had no fridge thus they had to go searching for food and that could last a few hours….with the rhythm of the stone age humans I am perfectly fine…peak eating in the evening after ‘hunting’ and then go to sleep to digest…
    First when I adopted a ‘fitness’ life with their 4-6 meals a day, I became fat, always hungry, miserable and it cost a lot of time with meal prep….
    so, listen to your instincts, if you need breakfast eat, if you don’t, fast!

  43. I know everyone has their own one-off, self proof story, but my father never ate breakfast and he’s the healthiest 60+ year old I know. He’s actually (not really knowing) been eating primal pretty much his whole life. I started skipping breakfast a little while ago and surprisingly, feel fantastic. I actually find I have more energy and I perform even better when doing a CrossFit WOD or heavy lifting throughout the day. I also save money and time in the morning. Great post Mark. Cheers

  44. Definitely eat when you are hungry! I used to be really hungry one hour after waking when I ate high carb, and would have felt ill not having breakfast.

    Now I mostly skip it and only have a coffee, sometimes bulletproof, first thing, but if I’m hungry later I’ll have something. Like today, after an hour of yoga mid morning I felt a little shaky so I made myself a cocoa smoothie with whey, cashew, coconut milk, berries, green powder etc. to see me till lunch. Listening to your body is good.

  45. How can breakfast not be important? The question is, when do you eat breakfast? Do you eat it in the morning, middle of the day or in the evening? Whenever you eat it is breakfast.

    1. +1 Spot on. Breakfast is what it says (Break Fast). It’s the first meal of the day. Having it at noon doesn’t make it any less of a breakfast. So the premise of the article is flawed. Pretty much everyone thinks breakfast is super important. The question is when they eat it.

      I get up around 4am. Then drink some green tea and hit the waves around 4:30am. Surf for a couple hours. Then come home and usually finish off with planking, spinner bike, or pull ups. Then I eat. Usually it’s at least 7:30am by then (the time most people are getting up). Did I skip breakfast? No. Have I already been up for three and half hours? Yes. Is it my first meal? Yes. Then I’m obviously eating “breakfast”.

  46. I don’t really think of it as skipping breakfast. I think of it as eating when I’m hungry. Some days I have breakfast and some days I do not.

  47. Over the years breakfast was always hit or miss for me. The last three months I changed it up and have stuck with a plan of drinking some water and two cups of black coffee with Kerrygold butter. Seems to be an effective protocol. Am losing those last stubborn pounds lately. I know there is more to it than that!, but my energy level is fine, I feel great, I am not hungry, so I think it has been a worthwhile experiment.

  48. The Best Breakfast ever… (or Supper if you’re a Skipper)
    Or “How to eat your Fat and Veggies for breakfast”
    (otherwise known as Quiche):

    4 eggs
    1 1/2 cups milk (or a mix of whole milk, cream, and/or buttermilk if I have it)
    1 1/2 cups shredded cheese (swiss or sharp cheddar work great)
    1/4 tsp nutmeg
    1/2 tsp. salt
    1/2 bag frozen spinach (the chopped kind in the 10oz bags)
    1/2 medium onion

    Saute the spinach and onion (diced) in coconut oil until soft. Mix it all up and bake it 15 mins at 425F, then 30 minutes at 350F.
    For only about 290 calories you will be so full you won’t eat for hours. According to MFP it’s about 63% Fat, 20% Protein and 17% Carbs. Yum. You can reduce the carbs even further by just greasing the pie plate with Coconut Oil and cooking it with no crust at all. My compromise is to make one batch of pie crust (with my own milled Spelt), portion and freeze it in 5 little balls; and just use one for a Quiche (1/5 of a regular crust). Gives you just a taste of crust for only about 1-2 tsp of flour. Just mash it (after thawing) in the bottom only of the pan with your fingers (no rolling pin needed).

  49. As usual, one reason why I love looking to you and your blog, Mark, is because you give us good information, and then let us make our own decisions.

    I love the intuitive nature of the Primal Blueprint. That’s the thing that bugs me about so much “diet advice” we get these days – It’s as if only science can tell us what to do – forget our bodies. 😉

    I’m a woman. Sometimes, I wake up and am hungry. So I eat breakfast. Sometimes, I’m not that hungry, so I don’t. Most often, I’m eating my breakfast around 10AM.

    Thanks, as always for the good info.

  50. I think conventional wisdom dictates 3 meals per day. The typical Continental breakfast is grains and sugar, i.e. muffins with jam, fruit and scones, etc. In that case one is better off with nothing. Breakfast should be the the most nutrient dense, 100% primal meal of the the day because it establishes subsequent cravings and habits for the remaining meals. If I have a muffin with jam in the AM I want a sandwich for lunch and a pizza for dinner. If I have a hard cooked egg and half a grapefruit in the AM. I Can Have A BAS for lunch and a fist sized protein and double portion of vegetable for dinner. When skipping grains and sugar, and the last few meals were nutient dense and 100% primal, fasting is effortless and the three meal per day habit falls by the wayside.

  51. Interesting read as always. On a side note I was particularly struck by the sugar teaspoon Mark has with his morning coffee. Would be interesting to learn more about those elements that aren’t strictly primal but people integrate into their usual routine (i.e. not as an occassional treat).

  52. “If you’re the type who “never feels like breakfast,” keep skipping it. If it’s easy, don’t eat it. If you’re not hungry, don’t force yourself.

    If you’re the type who wakes up ravenous, eat! Don’t skip it just because you read a study somewhere.”

    My favorite bit of the whole post – Pay attention to what _your_ body tells you – not what a newsfeed, Doctor or Grandma says.

  53. Hey Mark

    I’m listen to your pod cast with Mark Divine. You’ve actually reviewed and put some technical terms around what’s I’ve recently experienced. I reconverted to a paleo diet. Lost 30 lbs since Jan 1. Easily ran a 1/2 marathon- while running at an 8:30-9 mile pace and didn’t hit a wall. I actually felt like the race was too easy.. Your ketosis comments were so spot on.

    I’m now hearing you talk about breakfast- and I’m still at such a high body fat that I don’t really have a need to eat in the mornings. I’ve started to work out on a cup of coffee and a banana early in the am and feel great energy wise.

    I’m still trying to drop weight and fat.. I think the super light breakfast may be the way to go.

    Thoughts? Great work! Thanks!

  54. I’m curious how many breakfast skippers out there are coffee drinkers?

    Whenever I quit coffee, I end up developing an appetite for breakfast after a few days. I’m thinking maybe my body is being deprived of needed nutrients when I have coffee instead. Also, my water intake goes up when I don’t have coffee–maybe it’s depressing the thirst mechanism?

    Mark, maybe we need to run an experiment with the group? Everyone grab your Grok combat gear before coffee disappears from your pantry.

    I write this, of course, with a cup of “my precious” sitting beside me. No breakfast for me today lol.

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  56. I personally have never been a breakfast eater, and honestly I like it that way. There have been phases in my life where I try to eat “healthy” by adding breakfast into my life and every single time I have gained fat. I finally came to the conclusion, that despised eveything else I have read, breakfast does no good for me. Besides, I hate waking up and forcing eggs down my throat when I won’t even be hungry till 11 or 12.

  57. I’d like to hear more about breakfast for children. You address this to some degree, but all the confounders you describe for adults work for kids too. I’ve always preferred breaking my fast at least 3-6 hours after I wake. I can eat breakfast when I’m traveling or for a special occasion, as long as it’s been at least an hour since waking. I’m currently reading up on IF and time compression eating for myself.

    Then there’s my daughter, who is 11. She’d nurse first thing in the morning until age 4 but, after that, had no interest in breakfast (never ate solids soon after waking). Like me, she can eat early if traveling or now and then at home, but her preference really is to wait 2-3 hours after waking. She also gets car sick if she eats just beforehand, even for the very short ride to school (on long trips she can eat after a couple hours).

    New doctor and yes he scolded her (and her parents) for skipping breakfast, insisting that she at least grab something she can eat when she arrives at school. We’ve offered to make that happen (and she tried getting breakfast at school a couple years ago, on her own volition), but she just isn’t interested.

    My view is I’m not going to force her to eat or not to eat. Food is available and we eat dinner together as a family. Except for a few things like no claiming you’re starving just as we announce bedtime, and no snack 20 minutes before dinner, we let her decide what and when to eat (among the healthy foods on offer).

    So she’s not going to be part of any IF I try and I will never tell her she can’t eat breakfast. She’s an average weight for her height, is generally healthy, gets great grades, and does a sport 5-6 days a week.

    BUT, can I get some ammo from folks about her being okay with skipping breakfast when she chooses to? (which is 99% of the time) I don’t have an issue standing up to doctors and teachers, etc, but would love some references and such. I appreciate the stories from those of you who, like me, skipped breakfast as a child by choice.

  58. Mark, have you seen the recent study in Journal of the American College of Cardiology about skipping breakfast being linked to atherosclerosis? What are your thoughts

  59. Read dr. jason fung’s book on fasting to get a ton of useful information on fasting/eating for blood sugar regulation. The best time of day to eat your largest meal of the day isn’t breakfast or dinner. It’s lunchtime.

  60. I’ve been skipping breakfast on and off for years. On a weekend I’ll have brunch about 11 and skip lunch. On a weekday I skip breakfast just grab a cofffee and go. I’ll eat at 12 then again at 7. I don’t snack in between. I feel great!

  61. Breakfast can also be said the base of the whole day eating diet. Breakfast gives you full of energy to perform your daily works so easily and if you skip then you may feel exhausted or less energetic. If you are taking a healthy and nutritious breakfast in the morning then it makes your day awesome.