Many ancestrally-minded experts advocate against skipping breakfast. Traditional societies always took care to eat well in the morning, except during fasting or seasonal cleansing. I’ve taken a bit of heat for this position, particularly from those that love their butter coffee instead of a meal or those trying to lose weight by intermittent fasting.
While not eating in the morning might have some short term benefits for some people, it also carries longer-term health consequences that aren’t discussed much. Here’s what science has to say on the subject.
Coffee Instead of Breakfast. A Really Bad Idea
Choosing to skip breakfast does a number on your body’s ability to produce the neurotransmitter serotonin. This important substance is derived from the amino acid tryptophan.
Tryptophan, like all the amino acids, comes from the protein we eat. The best sources are meat and eggs from pastured animals. Some of the best plant sources are wheat, walnuts, and sea vegetables, although they contain a fraction of the amount in animal foods.
Once the digestive tract converts the tryptophan, the serotonin makes us feel happy, calm and self-confident even under stress.
Proper serotonin production throughout the day is important for a restful night’s sleep. The body converts serotonin into melatonin at dusk.
When you don’t eat a breakfast that contains 20-30 grams of tryptophan-containing protein (NOT collagen or protein powder), your body isn’t able to make adequate serotonin throughout the day. While eating protein-rich meals later definitely helps, you will still be playing catch up. (1)
At the end of the day, if you didn’t produce enough serotonin, you probably won’t sleep as deeply as you should. Ironically, this can ultimately contribute to weight gain, which is the opposite of what many breakfast skippers are trying to achieve!
In sum, if you love your morning coffee, there is no reason not to still have it … just eat breakfast first.
Intermittent Fasting. Skipping Dinner is Smarter
If you are a fan of intermittent fasting to lose weight, that is certainly fine. There’s some good science to back up the practice.
What you might not know is that scientists have found that those that fast by skipping dinner have better results than those that fast by skipping breakfast.
In short, the time window you choose to fast really matters.
Those who eat in the morning and afternoon and skip eating later have far healthier blood lipid profiles and better blood sugar control than those who skip breakfast and eat late in the day.
In addition, breakfast eaters tend to consume more nutrients overall than those who miss. (2)
Missing Breakfast Increases Risk of Death
In April 2019, the peer-reviewed Journal of the American College of Cardiology published a study that examined the relationship between skipping breakfast, the development of heart disease, and all-cause mortality.
Among 6550 study participants (48.2% male), the mean age was 53.2 years. The study used both surveys and death records to demonstrate that people who skipped breakfast were 87 percent more likely to have died of cardiovascular disease than those who ate in the morning. (3)
This strong association remained even after adjustment for age, sex, race/ethnicity, socioeconomic status, dietary and lifestyle factors, body mass index, and even cardiovascular risk factors!
Another study published in the peer-reviewed European Journal of Preventative Cardiology found that patients who had experienced a heart attack were between 4 and 5 times as likely to die during recovery if they ate late-night dinners and then skipped breakfast. (4)
It’s Not Ok to Skip Breakfast
The bottom line is that missing breakfast may help lose some weight in the short term, but it may sacrifice your overall health.
If you need to ditch a few pounds, it’s best to skip dinner instead. Love your bulletproof morning Joe? No worries. Just drink it with or after breakfast.
(1) The Mood Cure
(2) Many intermittent fasters skip breakfast. Here’s why that’s not a good idea
(3) Association of Skipping Breakfast With Cardiovascular and All-Cause Mortality
(4) Skipping breakfast concomitant with late-night dinner eating is associated with worse outcomes following ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction
I guess I would say, as a long time faster, that the benefits of fasting far outweigh the time a person chooses to eat or fast.
Breakfast literally means when you break your fast. For those of us who do IF, we play around with what works. For many, skipping an evening meal makes sleeping very difficult. Within 2 months of doing IF my hormones were completely balanced, with many more benefits beyond weight loss. I think it’s important to look at the many cultures and religions that have used fasting throughout history. And frankly, if you’re looking for articles or research telling you when not to fast, or that you’re doing it wrong, you’re bound to find it.
Sarah Pope MGA
Hey … do what you like! I’m just presenting here some very compelling evidence in my view that skipping breakfast does more harm than good in the long run!
I am a teacher. I wake at 5, get ready and eat breakfast around 7. This year my scheduled lunch starts at 10:37 and ends at 11:07. I find that I am not hungry for lunch if I eat breakfast. However, the stretch from lunch to dinner is quite a few hours and I am ravenous. I find myself skipping breakfast due to this new schedule. Any suggestions?
Are the ‘breakfast skippers’ in the study washing down 2,000kcal dinners with 1,500kcal adult beverages and then just saying “meh, who needs food” at 8a.m?
Eat to maintain prime body integrity. Ones body indicates what’s appropriate, so be attuned, be mindful. Our bodies give us indicators, both with what’s good for us, and what’s not, both in food type, quantity, time of eating, and frequency of eating. The indicators our bodies give is both how we feel, skin-integrity-indications, bone-integrity-indications, dental-integrity-indications, lymph system integrity indications,…… being in prime condition is about the integrity of your body system,…. and managing the integrity well,… managing your body, what and how much you consume, how you live,…. in order to maintain best integrity,….. if you’ve got the option to do so, and you enjoy doing so.
I’m not a big breakfast eater and most times skip it, but have a cup of coffee. Not to loose weight, but I’m just not hungry and food does not sound good until I’ve been up for a couple of hours and I usually end up eating brunch mid to late morning. Is it still best to eat a breakfast even though the morning time I’m just not hungry? I get what you are saying, but what about listening to my body?
Sarah Pope MGA
I find that I’m not hungry for breakfast when I’m chronically stressed. During those times, I make small, yogurt or kefir smoothies which are very easy to get down in the morning. If I skip breakfast during those high stress times, it can compound the problem as my sleep worsens, then my hormones get out of whack, then it’s harder to unwind later.
Is there anything wrong with having a couple of cups of coffee before breakfast?
Sarah Pope MGA
The problem with drinking coffee before breakfast is that coffee is a strong appetite suppressant and you are more likely to end up skipping eating entirely or, if you do eat something after the coffee, not getting enough protein or waiting too long to eat to produce adequate serotonin for the day. You really need to eat right away when you get up. I would suggest within an hour or so at most. If you like your coffee right away … just eat at the same time 🙂 Don’t give that coffee time to suppress your appetite.
I guess the proof is in the pudding. When playing around with my intermittent fasting window, I tried first to skip dinner and had a horrible time sleeping through the night. With a window from 1pm-6pm, I sleep great, feel great and am losing weight. But there are still days when I call it quits on eating a little too early and I pay for it with a lousy night of sleep. How can this be one-size-fits-all advice?
I would say this is a bit misinformed. Intermittent fasting just means you are eating breakfast lunch and dinner within a certain eating window. I like to eat breakfast at 10 a.m., lunch at 1 p.m., and dinner at 4 p.m.
You break a fast if you ingest any calories.
So this is just an article about people who are only drinking coffee for breakfast, and that’s not a good idea.
The point is to hit your calories and macronutrients within a certain eating window.
Yes Cassidy. I totally agree with you.
So to confirm, eggs for example would be a great breakfast but not necessary to have any grain carbs. Would you agree that starchy carbs are best consumed latest in the day. What are your thoughts on carb cycling for fat loss?
Sarah Pope MGA
Eggs are great for breakfast! I’m not one to demonize grain based carbs. There is no denying that many traditional cultures ate them and were vibrantly healthy. Demonizing a macronutrient is short-sighted and backfires on most people after a few years from what I’ve observed. Carbs (properly prepared and unrefined of course) are fine for many people and I eat them myself. I actually don’t do that well with grains at dinner. I do eat them for an evening meal, but not regularly. I do best on carbs earlier in the day either breakfast or lunch. People are different … if you do better with carbs later then that’s great. I just wouldn’t be eliminating them from your diet completely. An unbalanced approach rarely works long term.