Is Skipping Breakfast Bad For You?

Get Nutrition Diva’s rules for breaking the breakfast rules.

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #82

We’ve all heard that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and that skipping breakfast is a no-no.  But many of you have written asking how late you can eat and still count the meal as breakfast. And several of you seized on my episode about going longer between meals as a potential excuse to skip breakfast. Obviously, a lot of you are desperate for a loophole here. So this week, I’m going to explain the right way to skip breakfast.

Is Skipping Breakfast Bad?

Today’s episode is rated ND-17, because it applies to adults only. There’s a raft of studies showing that kids who eat breakfast do better in school. Not surprisingly, missing breakfast has the biggest impact on cognitive function in kids whose overall nutritional status is (or once was) poor. And, incidentally, the better the breakfast, the better the results.  I’ve got a link at the end of the article to more information on how to send your kids off ready to learn.

Many adults also feel better when they eat breakfast. And if that’s you, by all means, eat something good for me in the morning! But some of you tell me you’re just not hungry in the morning and you’d be just fine without breakfast, thank you very much, if the nutrition police didn’t insist that you choke something down. What’s the evidence showing that adults need to eat breakfast?

Is Eating Breakfast Important?

Studies on college students suggests that in adults, skipping breakfast doesn’t have a big impact on things like concentration, alertness, or other areas of cognitive performance. There was one exception: The studies showed adults who skip breakfast do not perform as well on memory tests. So, if your morning is going to involve some short-term memory tasks, like getting everyone’s Starbuck’s order right, you might be better off having a little breakfast.

The other big reason we are always given in support of breakfast is that people who skip breakfast are more likely to be overweight.  Now, why would skipping breakfast make you fat? Shouldn’t skipping meals actually lead to weight loss? 

Does Skipping Breakfast Make You Fat?

If you find yourself over-eating later in the day, it’s an indication that you may have delayed your first meal too long.

There are two common explanations for why breakfast skippers are more likely to be overweight. The first is that skipping breakfast slows the metabolism.  As I explained in episode #31, Metabolism Myths, this is simply not true. 

The second argument is that people who skip breakfast end up getting overly hungry and making poor choices later in the day. They either overcompensate by eating too much at lunch, or they grab whatever is around when hunger hits and end up eating junk food instead of a more nutritious breakfast. That explanation I could buy.  But there’s nothing that says skipping breakfast must inevitably lead to overeating or unhealthy food choices.  That’s the beauty of being grown-ups: We do have some control over these things.

How to Skip Breakfast Properly

I’ll let you off the hook on eating breakfast first thing in the morning on two conditions.

  1. No junk food for breakfast.  One problem with breakfast skippers is that the first meal of the day ends up being catch as catch can: Instead of scrambled eggs, or yogurt and fruit, or a bowl of oatmeal, you end up eating a donut or two at the staff meeting, something out of the office vending machine, or a quick meal from the closest drive thru. Because your day is already underway, your ability to make healthy choices may be limited.  That is no excuse.  You don’t have to eat breakfast at the crack of dawn but you do need to have a plan for a healthy meal.

  2. Don’t allow yourself to get over-hungry. Even if you’re not hungry first thing in the morning, chances are that you will start to feel hungry by mid-morning.  Whenever that point comes, you must take a break and eat a nutritious meal. If you have a schedule or a job that isn’t flexible enough to allow that, then you’re not a good candidate for breakfast skipping.  If you find yourself over-eating later in the day—or eating foods that you know you shouldn’t, it’s an indication that you may have delayed your first meal too long.

Hunger, by the way, can announce itself in a number of ways. You may or may not experience the sensation of having an “empty stomach.”  If you are feeling head-achey, sleepy, or unfocused and it’s been more than four hours since your last meal, it may be that you are hungry.  Masking these symptoms with caffeine is not an acceptable substitute for a nutritious meal.

Delaying Breakfast Might Be the Answer

As long as you’re willing to abide by these ground rules, you have my permission to skip breakfast.  Well, really, you’re not really skipping breakfast, just delaying it. And these guidelines help ensure that you don’t compromise your health, your nutrition, your well-being, or your waistline in the process.

If your total intake over the course of the day is balanced, nutritious, and allows you to maintain a healthy weight, I’m prepared to be flexible about when you eat the first meal of the day.  

Of course, I should remind everyone that my comments are for your information but are not intended as medical advice. Because everyone is different, you should work with your medical professional to determine what's best for you!

Keep in Touch

If you have a suggestion for a future show topic or would like to find out about having me speak at your conference or event, send an email to nutrition@quickanddirtytips.com or leave me a voice mail at 206-203-1438.  I answer a lot of listener questions in my free weekly newsletter, so if you’ve sent a question my way, be sure you’re signed up to receive that.

Have a great week and remember to eat something good for me!


Breakfasts that Help Kids Learn

Effect of Eating Breakfast on Body Weight

Effect of Breakfast Type on Body Weight

Relationship Between Breakfast and School Performance

About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.