Diet Myths Debunked: Eating Breakfast Won't Necessarily Keep You Thin

We have all heard that weighing yourself once a day helps control weight, that you can lose 20kg in five years by walking a mile a day, or that people who eat breakfast are thinner. But as the New York Times points out, most of the popular weight loss theories don't actually have a lot of research behind them.

Picture: Paul H/Flickr

For example, take the idea that people who eat breakfast are thinner. It turns out a solid study hasn't actually been done on this idea:

It is commonly thought, for example, that people who eat breakfast are thinner. But that notion is based on studies of people who happened to eat breakfast. Researchers then asked if they were fatter or thinner than people who happened not to eat breakfast — and found an association between eating breakfast and being thinner. But such studies can be misleading because the two groups might be different in other ways that cause the breakfast eaters to be thinner. But no one has randomly assigned people to eat breakfast or not, which could cinch the argument.

However, he idea still makes sense, which is exactly why it gets spread:

As he delved into the obesity literature, Dr. Allison began to ask himself why some myths and misconceptions are so commonplace. Often, he decided, the beliefs reflected a "reasonableness bias." The advice sounds so reasonable it must be true. For example, the idea that people do the best on weight-loss programs if they set reasonable goals sounds so sensible.

The truth is that there is little evidence to actually prove which method is the best when it comes to losing weight. The myths debunked by the researchers include:

  • That small changes in energy intake or expenditure produce large, long term changes (it doesn't).
  • Rapid weight loss is associated with poor long-term weight loss outcomes (people can in fact successfully lose weight quickly and keep it off).
  • Setting realistic goals for weight loss is important because otherwise people get frustrated and lose less weight (realistic goals are often too modest).

Of course, many of these myths aren't exactly debunked, they are just unproven and don't have the research to back them up. Few weight loss studies have a solid, randomised group of participants in a controlled experiment. For now, it's probably best to stick to the weight loss techniques science has proven to actually work.

Myths of Weight Loss Are Plentiful, Researcher Says [New York Times]


Comments

    Breakfast doesn't help you lose weight, it gives you energy and helps to stop you from snacking on crap until lunch. It also helps to stop you over eating at lunch. Common sense really.

      "â– Rapid weight loss is associated with poor long-term weight loss outcomes (people can successfully lose weight quickly and keep it off)."
      This may need an editor.

      Timmahh, I suppose the question is whether that is a behaviour generally exhibited by those who eat a full breakfast, or if it is purely a function of satiety and metabolism that mostly anyone could benefit from without making other lifestyle changes.

      Not for me it doesn't. I find that eating early in the day sets me up for a day long binge.

        Which is because your breakfast started your metabolism! If you continued to eat the RIGHT foods every 3 hours in sensible portion sizes for the rest of the day you would have a lot better chance at sustainably losing weight. (ie, binging on crap is not going to help though)

          Really? You're going to go ahead and sprout that old chestnut?

          What, do you think your metabolism just shuts down when you're asleep? I'm pretty sure your body keeps working, your heart keeps pumping blood, your lungs keep filtering oxygen. Your metabolism doesn't need a "kick start".

            Yes, your body does all those things whilst asleep, but your metabolism still slows down considerably during sleep, and food intake DOES raise ones metabolism due to the energy it takes to digest it.

            If you're going to try and call me out for being wrong, check your facts first.

      I'm too lazy to eat breakfast. I just have lunch. Never had any weight issues, always been gifted with an above average metabolism which allows me to eat anything and not put on weight. I don't go below my normal weight of 62kg but I find it hard to gain weight even when having 4+ meals a day plus protein shakes plus working out. It's all individual chemistry and people who want to lose weight should visit a PT and dietitian.

    This article is pretty silly. Who even said that eating breakfast will make you skinnier? It is known that eating breakfast will make sure your metabolism starts going faster after sleep and having not eaten for 8 or 10 hours.

    Also this comment "Rapid weight loss is associated with poor long-term weight loss outcomes (people can successfully lose weight quickly and keep it off)." is a little misleading. Of course people who lose weight fast can keep it off. But the argument against that comes down to the drastic change people have to make in their lives to make huge, fast weight loss happen are very hard to sustain. The logic there being that if you restricted your diet very heavily and did a huge amount of exercise unless you are extremely vigilant when trying to come to a plateau of your weight loss and just maintain what you have achieved, it's easy to start to overeat again or stop doing enough exercise because you think it was just a temporary fix and not the long term lifestyle change that should accompany long term sustainable weight loss.

      And don't get me started on weighing yourself every day, no one who knows anything about weight loss would say that! We can very easily fluctuate a kilo a day up or down depending on many factors.

        I don't bother with regular weighing. I just go by my wardrobe; if my clothes are getting loose, then I've lost weight.

    Re breakfast and weight loss, my personal trainer has told me that when you regularly skip breakfast the body goes into "starvation mode" (her words, not mine) and stops burning existing fat in an effort to conserve energy. I don't know how much truth there is to that, so do what you want. Personally I find that if I don't eat breakfast I'm hungry all morning and thus I'm more likely to snack on junk or over-eat at lunch time, so naturally I'm more likely to put weight on and less likely to lose any. Just go for whatever is best for yourself and your individual situation.

    Oh, also, I've been told something else about breakfast literally meaning that you're "breaking a fast" or some such. I don't remember much more than that, other than being told that it's apparently important to eat breakfast as early as possible or something...

    Rapid weight loss is usually due to severe caloric restriction, which is then linked with the development of disordered eating patterns (especially binge eating). This could means that it's harder to keep the weight off if you lose it quickly because your brain starts working against you.

    I do remember reading a study somewhere that showed a decrease in metabolic rate within 48 hours of a drastic reduction in caloric intake. While I don't necessarily believe in 'starvation mode' as such, I do believe that the human body is very good at maintaining homeostasis and so a reduction in metabolic rate seems a realistic response to a reduced energy intake.

    Interesting stuff.

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