Breakfast is often touted to be the most important meal of the day. Your mother may have told you that, but if you’re like many people, you skip it anyway. Recent research now backs up your mother’s advice. The conclusion of researchers at the University of Missouri who studied the topic is that people who eat a balanced breakfast, especially one high in protein, experience less hunger throughout the day.

The dieters in our cognitive behavioral program for weight loss and maintenance often come in skipping breakfast. They say they don’t have time; they aren’t hungry in the morning; they would rather save their calories for later in the day. First we provide them with psychoeducation about the importance of eating breakfast. Second, we do problem-solving to help them find the time. Third, we help them respond to sabotaging thoughts that are likely to get in the way of their adopting this new habit.

When dieters say they don’t have enough time in the morning, we discuss which a.m. tasks they can omit, postpone, do the night before, delegate to other people, or spend less time on (at least temporarily, until breakfast becomes an easy routine).  Sabotaging thoughts often get in the way:

  • I don’t want to get up earlier.
  • I can’t leave dishes (even rinsed ones) in the sink.
  • My (adolescent) kids won’t like it if I ask them to make their own lunches.
  • I’d rather pick out my clothes in the morning.
  • I can’t ask my husband to help out with the kids.

We help them create written responses to these kinds of thoughts that remind them that it’s unrealistic to believe that continuing to skip breakfast will lead to success—after all, it hasn’t in the past. There may, in fact, be a physiological reason why people who struggle to lose weight tend to eat too much later on in the day. And the changes they make to free  up time for breakfast will soon become second nature.

When dieters say they aren’t hungry in the morning, we try to find out what times during the day they are hungry, and what their eating patterns are like.  They often have the sabotaging thought:

  • I’m not hungry in the morning and I’d rather save my calories for later in the day.

Upon questioning, we invariably find that these dieters consume most of their calories in the evening, often eating right up until they go to bed. No wonder they’re not hungry in the morning. But according to research (and our own clinical experience) skipping breakfast may indeed lead to less control over eating later on. We ask them to do an experiment for at least a couple of weeks: eat a protein-rich breakfast and then monitor their day and evening eating. Almost everyone ends up with the same conclusion: eating (a balanced) breakfast really helps them eat more reasonably for the rest of the day. It turns out Mom was right after all.

Leidy, H. J., Lepping, R. J., Savage, C. R., & Harris, C. T. (5 May 2011).  Neural Responses to Visual Food Stimuli After a Normal vs. Higher Protein Breakfast in Breakfast-Skipping Teens: A Pilot fMRI Study. Obesity Journal, (1-7). doi:10.1038/oby.2011.108