Eating Breakfast Causes Weight Loss: Worst Research Ever

When you live in San Francisco, there’s a whole list of upscale shit you’re supposed to do, provided you’re looking to fit in. It goes without saying that you can never vote Republican, it’s obligatory to blow half your paycheck on kombucha and organic quinoa at Whole Foods, and if you’re driving—especially in the de rigueur late-model European luxury SUV that hauls you to all the Bay Area’s rallies, protests, and vigils—you’d better be listening to NPR.

NPR isn’t bad, per se, and it’s occasionally very interesting—but, as with everything else shiny, happy bullshit yuppie fitness-science entails, they’re all-too-often way off the mark when it comes to their information, especially in the realm of nutrition.

Tuesday, to accompany their Morning Edition podcast, the NPR website published an article entitled, “To Maximize Weight Loss, Eat Early in The Day, Not Late.” In this piece, the author cites a Spanish study from the International Journal of Obesity stating that subjects who ate their main meal of the day before 3 PM lost significantly more weight than people eating later in the day—with calories consumed in both groups being roughly equal.

fistmonitorNote that it’s taken me two days to formulate a response. There are three reasons for this delay. First, I put my fist through my monitor. Next, this article forced me to sprint to the toilet for an involuntary-yet-rather-pleasant bowel movement. Finally, I tracked down this study, purchased it, and read it from start to finish several times—enough to know that it’s absolutely, without question, the worst study I’ve seen so far this year, and then some.

Back in July 2010, I wrote an article for EliteFTS entitled, “Logic Does Not Apply Part 2: Breakfast.” In it, I stated the following:

“Every day the body starts as a fat-burning furnace. Even during exercise, without eating breakfast, the body burns far higher levels of fat than normal and causes upregulation of the enzymes necessary to burn fat, allowing fat to be metabolized faster.

Now contrast (this) with what happens as soon as you eat breakfast, one that contains around 30 grams or more of carbs. As is well known, insulin levels raise with the rise in blood sugar, kick-starting a downward spiral: the early-morning release of insulin reduces fat burning for the entire rest of the day; while cortisol levels remain high, the insulin release causes new empty fat cells to be created; and the insulin lowers levels of ghrelin and growth hormone.

From the facts above—this is not what I think happens, this is what happens — one would come to the conclusion that maybe we should hold breakfast off for a bit when we get up, at least until cortisol levels return to normal and growth hormone levels fall naturally, which takes a few hours. Skipping breakfast looks like a way to lose body fat faster, or at least to keep it off.”

This is how everything works. To back this information up, I provided the following evidence:

“So what happened when researchers studied two groups, one that ate most of their calories in the beginning of the day, to simulate the no-eating-after-seven routine, and the other that skipped breakfast and ate most of their meals in the latter half of the day? Damned if I shouldn’t be embarrassed: the group that ate most of their calories early in the day, including a big breakfast, lost more weight than the other group.”

Wait, what? What the fuck? I know exactly what you’re thinking—that the whole point of this piece was to call bullshit on this NPR article and the study that inspired it. Don’t worry, you’re covered. It is a total crock of shit, and here’s why:

The results of the Spanish study are exactly in line with the studies I presented in the EliteFTS article, but what the authors of the Spanish study aren’t telling you—nowhere in their study is this discussed, for reasons I’ll address in a moment—is that their morning group lost weight because they lost significantly more muscle. This study tests body fat at the very beginning, but conveniently never mentions again, referring only to weight.

The people eating at night? They may not have lost as much weight, but they sure as hell lost more fat. Here’s how I addressed that for EliteFTS readers:

fatmuscle

Which did they lose?

“Hold on: there’s more to this story. The researchers also looked at body composition before and after. The morning group lost more weight but lost a lot more muscle and a lot less fat. The night group lost almost exclusively fat and preserved muscle. Who knew, maybe there is something to this science stuff after all?”

The bottom line here? You can’t talk about weight loss and not address changes in body composition—and you especially can’t publish a study on it in a scientific journal without revealing precisely what kind of weight was lost.

The authors of this study appear to have had an agenda upon publication. They wrote specifically to promote the breakfast myth, but in order to push this myth forward, they needed to skew the results of their study. They did so by omitting the only information most people would find important in the first place—even if they’re articulating it incorrectly by referring to “fat loss,” which is precisely what everyone wants, as “weight loss,” which is a nebulous term that’s indifferent as to whether or not you’ll look better, feel better, or improve your health.

Smells like bullshit to me, but what else is new?

 

  • CheifJerk

    I heard it live as it was on the radio. I was yelling bullshit the whole time.

  • brawndo

    Thanks a lot kiefer, Going on vacation, I am going to get so many dirty looks for not eating my wifes mothers breakfast pastries that she “baked just for our visit” Ha

  • Robert Johnson

    Excellent read!

  • http://twitter.com/marc_david Marc David

    I see nothing wrong with skewing results to get at the conclusion you want. Isn’t that how it’s done everywhere? (government reports, gun control, quarterly results). A little omission never hurt anybody. You seriously need to get a haircut. //On a serious note, great write up! What I like most about this post is taking said study and making mention of the omission. To this day, people still talk about weight loss without any reference to body composition.

  • http://www.facebook.com/adam.duggan.9 Adam Duggan

    One of your best articles so far…really enjoyed it

  • Brandon Christ

    Good article!

    I do not necessarily think there was an agenda though because the general population does not care about muscle mass. All the average person cares about is what their dress size is and what their weight is (the lower the better their opinion).

    I think most people don’t care to look muscular, especially middle aged and elderly people. Also nobody is aware that being muscular IS healthy. I think that would be a good blog post: reason why being muscular is healthy.

    • http://twitter.com/dgibson Doug Gibson

      rather than ‘why being muscular is healthy” I’d go with the effects of loss of muscle mass from such diets (bone density and other side effects). Just the word “muscular” is a turnoff to the general population. “I think most people don’t care to look muscular” is right, but what is often in order for health reasons is to increase lean muscle mass through resistance training, not cardio or other exercise – even in older populations. “Muscular” implies an end-state. Increase or decrease lean muscle mass is relative to anyone’s current state.

  • Jack

    great article. I would love to read the original study. What’s the web site? Thanks

  • Jack

    Got the original study! Thanks!

  • Brett

    Hi Kiefer in your articles on intermittent fasting you said that you shouldn’t fast for longer than 12 – 14 hours, so if I have dinner at 8pm then eat the next morning at 8am, then should that be considered breakfast? I was just hoping to clarify what to do here

  • Mike

    I read that article last week and yawned when I saw that after 5 months on a 1400 calorie diet morning eaters lost 22lbs to night eaters 17lbs. Its low calorie BS and they barely lost any weight in 5 months! 5lbs average difference between two groups of dieters is far from any scientific evidence and no reason to write an article on it. NPR does better at actual news, stay away from the powder puff piece articles.

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  • charlie J

    where is the work he’s done with diabetics? I am a pre-diabetic, and obviously interested in putting a solid way to eat that reverses this characteristic. The exercise part I’ve got down. Its the implications of eating high glycemic carbs at the end of the day or in times other than after training..

    • Charlie J

      Yes I know my remarks here are not directed at the article, I have no criticism of that. I am only interested in Kiefer’s new turn or so I believe its a new turn to helping those with diabetes or pre-diabetes. And yes I like many others wants to put on more muscle and close fat, but while not having my pre-diabetes condition become diabetes. It is a horrible disease. Love to have Kiefer shad some light my way.

      • http://www.facebook.com/evan.peterson113 Evan Peterson

        You would be interested in Episode 30 of BioJacked with Rocky Patel… LOTS of great info regarding diabetes

  • Will Werner

    Nice man. Nice.

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  • http://twitter.com/mistressminna Matina Vourgourakis

    Thank you, thank you! I don’t like to eat right away in the morning and I didn’t like the “you have to eat breakfast” crowd. Now I feel justified!

  • Kirby

    Hello,
    New to all of this and and when I told my wife I’ll be skipping breakfast I received a scolding. But I am a big boy and will go without anyways. I do my WO everyday in the early AM can I still do a protein shake after my workout?

  • Ashley RD

    Yes good read, and yes people can wait a little while before they eat breakfast in the morning, (some people just aren’t very hungry right away), but I believe you also left out some very important information about metabolism. I am a registered dietitian and I know that some important factors are left out…including the fact that your liver is the organ that controls your glucose while you are sleeping and it takes energy (food) to tell you liver, “Hay! you don’t have to work any longer, my metabolism has got this!” Therefore jump starting your metabolism! I agree, a breakfast shouldn’t be loaded with only carbohydrates. Instead, a breakfast made to spare protein would be about 25-30g of protein, 10-20g fat, about 10-15g of carbs (depending on the persons kcal intake.) But a breakfast like this is a great way to start your day, get your metabolism rolling, supply energy to the body and gear it for fat burning during the day.

    – Ashley Bixel RD, LD

  • CC

    Enjoyed the San Francisco comments (born and raised). Many confused people there with misinformation about multiple things, although it is still one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I went to see a comedy show one night and Jon Levitz (the SNL guy) who was making fun of conservatives and asked if there were any in the room-I was the only one who raised my hand. I think that is one of the reasons my date (now husband) married me. I digress-love all this info. All of the bad dietary advice out there led me to massive despair, never understanding why I had to eat a diet of 75% vegetables to maintain my weight. I am enlightened as your research explains what I’ve been doing wrong my whole adult life

  • chris
  • Mária Galambos-Gráf

    Oh and another such “revealing” bullshit study again…I haven’t purchased the study, but I guess the same omission happens. No mention of BF % was given that day 😀 Only BMI, waist circumference and blood work data.. lol.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23512957

  • Amanda hugginkiss

    You didn’t mention any other good information about “breakfast” and nutritionally sound breakfast choices to make for those who need breakfast in their diet. Advice is to eat high protein in AM and pig out on carbs PM for most effective weight maintenance.

  • Guest

    You state insulin causes the creation of new fat cells. I’ve been under the impression that new fat cells cannot be created past childhood but that the existing cells’ size can be increased as more fat is deposited. Is this information incorrect?

  • Skip

    Keifer,

    In chapter 14 of Carb Back Loading you stated “When kids skip breakfast and have their first meal at lunch they pay attention, behave, and perform better throughout the entire school day18,19.” You have referenced 15 studies supporting this statement. All of the studies conclude the opposite or lean towards the opposite of your statement. I checked the references after my 7th grade twin daughters told me that I was wrong when I repeated what I had read in your book. Is there something that I am missing in the 15 studies that you referenced?

  • Britain

    I take adderall, armour thyroid and drink warm lemon water (about a tbsp or more of lemon juice in it) in the morning before I exercise. Will consuming any of these things disrupt the benefits of skipping breakfast? I am a female and I want to lose more fat

  • sue

    Ugh, SF NPR, Rose Aguilar drives me nuts.

  • Nicole

    Great article. I skip breakfast, strength train on an empty stomach, low to no carbs throughout the day and eat my carbs (usually rice) late at night. I’m an extremely lean fitness/bikini competitor (and personal trainer of 11 years) that does ZERO steady state cardio, not even before a show. No running, no paleo! Just thought i’d give you some back up :-) keep up the great work, some good reads on here!

  • Paco Navarro