Is it better to eat a big breakfast or lunch?

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breakfast or lunch

There is a case being built around the theory that having our largest meal early in the day (e.g. breakfast) may help curb long-term weight gain.

Of course this is just a piece of the “weight-gain prevention” puzzle, but a recent study finds it may be an important piece.

The idea is that by eating most of your calories earlier on in the day, you can a) decrease hunger throughout the day b) reduce total daily intake c) improve overall diet quality (if you choose wholesome breakfast foods of course). 

There is also the theory that by eating earlier in the day and stopping well before you go to bed, allows for a longer overnight fast, which may help your body rely on your stored energy — fat and carbohydrates (glycogen).

A 2017 study suggests eating breakfast and lunch 5-6 hours apart whether it be at home or at your favourite breakfast or lunch cafe, and making your overnight fast around 18-19 hours, can lead to less long-term weight gain.¹ Meaning if you are someone who has gradually put on weight each year and/or has lost weight but isn’t sure how to keep it off, a wholesome breakfast, paired with eating less as your day goes on, may be an important factor and something worth testing out for yourself. Note that this is not recommended for someone who needs to closely monitor their blood glucose levels.

This same study saw a significant decrease in BMI (body mass index) of individuals who ate their largest meal at breakfast compared to those who ate larger dinners, and a smaller but still significant decrease in BMI for individuals who had a larger lunch compared to those who had larger dinners.¹

Whether eating breakfast “boosts your metabolism” or not, the verdict is still out. There are a few studies that have found that eating breakfast does increase metabolic mechanisms, and there are others that show no significant effect. Largely, the current evidence does show that eating breakfast promotes satiety and feelings of fullness. Now whether this in turn leads to weight loss or weight maintenance; there are too many factors at play and not enough quality, controlled studies to confidently give a blanket recommendation.² Research is ongoing in this area. So watch this space.

At the end of the day, meal quality & quantity is what will either keep you within your kJ/calorie needs or tip the scale over, leading to eventual weight gain. Keeping the quality of meals and quantity of nutrients in check is more important than meal frequency alone.³

Focus on finding an eating pattern that keeps you satisfied and not starved. And includes a variety of wholesome foods from all the main food groups. This is an excellent place to start in your health journey. As far as working out the specifics, an Accredited Practicing Dietitian (APD) is your go-to in finding what exactly works for you and your body.

  1.     Kahleova H, Lloren J, Mashchak A, M H, Fraser GE. Meal Frequency and Timing Are Associated with Changes in Body Mass Index in Adventist Health Study 2. The Journal of Nutrition. 2017;147(9):1722-1728. doi:10.3945/jn.116.244749.
  2.     Gwin J, Leidy HJ. A Review of the Evidence Surrounding the Effects of Breakfast Consumption on Mechanisms of Weight Management. Advances in Nutrition. 2018;9(6):717-725. doi:10.1093/advances/nmy047.
  3.     Barritta de Defranchi R. Meal Frequency Around the World: What Can We Learn from Other Cultures? Food and Nutrition. August 2017.
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