P.E.I. registered dietitian questions a new study on breakfast and weight loss

By Melissa Heald
Sept. 12, 2014

Summer Ewing likes to eat breakfast.
“It gives you energy for the day,” said the first-year practical nurse student at Holland College. “I’m always hungry in the morning.”
First-year medical support services students Ocean Benoit and Madison Ellis do their best to eat breakfast too.
The two busy Holland College students say eating breakfast helps to give them energy but they find it difficult to make time for it.
“I’m usually hungry,” said Ellis. “I don’t try to avoid it.”
They’re all following the popular advice breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Breakfast has been linked to weight management and skipping it can lead to weight gain.
Or has it?
A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on the effectiveness of breakfast on weight loss done by researchers from the University of Alabama at Birmingham questions the link between breakfast and weight loss.
After following 300 overweight and obese subjects for 16 weeks, the study concluded weight was generally unaffected if the subjects ate or didn’t eat breakfast.
But Jill Anne McDowell, a registered dietitian and the community dietitian program manager at Health PEI, said the study’s conclusion breakfast doesn’t have any impact on weight loss is just too strong of a statement and she doesn’t necessary agree with such a board statement.
Studies like these, by design, have a narrow focus and the researchers could only do certain things and had to pic. They choose what could be done. But she feels the study did not take into account other factors, she said.
One, the study was done in multiple sites.
“In one way, that’s a positive thing,” she said. “That way they get a bigger sample size and looking at different populations. But in another way, it’s harder to make sure everything is done properly when there are so many sites involved.”
The researchers cited multiple sites as one of their limitations, but McDowell also noticed the majority of those who took part in the study were women.
“Body weight is different for men and women,” she said. “To make a blank statement is pretty tough because the majority of the people were women.”
Also, those who took part in the study were divided into three groups: a control group, a group told to eat breakfast and a third group told to skip breakfast.
Besides some basic nutritional information, the control group and the breakfast group was never told what to eat and all three groups weren’t given any instructions on what to eat for the rest of the day, said McDowell.
“For the group who did eat breakfast, they could have been eating an apple, they could have been eating a brownie. They could have been eating bacon and eggs. We just don’t know what they were eating.”
The study only focused on calories and not lifestyle, said McDowell.
If a participant was typically a breakfast skipper and was suddenly told to eat breakfast and had a high-sugary bowl of cereal or something with very little protein, it would work through that person’s system very quickly and those things impact on how full a person would be for the rest of the day, said McDowell.
Other studies have shown those people who eat breakfast tend to be healthier and more active and breakfast can help with alertness and boost metabolism, said McDowell.
With constant conflicting studies coming out about what people should and shouldn’t be doing when it comes to their health, McDowell recommends for people to focus on balance and not so much on calories.
“The other thing to keep in mind is to start getting in touch with your hunger.”
Listening to your body and being more conscious of when your body needs food is a good habit to have, said McDowell.
Also, a lot of people end up eating for other reasons than hunger, said McDowell.
Sometimes it could be for cultural reasons, for a celebration like a birthday or because a person has a craving for something, said McDowell.
“There are different reasons why we eat and a lot these kinds of studies don’t look at that.”