Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? Not so fast.

Granted, plenty of research seems to back that up. Studies show that kids who eat breakfast tend to perform better in school. The NIH says breakfast "has been suggested to positively affect learning in children in terms of behavior, cognitive, and school performance." Studies show that men who skip breakfast face a greater risk of heart disease than those who eat breakfast. And plenty of studies indicate that skipping breakfast correlates with obesity.

My mom was definitely a believer. She made sure we ate breakfast every morning. So as an adult I ate breakfast, usually within ten minutes of waking up. (I would usually eat about six small meals a day, which also meant that at any point in the day I was about thirty minutes away from feeling hungry.)

I was all-in on the importance of breakfast.

Yet for most of her life my wife rarely ate breakfast. Now that she follows an intermittent fasting eating regimen, she almost never eats until at least 11 a.m. And she suffers no ill effects: she's one of the smartest, most productive people I know, she's trim and fit and... well, let's just say I married way over my head. And as for heart disease? I ate breakfast for much of my life, and I had a heart attack.

Now I follow an intermittent fasting plan (thanks, Dick Costolo) and in the process gained seven pounds (I was trying to) while also losing 4 percent body fat (which I wasn't trying to do; it just happened as a result of intermittent fasting.)

Granted, my wife and I comprise just two data points, but our "findings" may be as accurate as much of the research.

The heart disease study sounds scary, but ultimately shows only that heart disease and skipping breakfast are correlated, not causal. It's kind of like the old saying about churches: Cities with more churches tend to have more alcoholics. But do churches cause alcoholism? Nah. Cities with more churches tend to have greater populations, meaning the number of people in any subset will also be greater. The number of churches correlates with the number of alcoholics, but it's not causal.

The same is somewhat true for the finding that kids who eat breakfast perform better in school. While a hungry child is less likely to be able to focus, most of the research looks at kids who are part of school breakfast programs, which means the majority of those kids come from underprivileged backgrounds and may not be getting enough to eat in general.

Eating a meal at school makes a difference for children who are chronically hungry. That meal just happens to be breakfast.

As for the relationship between skipping breakfast and obesity? People a lot smarter than me have found major flaws in the related research. Others determined that meal skipping has no impact on long-term weight gain. 

So what does all this mean?

For starters, research doesn't create a life plan.

Granted, it's hard to argue that smoking, or sitting for long periods of time, aren't bad for you. But research shouldn't be the only factor in how you live your life.

If you don't eat breakfast and aren't obese, why change your routine? If you don't eat breakfast but hit the professional ground running hard each morning, why change your routine? If your cholesterol levels are peachy and your blood pressure is fine and your overall health is good and you don't eat breakfast, why change your routine?

When you eat doesn't matter nearly as much as what you eat. If what you're doing works for you, hey, keep doing it.

And if what you eat isn't great for you, make a few smart changes. Like all of us, you know the basics of how to eat healthy (this is a great primer) and get fitter (and so is this.) 

Does eating breakfast matter? The answer depends on what works -- for you

Published on: Oct 20, 2017
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