science of us

Breakfast Isn’t Pointless, But It’s Having an Identity Crisis

Photo: Tom Kelley Archive/Getty Images

For 25 years, I ate two large bowls of cereal for breakfast. I must have eaten 2,600 boxes of cereal.

In my 20s, I started tinkering with my diet (and have never stopped). First because I was looking for better skin, but then because it started to seem like an answer to everything. I ditched cereal and rotated around with eggs and then cottage cheese and then back to eggs again, and now, in my 30s, I mostly drink black coffee for breakfast and don’t eat until lunch.

And so it’s sort of bittersweet that the kingdom of cereal (and of breakfast itself) has been crumbling, for years. A recent report in the BMJ suggests that, as Jezebel’s Maria Sherman puts it, “Breakfast is a lie,” at least as far as health, weight-loss, and metabolism-jumpstarting goes. (Or is it starchy breakfast that’s the lie?) In a review of 13 randomized trials, the report’s authors conclude that eating breakfast “might not be a good strategy for weight loss,” specifically, and that eating it could even “have the opposite effect.”

Many modern breakfast traditions were manufactured whole-cloth by the breakfast-food industry, which has been public knowledge for years, but is only finally beginning to permeate the general consciousness. Vox has a nice rundown of how these “myths” came to be. As health writer Julia Belluz summarizes: “Much of the research suggesting that breakfast is absolutely crucial for your health is … funded by cereal makers.” Specifically, Kellogg’s and Quaker Oats. This doesn’t make the research wrong, she notes, “but it should make one awfully skeptical.”

In a separate editorial, the lead author of the BMJ report, British professor of epidemiology Tim Spector, writes that not only is breakfast not the metabolism-booster it’s been promoted as, but that “reasonable evidence now suggests that skipping breakfast can actually be a useful strategy to reduce weight.”

Of course, plenty of people already skip breakfast, although Spector himself is not among them: Spector “is a regular breakfast eater,” his BMJ bio reads. It didn’t mention what he eats, specifically, so I tweeted at him. He got back to me within hours, saying: “Usually yogurt kefir nuts seeds and fruit.”

Belluz, too, is a breakfast-eater. Just because breakfast doesn’t promote weight loss or act as a “health panacea,” she writes, “doesn’t make it pointless.” Later, she says: “I find that starting my day with muesli — a mixture of yogurt, fruit, nuts, and oats — sets me up very nicely.”

I’m still pretty happy with my two cups of black coffee, although I’d be into a fruit-and-nut routine if it presented itself. And honestly the black coffee might be messing up my teeth.

It’s Fine to Skip Breakfast