Skip Breakfast, Gain Weight? Or Lose It? Dietary Guidelines Are Scrambled

Science doesn't know what to think about our morning meal.

Just a few years ago, it was pretty widely accepted that skipping breakfast can make you fat. Having a morning meal, the official Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggested, prevents excess weight gain. But now that a handful of studies have shown the opposite and guidelines are under review, we don’t know what the hell to think about our bacon and eggs.

Back in 2010, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee culled the available research and found that some of the research did show that skipping breakfast led to weight gain. This dietary “fact” made it into the official guidebook, which is used by nutritionists across the country to plan school lunches and design diets — as well as by regular folks trying to sort through the available literature on how to actually eat well.

But the guidelines go under review every five years, and now, in light of research like the Columbia University study showing that skipping breakfast actually led to weight loss, what the official take on breakfast eating will be after this year is anyone’s guess.

Eating well, however, isn’t something that should be left up to chance. As the Washington Post points out, this confusion stems from a problem with the studies the Advisory Committee uses: For the most part, they’re what statisticians call “observational” studies, research that requires a ton of statistical adjustment to make up for unaccounted-for factors in the original experiment — variables like age, exercise, socioeconomic status, and so on. Because it’s so easy to draw inaccurate conclusions from these studies, according to some statisticians, we need to be more careful about what we put forth as fact in resources as widely read as the official U.S. Dietary Guidelines.

Eating well isn’t something we should take lightly — especially as obesity balloons into an epidemic — but stressing about breakfast probably isn’t worth it, considering that even the science can’t seem to find a consensus. If you’re hungry when you wake up, eat a little something and face your day at full strength.