What's the Connection Between Breakfast and Weight Loss?

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Answered by: Lauren, An Expert in the Manage your Weight Category
If you've been avoiding breakfast to shed excess pounds, it's time to change your morning meal plan. Evidence from the National Weight Loss Registry suggests that breakfast is vital to long-term weight loss. Almost 80 percent of the thousands of successful maintainers studied ate breakfast every day, while fewer than 5 percent regularly skipped it. The connection between breakfast and weight loss holds true regardless of whether the dieters and maintainers were following a low-carb plan or a low-fat one; the important factor was getting a nutritious breakfast.

Researchers theorize that breakfast keeps the hormones that control hunger in balance. Your body produces ghrelin, a hormone that fuels hunger, when your blood sugar dips. Hunger serves a purpose; it's your body's way of telling you it's low on fuel. However, if you're trying to lose weight, you'll have greater success if you can mute that signal to some degree. Leptin, a hormone that works in opposition to ghrelin's action, is linked to feelings of satiety. If ghrelin turns on the hunger switch, leptin shuts it off again. Eating breakfast causes a precipitous dip in ghrelin and a corresponding rise in leptin, leaving you feeling full enough to say no to a mid-morning pastry or second helpings at lunch.

You might not feel hungry when you awaken, but your body needs fuel after a long night without it. If you're chronically waking up without hunger, you're either still full from a large, late meal the night before or you've had a poor night's sleep. Like other hormones, ghrelin and leptin do double duty. Controlling appetite is only one of their roles; they also affect your sleeping and waking periods. Lack of sleep brings leptin levels down and sends ghrelin levels up. Although you might think having an excess of the hormone that flips your hunger switch on would make you ravenous in the morning, the effect is more gradual, causing your hunger to spike around mid-morning.

The rise in leptin is likewise gradual, so you feel hungry throughout the day despite eating enough calories to fuel your body. That excess ghrelin leads you to overeat throughout the rest of your day, including late at night. When you overeat before bed, you'll awaken without feeling hungry, perpetuating the cycle.

The connection between breakfast and weight loss is significant enough to consider it a vital weapon in the fight against fat. A traditional breakfast of syrup-laden pancakes, sausage links and hash browns isn't going to help you fit into those skinny jeans, though. Choose foods high in protein and fiber for satiety. Combine the two in an omelet stuffed with spinach, asparagus or peppers. Oatmeal involves little effort, but gives you plenty of fiber and protein. Stir a teaspoon of peanut butter into your oatmeal to enrich its taste and improve its nutritional profile.

While it might seem like a paradox to eat an extra meal for the sake of your weight loss efforts, the case for a healthy breakfast is too strong to ignore. Willpower becomes much easier to find when your hunger hormones work with you; break your nightly fast with a nutritious breakfast and you'll break the cycle of ghrelin shifts.

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