Friday, May 20, 2011

Skipping Breakfast Increases Food-Related Thoughts and Eating

Some people just aren't hungry in the morning. Fair enough. It could be that you had a big dinner the night before or maybe eating too early in the morning makes you nauseous; to each their own. But if there's one thing we know for sure about maintaining a healthy weight and keeping your metabolism burning strong, it's that having breakfast within an hour of waking is critical. Now, we have even more evidence that skipping breakfast can in fact lead to weight gain.

The old standard explanation for why skipping breakfast is bad and may lead to weight gain, is that you're most likely to get really hungry a few hours later and over eat at lunch time or at dinner. We know that having only a few larger meals per day, as opposed to 5 or 6 smaller meals, can slow down your metabolism which is your body's ability to burn calories when it is at rest. Now, thanks to the findings of a recent study, we know that skipping breakfast actually has an effect on your brain which ends up making you eat more throughout the day.

Researcher Heather Leidy, from the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at MU, and her colleagues looked at MRI’s to find out whether eating a breakfast, especially with extra protein, reduces brain signals related to food motivation and reward. The healthy breakfasts included cereal and milk, or a higher protein breakfast of waffles, yogurt and syrup. A third group skipped breakfast.

According to the brain scan results, the researchers found that eating breakfast in the morning reduced brain activity in the regions associated with motivation and reward, which is also where dopamine is released. Dopamine is a hormone that plays a role in emotional well-being and pleasure. They also found that consuming a higher protein breakfast was associated with greater feelings of satiety (fullness/satisfaction) and more feelings of reward from eating breakfast compared to the normal protein milk and cereal meal.

The researchers concluded that “This research provides additional evidence that breakfast is a valuable strategy to control appetite and regulate food intake”. Since eating breakfast, especially one higher in protein, triggers reward and satisfaction pathways in the brain, skipping it can therefore lead to increased snacking and late night eating to fill the void. So all you breakfast skippers - it's time to take note and quit that bad habit!