Mama probably said you should eat your breakfast—and if she did, she was right. Starting the day with a decent meal, especially one that’s rich in protein, is a great strategy for eating less throughout the day.
In fact, if you tend to go overboard at night, the first meal of the day can help reduce evening temptation.
In a study last year, researcher Heather Leidy of the University of Missouri compared breakfast-skipping teenagers with those who ate a morning meal with “normal quantities of protein” or one higher in protein.
The teens filled out questionnaires about their hunger levels during the day—but the researchers also conducted brain scans to check the kids’ neurological responses.
We might be skeptical of the results of the questionnaire. After all, the teens obviously knew whether they’d eaten breakfast or not, and that knowledge could have skewed their answers.
But here’s the cool part: the brain scans showed that “brain activation” in the areas that control food motivation and reward was lower among the kids who ate breakfast. In other words, they would be less inclined to desire and go looking for food.
And those who had the higher-protein breakfast had “even greater changes in appetite, satiety, and reward-driven eating behavior” than the other breakfast eaters.
Translation: Those who ate a morning meal said they were less hungry later in the day, and their brain scans told the same story. Those who ate more protein got even better results.
That finding isn’t a big surprise, given that protein is regarded as the macronutrient with the highest satiety value—that is, the greatest ability to make you feel full longer.
A 2012 study, also conducted by Dr. Leidy, found that young people who didn’t eat a morning meal ended up consuming 40 percent more sweets, 55 percent more soda, 45 percent fewer vegetables, and 30 percent fruit than their peers.
In this second study, those who ate a breakfast higher in protein consumed an average of 200 fewer calories during evening snacking.
So if you haven’t been taking the time to eat breakfast, get started now. Make sure you have something decent to eat—whether it’s a quick bowl of low-sugar cereal and nonfat milk, a couple of hard-boiled eggs plus whole-grain toast, or fresh fruit and nonfat Greek yogurt.
Track your energy level and calorie consumption. You may find that taking time for a good breakfast is a superior strategy for eating better all day long.