plate of breakfast foods
How can you say no to this?

Breakfast has, for a very long time, been touted as “the most important meal of the day.” The simple logic behind this idea is that when waking up, after not eating for eight hours or more, upon opening your eyes in the morning, you’re famished and need to chow down on some grub. Of course, that’s assuming you’re a good sleeper and didn’t slip into the kitchen for a little sleepwalking-induced midnight snack. Sleep-eating is a thing!

While breaking your fast can be a joy, it seems that a hearty breakfast may not be the most important meal of the day after all. Our work habits and access to calories (an overabundance of calories, some would say) have changed in some pretty big ways over the decades. The idea of a big breakfast doesn’t necessarily hold the value it once had — especially when you consider the epidemic of expanding waistlines in North America, and all of the health-related problems that come along with those big bellies.

Of course, if you work as a lumberjack in the forest, our on a ranch, and you’re away from refrigerators and food trucks all day, a substantial breakfast is probably a good idea. But if you’re a schoolteacher, office worker, online marketer or research scientist (or hold any of a number of other jobs), your access to food is virtually unlimited. Office break rooms, local restaurants, pizza joints, take-out menus, snack machines, bistros, bakeries, and corner shops all mean there will be no shortage of food in your line of sight — or a short walk, drive, or phone call away — whenever your stomach gives you even the slightest hint of a growl.

And it’s just not me who thinks you don’t have to have a big breakfast to make it through the day. A bunch of studies have come out suggesting that adults who don’t feel like diving into a lot of food as part of their morning routine — or who skip breakfast all together — are really none the worse for their decision. While children, who are still growing, should get some breakfast in them before they head out into the morning, grown men and women can probably give that first meal a miss. According to researchers at Cornell University, adults who skip breakfast don’t try to make up for the lack of morning calories by eating bigger, or less healthy meals in the afternoon or evening. The folks at Cornell found that people who gave breakfast a pass actually wound up consuming few calories than people who really dug into their cereal or breakfast foods.

A few years back, a study sponsored by the University of Bath also discovered that people who skip breakfast tend not to overcompensate with larger meals later in the day, which goes along with Cornell’s claims. Research from Columbia University has suggested that overweight people who give breakfast the cold shoulder have a better chance of losing weight — although no breakfast might lead to elevated cholesterol levels (there’s always a trade off). For people without significant weight problems, skipping breakfast doesn’t seem to make much of a weight loss difference.

While the debate and research are ongoing — with a lot of different parties interested in the nation’s breakfast routines putting out conflicting reports — eating a massive, calorie-laden breakfast might not be quite as important as we once believed. At the very least, some of us could afford to cut back on the size of our morning spread. The problem is the allure of real maple syrup over waffles with a side of smoked country sausage, or perhaps hot buttermilk pancakes with fresh whip cream and strawberries on top, can make cutting back really, really hard.

If you don’t think you can give up breakfast, try to at least stick to breakfast foods that won’t kill your waistline. These can include:

  • egg whites
  • whole-wheat products (toasts, pancake batters)
  • sugar-free cereals
  • vegetables (think of spinach and peppers in an omelet)
  • reduced-fat milk
  • low-sugar syrup alternatives, like agave syrup
  • fruits

See? You can have your cake and eat it too! JK. Don’t eat cake for breakfast.