Skipping Breakfast Leads to Unhealthy Food Choices and Obesity

by Dr Sam Girgis on October 18, 2012

Obesity continues to be an increasingly prevalent problem throughout the world.  It is predicted that the obesity epidemic will continue to worsen unless major interventions are implemented.  In the United States, it is estimated that one third of the population is obese while two thirds of the population is overweight, based upon body mass index.  Obesity leads to several health problems including type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, heart disease, and stroke.

There are several diets that have been found to be successful for those who are attempting to lose weight.  In fact, many people are able to lose weight if they can successfully follow many of the popular diets.  The problem for most individuals is keeping the weight off.  The majority of dieters will have regained the weight which was lost by one year of the start of the diet.  Thus, determining how to prevent regaining weight that is lost is a key obstacle in combating the obesity epidemic.  Recently, researchers have determined how dieting and fasting can lead to regaining of lost weight.

Researchers, lead by Dr. Anthony Goldstone, from Imperial College London in England, have found that fasting and dieting can cause changes in the orbitofrontal cortex, a brain region used for food choice decision making.  The results of their study were presented at the Neuroscience 2012 Conference on Wednesday, October 17, 2012.  The researchers studied 21 healthy non-obese men (mean age was 25 years, mean BMI was 24) using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of their brain.  The study participants had the MRI performed after an overnight fast while viewing pictures of different food items.  On one occasion, the study participants were fed a 730 calorie breakfast, and on a separate occasion they were not fed breakfast.

The researchers found that the fasting participants had increased activity in the orbitofrontal cortex when viewing unhealthy food pictures as compared to the breakfast fed study participants.  In addition, the study participants who had missed breakfast ate 250 calories more for lunch.  The findings suggest that skipping breakfast can lead to unhealthy food choices and overeating.

Dr. Anthony Goldstone was quoted as saying, “Through both the participants’ MRI results and observations of how much they ate at lunch, we found ample evidence that fasting made people hungrier, and increased the appeal of high-calorie foods and the amount people ate”.

The authors concluded, “Fasting increased hunger, appeal of high-calorie foods and food intake at lunch after scanning”.

This study identifies a brain mechanism that is involved in the process of regaining weight that is lost by dieting or fasting.  Individuals who are fasting by skipping breakfast activate the orbitofrontal cortex, which causes them to crave and seek high calorie sugary foods that are both unhealthy and contribute to weight gain and obesity.  Eating a healthy breakfast should be part of any dieting and weight loss program.  I still believe that intermittent fasting is a good way to lose weight.  As this study as pointed out, eating a healthy breakfast is important to prevent unhealthy food choices and overeating.  Intermittent fasting can still be practiced by skipping or limiting either lunch or dinner as a weight loss strategy.  Future studies should be performed to determine the influence of skipping lunch or dinner upon the activity of the orbitofrontal cortex.  In addition, future researcher should focus of finding a way to suppress the response described in this report.


Anthony P. Goldstone et al. “Salience resting state network integrity in the orbitofrontal cortex predicts task activation to viewing high-calorie foods when fastedNeuroscience 2012 Conference, Abstract 798.02, presented Wednesday October 17, 2012.


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