Does Breakfast Drive A “Metabolic Memory?”


Usual breakfast “eaters” respond to skipping a breakfast meal differently than those who usually skip breakfast.

Researchers at the University of Colorado were interested in understanding why breakfast skippers have a higher rate of type 2 diabetes and whether the expected metabolic responses would be more pronounced in overweight women who skip breakfast on a regular basis (Thomas, 2015).

Surprisingly, the opposite was found…skipping breakfast on a single occasion had more of an effect among persons who usually eat breakfast then habitual breakfast skippers.

Eighteen overweight women participated in a randomized crossover study with two visits, No Breakfast and Breakfast, the latter providing 25% of their estimated daily energy intake. Half of the participants were regular breakfast “Eaters” (more than 5 days per week) and half were habitual breakfast “Skippers” (reported eating breakfast 2 or less days a week).

On both visits, they remained at the study center for the length of the day, eating a standard lunch (35% of their estimated daily energy intake) and an ad libitum dinner meal with instructions to eat until they were comfortably full. All of the study meals contained the same macronutrient distribution (15% energy from protein, 30% fat, and 55% carbohydrate).

Several metabolic indicators were shown to differ on Breakfast days versus No Breakfast, including greater post lunch AUC for triglycerides, glucagon-like peptide 1, and peptide YY, but lower for plasma glucose.

However, habitual breakfast habits imparted some unique and important aspects.

On No Breakfast visits, plasma glucose AUC for 180 minutes post lunch was elevated among habitual breakfast Eaters, but not among those who regularly skip breakfast. And plasma free fatty acids were elevated among regular breakfast skippers even on their Breakfast test morning. Apparently, habitual breakfast habits drove these metabolic responses, over-riding the one-day single test condition.

A similar response was seen in terms of reported hunger and satiety:

Both groups [habitual breakfast eaters and skippers] reported greater hunger on the no breakfast day, but Eaters reported greater hunger and less satiety as compared to Skippers.

In summary:

Habitual breakfast eaters, compared to those who regularly skip the first meal of the day, “demonstrated greater insulin and free fatty acid responses to lunch after skipping breakfast, reported greater hunger before lunch, and had lower rates of fat oxidation after lunch on both days” compared to habitual breakfast skippers.

[I]t is possible that breakfast skipping represents a disruption to usual patterns in the Eaters, thus resulting in changes in glucose metabolism, but that habitual Skippers have adapted to this pattern and therefore do not show such changes.

The results indicate that eating breakfast is a habit worth practicing daily (no skipping).

Reference Citation

Thomas, EA, J Higgins, DH Bessesen, B McNair, and MA Cornier. “Usual breakfast eating habits affect response to breakfast skipping on overweight women.” Obesity 2015;23(4):750-759..

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