A new study (1) seems to show that eating chocolate cake for the purpose of adding extra calories at breakfast increases total weight loss over 32 weeks compared to consuming the same total calories over a day, but not loading up at breakfast.
I love chocolate cake. In fact I love just about anything that is chocolate. Except chocolates filled with caramel.. or mint flavoured chocolate.. and I'm not really into milk chocolate. OK so I have specific tastes for chocolate; my favorite is anything between 70 and 90% dark chocolate.
I love putting a tablespoon of dark chocolate cocoa into my yogurt. Maybe two tablespoons. Yes, definitely two tablespoons. If I ate a piece of chocolate cake along with my breakfast every morning should I expect to lose fat? Is that what this study is saying?
Not really. This study looked at 193 obese men and woman in their late 40's/ early 50's over a 32 week period where their total calories consumed for the day was limited to 1600 calories (men) and 1400 calories (woman). Everyone in their respective groups was to consume the same total calories over a day, with an intervention group shuffling a little more of those calories to breakfast in the form of a chocolate dessert.
They wanted to discover whether or not eating extra calories in the morning from sweets would influence food cravings later in the day. It did, but it took a while. In the first 16 weeks the morning desert eaters lost the same amount of weight as the straight laced eaters, about 33 pounds. By the time 32 weeks of chocolate breakfast bliss had passed, those not given the self indulgent sweet tooth option gave into cravings, fell of the calorie reduced wagon, and regained 22 pounds of prime real-estate back onto their bodies. The unabashed dessert dieters lost an additional 15 pounds.
The scientists were also looking at ghrelin levels after breakfast. The diet with more carbs and protein from the dessert released less ghrelin than those on the lower calorie breakfast. "Satiety was significantly improved and hunger and craving scores significantly reduced in the.. breakfast + dessert group versus breakfast only group", the study reports. Ghrelin is a hormone that makes us feel hungry and is produced in the gut.
Another study showed that a bigger breakfast simply added more calories to the total for the day and did not help weight loss (2).
The main difference between these studies? The dessert at breakfast study, which sounds great, had all study subjects placed on a long term calorie reduced diet and observed the ability to stay on such a diet. The second study looked those voluntarily consuming large breakfasts while not a diet.
In the second study obese subjects who ate more at breakfast simply introduced more calories to their day as they did not tend to eat less than usual following breakfast.
The first study's researchers recommend considering eating more of your total calories for the day at breakfast when on a calorie reduced diet for weight loss.
The second study's team says if you want to lose weight reduce your calories at breakfast so at least you're reducing calories somewhere, which will help reducing total calories consumed over the day.
I say forget about both these studies as neither of them looked at the important weight loss strategy of mindfulness about what we eat and making changes in how we think about the rewards we associate with overeating. These studies also did not include regular exercise.
When you're comparing red Pinto's to brown Pinto's, you're still comparing the same crappy car. While it's interesting to look at the different ways the Pinto is crappy, why not look why a Lexus is good, and then go about emulating those qualities?
Studies like this are interesting to a degree, but when the most relevant, and already known successful weight loss strategies are not discussed in the conclusion, or used as a control in the study, we get good science, but poor conclusions. How can that be "good science"? We're still discovering what occurs under the conditions studied so our overall understanding increases. But in both these cases the outcome recommendations are not relevant to an overall long term successful weight loss strategy because the recommendations are myopic: restricted only to the limited scope of the study.
What does the first study really show? No matter what we eat, or when we eat it, if we eat fewer calories than we consume, we will lose fat, and if we don't work on the source of cravings for overeating, we'll succumb to them.
How about the second study? No matter when we eat more, breakfast or any other time, if we overeat we'll gain weight.
It feels great to feel released from the habit of overeating by learning to eat healthy and feel good about it.
Let's get out there and feel good about exercise and making healthy food choices.
(1) Meal timing and composition influence ghrelin levels, appetite scores and weight loss maintenance in overweight and obese adults 10.1016/j.steroids.2011.12.006 : Steroids | ScienceDirect.com
(2) Nutrition Journal | Full text | Impact of breakfast on daily energy intake - an analysis of absolute versus relative breakfast calories