The Case for a Second Breakfast

Oatmeal with nuts, berries and milk
 Kurt Wilson / Getty Images

Eating twice before lunch is likely better for your waistline than forgoing the meal altogether. No joke. That’s what a new study published in the journal Pediatric Obesity found after following the eating habits of students at a dozen schools for over two years.

To see if a double breakfast would actually lead to weight gain, the researchers tracked the weight and breakfast-eating patterns of students from 12 randomly selected urban area schools over two years — as they transitioned from fifth to seventh grade. They found that the students broke down into six distinct eating patterns: frequent skippers, inconsistent school eaters, inconsistent home eaters, frequent school eaters, frequent home eaters, and double-breakfast eaters. But when they looked at the data, the researchers found that it was the frequent breakfast skippers who showed increased odds of becoming overweight or obese compared to the double-breakfast eaters, even after adjusting for school, grade, and race.

Even better: There was no difference in weight gain or weight loss patterns between the kids who ate one breakfast and those who ate two. Though more research needs to be done to confirm that the findings hold true for adults, nutritionists agree you can easily add a second breakfast to your routine, guilt-free—especially if you’re fitting your workouts into the a.m. hours.

It may seem counterintuitive to be able to eat more and maintain a healthier weight — and many fasting advocates would say it actually is. Some experts argue that our bodies were made to undergo times of feast and fast. Taking a short break from food, even if it's just one meal like breakfast, lets your body rest from the rigorous work of digestion, and believers in this eating pattern say that's just the beginning of the benefits of intermittent fasting. But there is a growing body of evidence that points that skipping meals usually backfires — big time. You rack up feelings of deprivation that make you gorge yourself later in the day, and the total calories can add up to more than you would have eaten if you stuck with the standard three-meal menu.

If you normally go to the gym before work, nutritionist Julieanna Hever, author of The Vegiterranean Diet, suggests eating one meal pre-workout and another post-pump. The best options are based on whole foods, so skip the protein bar and try a bowl of cooked quinoa or oatmeal with nuts, seeds, and/or fruit, or try a quick tofu vegetable scramble with tempeh bacon and whole grain toast. Don’t feel shy about reaching for heartier foods, though. If standard morning staples leave you feeling hungry, Hever says to make one of your smaller breakfasts something you would typically associate with lunch or dinner, like chili or a bowl of lentils. Whether you eat two breakfasts or one, remember: If you're eating crap, well, you're eating crap.

Nutritionists' Go-To Second Breakfast

Jim White, owner of Jim White Fitness & Nutrition Studios, suggests prepping this quick take-and-heat option the night before: Whisk together a half cup of egg whites with two eggs, a handful of spinach, two tablespoons of shredded low-fat cheese, and a little sriracha. Fill two whole-wheat tortillas with the mixture. You can wrap them up the night before and heat them up right before eating.

Whatever you eat, stick with mini meals that are packed with lean protein, fiber, and antioxidants, and space them at least two hours apart to keep your energy levels soaring and your blood sugar levels stable. Get it right, and you’ll not only be less likely to turn to junkier foods if a mid-morning cravings strikes, but also better able to focus and concentrate, which has benefits far beyond breakfast, say The Nutrition Twins, Lyssie Lakatos and Tammy Lakatos Shames, authors of The Nutrition Twins’ Veggie Cure