Skipping meals has become a popular method of dieting. There are two main effects from taking either breakfast or dinner off the menu. The first is energy restriction and the other is the metabolic effect of transitioning through different states.
I get this questions from clients nowadays quite often:
I’ve been intermittent fasting for months, but am interested to know if there’s an optimal meal to skip for best results?
The concept of skipping any of these two main meals does have merit. Here’s why:
Breakfast has become the most common option for people to skip when following some form of time-restricted eating or intermittent fasting. People tend to find it easiest because generally, it’s the meal commonly taken at a time of hurry, as you rush out the door in the morning. This is coupled with the fact that, of the three meals of the day, breakfast tends to be the smallest. On average, people consume around 20 per cent of their overall intake at breakfast and the subsequent 80 across the rest of the day, making it a much easier meal to part with.
But aside from calories and convenience, a lot of the logic for skipping breakfast comes from elongating the fasted state we achieve in sleep. You’re initiating a longer period between your previous meal the night before and the one you have the next day. For many, this works out as the easiest way to implement regular intermittent fasting and reap the metabolic benefits that go with.
The other unique upshot to skipping breakfast over other meals is it allows you to capitalise on the benefits of fasted exercise. Particularly popular among cardio athletes, either skipping breakfast or delaying it until after a morning workout has been widely adopted as a way to use the body’s fat stores as fuel.
Slightly less commonly adopted, skipping dinner is behaviourally much harder than breakfast. Culturally, we have become accustomed to a large energy load in the evening. But in spite of relative difficulty, herein lies one of the biggest cases for choosing it as the meal to miss. Should you be able to successfully omit dinner, it’ll be all the more impactful because the amount of energy you’re not eating is going to be much greater than at breakfast. As with skipping breakfast, you’d also be getting the benefits of intermittent fasting as you’re still extending the fast, just from the front end rather than the back.
“Should you be able to successfully omit dinner, it’ll be all the more impactful because the amount of energy you’re not eating is going to be much greater than at breakfast”
Then there’s this idea that we humans are better designed to deal with meals earlier in the day rather than later. That ties into things around circadian rhythm, the fact you’re designed to deal with meals earlier in the day better than later in the day, the start of your active period rather than the start of your inactive period. Insulin sensitivity is lower in the evening in part due to this circadian effect, but also because cumulatively you still have the effects of the previous meals and snacks (e.g. more circulating fuels and higher levels of insulin to begin with). This typically leads to a lower meal tolerance in the evening, taking you longer to clear the incoming fuel. This is one reason why there is an increased risk of insulin resistance – diabetes, cardiovascular disease in shift workers who are intermittently eating at the wrong time of day (i.e. at night).
I personally like mixing it... Somedays I would skip breakfast and others the dinner. Depending on my goals and needs, I would adjust it accordantly. Please consult your nutritionist before adopting any type of intermittent fasting.