As a recipe for losing weight, tucking into a slice of chocolate cake at breakfast would seem an unlikely fantasy. But a full breakfast that includes a sweet treat really can contribute to weight loss success, researchers claim. A team from Tel Aviv University found that eating pudding as part of a balanced 600-calorie breakfast that also includes proteins and carbohydrates, can help dieters to lose more weight – and keep it off in the long run. The key is to indulge in the morning, when the body’s metabolism is at its most active and we are better able to work off the extra calories throughout the day, according to Professor Daniela Jakubowicz and her team. Attempting to avoid sweets entirely can create a psychological addiction to these same foods in the long-term, she said. So adding dessert items to breakfast can control cravings throughout the rest of the day.
Over the course of a 32 week-long study, detailed in the journal Steroids, participants who added dessert to their breakfast – cookies, cake, or chocolate – lost an average of 40lbs more than a group that avoided such foods. What’s more, they kept off the pounds longer.
A meal in the morning provides energy for the day’s tasks, aids in brain functioning, and kick-starts the body’s metabolism, making it crucial for weight loss and maintenance. And breakfast is the meal that most successfully regulates ghrelin, the hormone that increases hunger, explains Professor Jakubowicz. While the level of ghrelin rises before every meal, it is suppressed most effectively at breakfast time. Basing their study on this fact, the researchers hoped to determine whether meal time and composition had an impact on weight loss in the short and long term, or if it was a simple matter of calorie count. One hundred and ninety three clinically obese, non-diabetic adults were randomly assigned to one of two diet groups with identical caloric intake – the men consumed 1600 calories per day and the women 1400. However, the first group was given a low carbohydrate diet including a small 300 calorie breakfast, and the second was given a 600 calorie breakfast high in protein and carbohydrates, always including a dessert item (i.e. chocolate).
Halfway through the study, participants in both groups had lost an average of 33lbs per person. But in the second half of the study, results differed drastically. The participants in the low-carbohydrate group regained an average of 22lbs per person, but participants in the group with a larger breakfast lost another 15lbs each. At the end of the 32 weeks, those who had consumed a 600-calorie breakfast had lost an average of 40lbs more per person than their peers. One of the biggest challenges that people face is keeping weight off in the long-term, says Professor Jakubowicz. Ingesting a higher proportion of our daily calories at breakfast makes sense. It’s not only good for body function, but it also alleviates cravings. Highly restrictive diets that forbid desserts and carbohydrates are initially effective, but often cause dieters to stray from their food plans as a result of withdrawal-like symptoms. They end up regaining much of the weight they lost during the diet proper.
Professor Jakubowicz said that although they consumed the same daily amount of calories, ‘the participants in the low carbohydrate diet group had less satisfaction, and felt that they were not full’. She said that their cravings for sugars and carbohydrates were more intense and eventually caused them to cheat on the diet plan. ‘But the group that consumed a bigger breakfast, including dessert, experienced few if any cravings for these foods later in the day.’ Ultimately, this shows that a diet must be realistic to be adopted as part of a new lifestyle. Curbing cravings is better than deprivation for weight loss success, the team concluded.