Dessert at Breakfast: Good or Bad for Weight Loss?

You can have your cake – but only as part of a balanced, low-calorie diet, too.

Chocolate Cake for Breakfast?

Breakfast of champions? (Photo via iStockphoto)

If you read the latest headlines, you might be thinking eating dessert for breakfast is the way to go if you want to lose weight. But with a closer look into the recent study from Tel Aviv University that sparked the frenzy, you might think twice before you grab a donut or a chocolate-chip cookie to pair with your coffee.

In the study, 144 overweight or obese men and women were assigned to one of two groups – a low-carbohydrate diet or high-carbohydrate diet. Both groups ate the same amount of calories per day, but the biggest difference was the composition of the breakfast meal. In the low-carb group, the breakfast meal was both low in carbohydrates and low in total calories. The high-carb group ate a protein-enriched breakfast higher in carbohydrates and calories and also containing a dessert of chocolate, cookies, cake, ice cream, chocolate mousse, or donuts.

For the first part of the study, a registered dietitian gave instruction to the subjects and also tracked their eating habits. During this time, both groups lost a significant amount of weight. During the second part of the study, the subjects were told to follow the same diet, but were not followed closely by a dietitian. They were also told to eat as they were motivated by cravings and hunger. At the end of the study, the people in the low-carb group had regained most of the weight lost, but the high-carb group had continued to lose weight.

The researchers also found that the high-carb group experienced a decrease in hunger and an increase in satiety. Additionally, they found that the low-carb group had more cravings as compared to the high-carb group.

While it might sound exciting to be able to eat cake, donuts, or cookies for breakfast and still lose weight, there are a few things to note here. The first is total calories. Both groups were on a restricted calorie diet, so even the group eating the dessert at breakfast still only ate between 1,400 (women) to 1,600 (men) calories per day. This means that the extra calories consumed at breakfast had to be compensated for later in the day.

Also, there is solid research supporting a balanced breakfast as a key part of weight loss and maintenance. The study participants in the low-carb group were eating 300 fewer calories at breakfast than the high-carb group, which could have contributed to the weight regain. Second, the people in the low-carb group ate a very small percentage of total calories from carbohydrates. Research has shown that low-carb diets are difficult to follow over the long term – not to mention that they might be dangerous, too. In the study, those on the low-carb diet regained most of the weight lost. The researchers note that this could have been because the low-carb group was not compliant with the diet. Often, a diet is seen as temporary and is often too restrictive to maintain over the long term. My best advice is to not follow diets and, instead, make a lifestyle change. The best way to lose weight and keep it off is to following a plan that you will stick to. Additionally, eating a balanced breakfast is an excellent way to start the day and will keep you from feeling ravenous later in the evening where you are likely to reach for anything in front of you. Check out these six ideas for healthy breakfast options.