New York Times’ “Breakfast Sweets” Article Misleads Readers
Sweets At Breakfast Help Dieters Lose Weight?
My client Marcia was thrilled to read the recent New York Times headline: “Sweets at Breakfast May Help Dieters.” “Could it be true?” she asked. “Wouldn’t that be wonderful!” said I… as I went about researching the study to respond to her life-or-death question (what a heavy responsibility!).
The study: The successful dieters ate a 600 calorie breakfast containing sweets, the unsuccessful dieters ate a 300 calorie breakfast. Both groups ate a very low calorie diet overall. The study found the dieters who ate the 600 calories breakfast containing sweets were more likely to lose weight.
What’s wrong with this picture? It is a huge leap to say the sweets caused weight loss or made weight loss easier. The difference in calories alone could account for the reduction in cravings and appetite for the 600-calorie-breakfast eaters, aiding their weight loss – not the fact that the 600 calorie breakfast contained doughnuts, cakes or cookies (claimed by the authors). Previous studies have found when people eat proportionately more calories earlier in the day, they eat fewer overall calories. This finding is verified through my 20-plus years of counseling people: a large, balanced breakfast controls appetite and helps people lose weight, even with no other change. Weight maintenance studies also confirm the importance of breakfast.
How should the study have been designed to find out if sweets help dieters lose weight? For a valid comparison, both groups should have eaten an equal sized breakfast (600 calories), with the only difference being one containing sweets while the other didn’t. This is only way the study’s authors could have made their sensational conclusion (“sweets at breakfast help dieters lose weight”).
A skimpy 300 calorie breakfast, coupled with a very restrictive eating regimen, which was the design of this experiment, is bound to cause overeating – and studies have been verifying that restrictive dieting doesn’t work – especially in the long run … over and over and over. This is the only conclusion this study can draw: restrictive dieting backfires.
Scientists experienced in designing weight loss or nutrition studies would not have made this mistake. But, no matter. The New York Times reporter, Nicholas Bakalar, perhaps wasn’t aware of the historical context of the study nor the error in design making the conclusion invalid. How lucky for the study authors who received the best publicity one could ask for, which will probably lead to more funding for them! And how sad for the New York Times’ readers (including me).
This is not even to touch on the nutritional inadequacies of a breakfast full of sweets. Scientific studies verify that a good breakfast improves the nutritional quality of the whole day – for children and adults alike. A breakfast with sweets is full of refined grains and sugar, devoid of important whole grains, and studies show the health differences between people who eat whole grains versus refined grains are vast. And, in my experience, eating sweets increases sweet cravings.
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