I’ve heard this factoid many times: Sumo wrestlers’ diet regimen includes skipping breakfast, in order to gain more weight and achieve morbid obesity.
Is it true? Does skipping breakfast really make you fat?
Apparently up to a third of teenagers skip breakfast regularly. Whether they do it to loose weight or because of circumstances, it’s not a good habit.
As much as I enjoy backing the advice I give my kids with scientific studies, I think that you don’t need to prove that eating breakfast before going to school is important. Going to school on an empty stomach just doesn’t make sense. Hunger interferes with learning, and I try to feed my kids as many of their meals at home as possible, as I assume that whatever they’ll eat out of home will be nutritionally inferior to what I carefully prepare or select. Sensible eating habits are important, and key to preventing nutritionally caused conditions such as obesity.
So even if the studies said otherwise, I’d look for their weaknesses (those always exist, and are admitted by the authors in the discussion section of the paper), and continue to advocate regular breakfasts before leaving home.
But there are plenty of studies supporting the breakfast habit, and showing that breakfast eaters have better overall nutrition profiles, better cognitive functioning, and are less likely to be obese or diabetic.
A recent study, published in the journal Pediatrics found that middle and high school students who ate breakfast had significantly lower body mass index (BMI) scores than those who skipped the meal. Frequency of eating breakfast was associated with a healthier diet, higher socioeconomic status, white race, and more physical activity, and inversely associated with smoking, alcohol consumption and dieting and weight-control behaviors.
Although the study doesn’t prove that eating breakfast causes a lower BMI, the authors submit that, “Breakfast habits may be important markers of an overall healthful lifestyle pattern in youth and that frequent breakfast consumption may impart important weight-gain prevention effects."
These findings come out of the Project EAT (Eating Among Teens), a 5-year longitudinal study developed to examine eating patterns and weight concerns among adolescents in Minnesota.
There are dozens of interesting published findings from the analysis of data from this large cohort, including:
• Adolescents with a bedroom television watch more television, are less physically active, eat less fruits or vegetables, consume larger quantities of sweetened beverages and fast food, have fewer family meals, and have poorer school performance, see here.
• Among adolescent girls, regular family meals (five meals/week) were associated with a lower prevalence of extreme weight-control behaviors, such as self-induced vomiting, use of laxatives, diet pills or diuretics.
• Dieting in adolescents is associated with weight gain.
• Children in families who watched TV while eating meals together had a lower-quality diet than the children of families who ate together, but turned the TV off.
Back to the Sumo Wrestler’s breakfast, or lack of it.
The “no breakfast” recipe for weight gain is all over the Internet, but the closest I could come to a reliable source was from “Introduction to sumo wrestlers, the world's largest athletes,” in Current Anesthesia & Critical Care, Volume 12, Issue 5, October 2001, Pages 267-272 by R. Ochiai and J. Takeda, of the Department of Anesthesiology, School of Medicine in Tokyo, Japan. “The training of a Sumo wrestler starts early every morning before breakfast, and lasts for about 3 hours,” they claim. The athletes apparently eat a large high calorie meal only after the morning session.
I don’t know whether Sumo wrestlers don’t eat breakfast because they cannot train hard enough on a full stomach, or because skipping breakfast builds a huge appetite allowing them to eat up to five to ten times the meal of an average person.
I tend to think that eating breakfast controls appetite and skipping meals isn’t a sustainable way to eat well or loose weight for most people. Besides, I love eating. One of the things that get me excited every morning when I wake up is the thought of breakfast (and my cappuccino).