Oh, Fercryinoutloud! The "Big Breakfast" Study

I have a Google News Alert set for "low carbohydrate." For the past few days it's been sending me a headlines about the so-called "Big Breakfast" study. Here are some of them:

* Big, Well-Balanced Breakfast Aids Weight Loss

* Study: Big, Carb-Heavy Breakfast Key to Weight Loss

* Eating carb-rich breakfast helps lose more weight

* High-carb, high-protein breakfast for losing weight

* New Weight Loss Diet Recommends High-carb And Protein Big Breakfast

Note the editorial emphasis on the big breakfast being "high carb" or at the very least "balanced."

So what's the skinny, you should pardon the pun? Should you really be eating a half a dozen pancakes before you head off to work? You didn't really think I was going to say yes, did you?

This "study," and I use the term loosely, is so incredibly flawed as to be completely worthless. Indeed, it appears to have been deliberately set up to get the results it did, specifically to "disprove" the notion that a low carb diet is a great way to lose and keep off weight. Let's look at the numbers:

This study involved 94 obese, sedentary women with metabolic syndrome. They were put either on a "low carbohydrate diet" or "the big breakfast diet." In the first four months, the women on the low carbohydrate diet did modestly better than the women on the big breakfast diet, losing an average of 28 pounds apiece, to the big breakfast dieters' average of 23 pounds lost. But in the next four months the low carb dieters gained back an average of 18 pounds, while the big breakfast dieters lost an average of another 16.5 pounds.

Sounds pretty bad for a low carb diet, huh? But here's the thing: The study's protocol involved what is known as "multiple variables" -- ie, more than one thing was different from group to group. In this situation, it is very difficult to know what is causing different outcomes, and how much influence each variable has. What were the variables?

* Calorie count. Reportedly the low carb dieters were allowed 1,085 calories per day, while the big breakfast dieters got 1240 calories per day.

* Carb count. The low carb dieters got 17 grams of carbohydrate per day, while the big breakfast dieters got 97 grams of carbohydrate per day.

* Protein count. The low carb dieters got a measly 51 grams of protein per day, while the big breakfast dieters got 93 grams of protein per day.

* Fat content: The low carbers got 78 grams of fat per day, while the big breakfast group got 22 grams of fat per day.

* Size of breakfast: The low carbers ate their smallest meal at breakfast, just 290 calories, or roughly a quarter of their daily intake. They ate only 12 grams of protein with that breakfast. The big breakfast dieters ate 610 calories for breakfast, or nearly half of their daily intake. They then had a 395 calorie lunch, and a 235 calorie dinner.

So tell me, what was it that made the difference? There is absolutely no way to tell.

This is one of the lamest attacks on low carbohydrate dieting I have ever seen, and I've seen a lot.

First of all, they got the basic arithmetic wrong. Carbs and proteins have 4 calories per gram; fat has 9 calories per gram. (17x4)+(51x4)+(78x9) = 68+204+708 = 974 calories per day for the low carb group, an error of over 11%. This sort of sloppiness is inexcusable in anyone who calls themselves a scientist.

More to the point, which low carb diet is it that requires you to limit your calorie intake to 974 calories per day? That would be none of them. Which low carb diet recommends a pitiful 51 grams of protein per day? That would be none of them as well. Indeed, the so-called "low carb" diet could more accurately be termed a starvation diet, inadequate in calories and protein both. It's not surprising that participants couldn't stick with it.

And how about that breakfast? Are you aware of any low carb diet that recommends limiting yourself to 290 calories and 12 grams of protein for breakfast? A typical breakfast for me would be a two egg omelet with cheese, cooked in olive oil, for 418 calories and 22 grams of protein -- a breakfast which keeps me full for a good four to five hours. Regular readers know that I have long advocated eating a good, filling breakfast. There is certainly nothing in any popular low carb diet recommending skimpy breakfasts.

In argumentation, this version of a "low carb diet" is what's known as a straw man -- you make up your own lame version of the thing you're arguing against so you can knock it down easily. It's a well-known logical fallacy, and would get you an F in any freshman level Argumentation and Debate class, as I happen to know, because I aced freshman level Argumentation and Debate.

I might also point out that the big breakfast dieters, while eating considerably more carbs than the "low carb" starvation dieters, still ate far fewer carbs than the general population; most people get between 300 and 500 grams of carbohydrate per day.

So let's see: A starvation diet is less livable than a diet which allows a few more calories and a lot more protein. And eating a substantial breakfast makes you less hungry, and therefore less likely to stray from your diet, for the rest of the day. Wow. Stop the presses.

This "study" is just embarrassingly bad. Dr. Daniela Jakubowicz, who spearheaded it, should be ashamed of herself.

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Do what works

While the study does seem flawed or at least somewhat skewed, I prefer to look at the successful tips we can gain from it. I didn't see it as an attack on low carb eating. Many people on low carb plans find that eating their carb portions earlier in the day works better for them. If this is borne out in sustained weight loss it can only be good news. I plan to take this tip and see if it works for me. It's a long journey, I might have to take more than one train to get there!

Great Critique!

Yes, this was a very poorly done study, particularly considering the fact that the low carber's breakfast was much lower in calories than the other. Dr. Blackburn, an obesity expert from Harvard has stated it takes at least 450 calories worth of breakfast in the morning to keep on an even keel, and prevent overeating later on with any eating plan. 290 calories, which is what the low carbers ate is way too low! I'd be binging by 11 a.m.!

In case you're interested, that information is from a book I'm reading by Dr. Blackburn titled Break Through Your Set Point. It's an excellent book, definitely NOT geared toward low carbers, but I'm getting so much valuable information out of it I can use with my low carb diet.

Thanks for printing such a ridiculous study. I got my laugh for the day Dana!

Breakfast

Well, and I just actually measured the oil I use for an omelet. I was figuring it was half a tablespoon, but it's closer to a tablespoon, making my average breakfast 418 calories. And, of course, 22 grams of protein.

Today I had a few cherries, too. Ooo, the decadence of it all!