Savory grilled chicken slices followed by a bite-sized scoop of mouthwatering crème brulee? Nope, not dinner at a five-star restaurant— that could be the menu for a healthy breakfast, according to a new study.

Photo by Caitlin Covington

In the study, researchers at Tel Aviv University followed 193 obese, sedentary adults for 32 weeksMeal timing and composition influence ghrelin levels, appetite. Jakubowicz, D., Froy, O., Wainstein, J., et al. Diabetes Unit, E. Wolfson Medical Center, Tel Aviv University, Holon, Israel. Steroids 2012;77(4):323-331.. All participants stuck to a low-carbohydrate diet. One group also ate a low-carb breakfast; the other group ate a high-protein and high-carb breakfast that included a sweet dessert. After 16 weeks, everyone lost about 30 pounds— and probably had to do some serious jeans shopping.

But the group that feasted on breakfast foods reported more satisfied stomachs: They felt less hungry and experienced fewer cravings than usual. On the other hand, participants who ate smaller breakfasts said they felt even more tempted to go wild in the junk-food aisle.

For the next 16 weeks, participants tried to keep up the diet on their own. It turned out the group that ate a bigger breakfast not only managed to keep off the weight they lost, but also continued slimming down— while most participants in the other group gained it all back.

Dr. Daniela Jakubovicz, who co-authored the study with Drs. Julio Wainstein, Mona Boaz, and Oren Froy at the Wolfson Medical Center, believes meal composition at breakfast is key because it prevents hunger and cravings later in the dayThe effects of high-carbohydrate vs high-fat breakfasts on feelings of fullness and alertness, and subsequent food intake. Holt, S.H., Delargy, H.J., Lawton, C.L., et al. Human Nutrition Unit, University of Sydney, NSW, Australia. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition 1999;50(1):13-28.. Specifically, the combination of protein and carbohydrates at breakfast decreases levels of the hormone ghrelin, which causes hunger— and can make that Snickers bar look simply irresistible.

And the study authors argue a big-breakfast diet could not only help people lose weight, but also maintain it. “Only a diet that protects you against hunger and addiction prevents weight gain,” says Jakubovicz. She believes people who eat a little bit of chocolate every day are less likely to become addicted. Plus, metabolism is typically higher in the morning than later in the day, so foods like chocolate might be less fattening earlier on.

But keep in mind the dessert was only part of a breakfast that stayed under 600 calories— and a low-carb diet the rest of the day. It’s also worth noting this limited-scale study involved people who were obese and sedentary— so the same findings might not apply to everyone. Plus, the study authors suggest the big-breakfast group may have been more successful because it might just be easier to comply with that diet in the long term. And remember, a healthy lifestyle generally includes plenty of exercise— so, whether you’re Cookie Monster or a lettuce lover, make sure to get a move on!

We asked Greatist Experts dietician Lisa Moskovitz and Dr. Sherry Pagoto whether they think this study provides convincing evidence that a big breakfast can help with weight management.

Lisa Moskovitz: “Those who tend to be most active during the day or in the morning may burn calories more efficiently at that time. On the other hand, late-night exercisers or those who move around more at night can afford to have extra calories later in the day. Regardless of either circumstance, generally speaking, a calorie is a calorie no matter when it is consumed.

I find that most of my clients… fall into the other category [when they eat sweets in the morning]. Eating sweets early in the day tends to have the opposite [effect] and can trigger unfavorable blood sugar swings that lead to a constant search for more sugary foods to bring up energy levels again.

Tactics that help [with maintaining weight loss] include committing to a regular exercise routine, daily food records and avoiding situations with too many food triggers or temptations. Most people believe getting to their goal weight will make life much easier and happier. The reality is you still need to put forth the same effort and commitment as weight loss requires.”

Sherry Pagoto:”Clinically, I have observed people with food addiction are eating sweets at all times of the day (including high sugar cereals in the morning) so I’m not sure that eating chocolate in the morning would be terribly different from their usual diet.

[Whether eating a big breakfast reduces afternoon cravings] really depends on how your diet is the rest of the day. If you tend to skip lunch then a big breakfast will make no difference at 3pm.The one consistent theme we see in the literature is that skipping breakfast is a habit associated with weight gain, so we definitely know that eating a good breakfast is extremely important to weight control.”