Could eating cake or a donut for breakfast help your long-term weight loss goals?

I am always looking for interesting things to write about for, so the topic of a weight loss diet that included a dessert for breakfast certainly caught my eye. Researchers at the Tel Aviv University did a 16-week study with two groups of people. Both groups had the same, low-calorie diet. Both started with a protein-rich breakfast. But one group got a mandatory cookie, chocolate, cake or donut for dessert with that meal (apparently, they just ate less later to make up for the calorie increase at breakfast). Basically, while both groups had low-calorie diets, one group had a higher-carb allotment.

Here is the thing. Both groups lost about the same amount of weight – 33 lbs. on average. But in the 16-week follow-up, the low-carb group had regained an average of 22lbs. But the higher carb group? They continued to lose weight, averaging a loss of 15lbs.

I’ll take the diet with the donut, thank you!

A few other facts about the study:

First, the 200 people doing the diet were all obese. Someone who had just a few pounds to lose might not find the diet effective. The authors also found that the dieters allowed the dessert in the morning had an easier time staying on the diet. The dessert group had less cravings and hunger and has greater drops of the “hunger hormone” ghrelin after breakfast when compared to the low-carb dieters. You should also note that the group eating the cake had to eat it in the morning. They couldn’t save it for an after-dinner snack. The dessert was also quite small.

It almost sounds to good to be true, doesn’t it? A diet that includes cake and donuts is definitely in the realm of daydreams of “wish it could be”. And besides, doesn’t sugar and carbs make you gain weight. Look at the Atkins diet. Look at the paleo /primal diet.

Here are a few thoughts.

First, I am not “anti-carb”. I personally could eat vegetables, protein, and fat until I turned green, but not feel satisfied. However, if I pair those vegetables and protein, and fat with a nice serving of mashed potatoes or a slice of bread, I feel great! So the idea that a diet with carbs in it is helpful in making dieters feel satisfied resonates from my day-to-day experiences.

However, I don’t think that eating a daily serving of refined sugar is great for you. And depending on the quality of the other ingredients in a donut, cookie or cake, you could end up with a lot of preservatives, food additives, and other nasty things. Furthermore, to make the breakfast so high-protein, yet lower calorie, people ate non-fat milk/yogurt and egg whites. While, yes, they did get more protein for less calories, that fat from the milk is needed to properly assimilate the nutrients from the meal. The egg yolk is the most vitamin-rich part of the egg. While, granted, I suppose any fat-soluble nutrients would be absorbed because you are eating plenty of fats with the cake or donut, it just seems a little backwards and not a diet for proper nutrition.

Daniela Jakubowicz, MD, the study’s principal investigator, now has a book out called The Big Breakfast Diet: Eat Big Before 9 A.M. and Lose Big for Life. I am sure she would give a lot more guidelines and details there.

For a different mindset, check out Julia Ross in The Diet Cure: The 8-Step Program to Rebalance Your Body Chemistry and End Food Cravings, Weight Gain, and Mood Swings–Naturally. She does an excellent job laying down clearly the problem of low-calorie diets and the dieting yo-yo that happens. She has seen how nutrient depleted people who diet become, which leads to eventual weight issues as their body starts working improperly. Her diet plan is completely different. On her plan you eat plenty of vegetables and protein, carbs enough to satisfy, and amino acids to help depleted levels. She is very convincing. She also agrees that breakfast is very important.

But perhaps the greatest thing we can learn from this study, is that it doesn’t always pay to be as extreme as possible. Jakubowicz told the New York Times, “Most people simply regain weight, no matter what diet they are on … But if you eat what you like, you decrease cravings. The cake — a small piece — is important.” The whole point of the dessert is to help you feel satisfied in how you eat. “

Perhaps cake is important to our diet after all! But I’d make it a real food, homemade one. Your taste buds and health will thank you.

I’d love to open up the topic of weight control or weight loss on a real food diet. What is your experience and thoughts? I know that is it a big topic, and often confusing, but I’d love to hear from you! 

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I love beautiful and simple food that is nourishing to the body and the soul. I wrote Fresh: Nourishing Salads for All Seasons and Ladled: Nourishing Soups for All Seasons as another outlet of sharing this love of mine. I also love sharing practical tips on how to make a real food diet work on a real life budget. Find me online elsewhere by clicking on the icons below!

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  1. says

    What an amazing article, maybe I could make the ultra yummy looking cake in your picture for my eleven year old for mid-morning snack! I would be racking up the greatest mom points!!! Is that recipe on your amazing site?
    I definitely agree about going without witholding from yourself. When I don’t want to eat sugar because of health reasons, I find some honey, maple syrup or sugar free sweet something!

  2. says

    Kimi, this is super fascinating to me! No wonder I crave chocolate right when I wake up! 😉 Lol! 🙂 I am going to look at the links you mentioned and learn more about this. Now you have me thinking!
    I know that before we started GAPS, 2+ years ago, I did a little breakfast-trial. I stopped eating what I was feeding my kids (pancakes, waffles, gluten free cereal, popovers, German pancakes) and started eating scrambled eggs for breakfast everyday. I stopped needing my mid-morning chocolate (seriously, before GAPS, whoa…I could’ve kept a chocolate shop in business all on my own! ;)). I started losing a little weight. GAPS, of course, made all of that even BETTER!
    I’m hearing lots about high carb/low carb and “is low carb healthy?” lately and I really want to learn more about this. Thanks for sharing this info! Maybe regular, commercial donuts aren’t great, but maybe a soaked-grain, honey sweetened donut?? Everyday? I think I could do that! 🙂

    • KimiHarris says

      Hey Brenda!

      Good to hear from you! You know, I really think it comes down to different things working for different people. What satisfies me, isn’t going to satisfy someone else. Example: My five-year old has always seemed like a “protein-type”, that is someone who needs more protein. If I give her enough protein in the morning, she will feel satisfied for a longtime. However, I don’t. I need at least a bit of carbohydrates in the morning so that I don’t need a snack in an hour or two. So, I am a little suspicious of a one-diet-fits-all mentality. That said, I think that the general principle of eating not only protein, but also enough carbs in the morning is fascinating and an interesting thing to look into. 😉

  3. Heather Wormsley says

    Wow, Kimi, you’re brave opening this one up. I will try to be brief. On the whole, we eat ONLY what I make, from scratch, including “builders” like relish/BBQ sauce/mayo…. My family DOES expect dessert every lunch (that’s our main meal). Again these are all made with traditional/quality ingredients and they are served correct portions. I feel this lifestyle is necessary here because we don’t eat out, and don’t buy “fun” stuff from the store like doughnuts (I do make them seasonly). Oh, and in their books, fruit is NOT a dessert unless it’s IN a dessert item (like bananas foster). We also do incorporate exercise into our lives (John and I do High Intensity Interval Training- HIIT every weekday). All of this being said, I do find it difficult to maintain the weight I want to have. In fact for the past year I have gained in places that I never had difficulty with before now. I have chalked it up to hormonal changes and am seeking how to combat this naturally. Yet even before this year’s time, John and I would usually undergo a spring whole veggy juice fast to drop extra winter pounds. So, in summary, yes I find it somewhat difficult to remain thin (although I’m sure our predecesors would deem me too slender).

    • KimiHarris says

      You know, another important part of this discussion is losing weight to be thin, and being happy with a healthy weight for us. Our culture has skewered our perspective so much, it can be hard to know how skinny is too skinny. I think that Sally Fallon is a good example of someone who advocates actually not being super-skinny. She proudly and elegantly is not a size 2, and looks wonderful (and vibrant). Just another facet to this conversation, I guess. 😉

  4. Lisa says

    Hi Kimi,
    I saw this study too, and I actually tried it. We eat like you do (except I think we eat a little more sweets–rapadura or sucanat–as my way of honoring my otherwise very food-compliant husband). I had 30-40 pounds to lose after the birth of my fourth child in 5 years. I was by no means obese, but I definitely had piled on extra weight with the back to back pregnancies. I had been counting calories, still eating good whole foods, just not in as large quantities. I had lost around 25 pounds and plateaued, so I tried this. I wasn’t eating junk, but I was eating around 300 calories of carbs with natural sweeteners after a usual high protein breakfast. I felt so gross and too full. Psychologically, it was hard too, to know that I had consumed a huge portion of my calories for the day that early in the morning. I can’t say whether it would work, because I didn’t stick with it, but I just know that I felt ick.

    On the other hand I recently read a study where women had two consecutive low-carb days per week (less than 50 grams) and ate sensibly the rest of the week. They lost double the fat of the women eating a restricted calorie diet. So I tried it, and I broke through my plateau, losing between 2 and 4 pounds per week (though, unlike in the study, I continued to count calories the non-low-carb days). I believe the study also said that blood sugar levels stayed much more level for the entire week, with just those two low carb days. For my low carb days I eat lots of organic meat, eggs, raw veggies with cheese, salad, and nuts.

    I think that different things work for different people. I know that a lot of people eating a whole foods diet (we follow the Weston A. Price Foundation diet) don’t have trouble with weight, but because of some other health issues (insulin resistance, hormonal issues, and hypothyroidism) I have a very sluggish metabolism, and once I gained the weight during pregnancy, it just didn’t come off, even with tandem nursing two babies. Counting calories has made me very mindful of what and how much goes in my mouth. I’m trying to cram as many nourishing foods as I can in my calorie allotment, so it means eating appropriate portions (i.e. I eat avocado, but only a half of one, not a whole one, so I have room for nuts, eggs, raw dairy, and whole gluten free grains). I’m getting very near my goal weight, and once I’m maintaining, I’ll have more calories to eat more of high calorie, but high nutrient foods. This is just what has worked for me.

    • Lisa says

      Sorry, Kimi. After I posted, I realized I was repeating some of what you had already said. I had to break off posting while I put my littles to bed, and there were no comments when I started!

      • KimiHarris says

        No problem! I was glad for you to share your experience. 🙂 The study you mentioned about the two low-carb days reminded me of another diet I heard of on The basic idea is to have two days a week of “fasting” by eating 300-800 calories, then normally the rest of the week. The idea is dieting like that helps keep your metabolic rate up, instead of slowing it down over time on a calorie restrictive diet. 🙂

        • Lisa says

          I saw that as well. Since I’m nursing, I didn’t think fasting or eating too few calories was a good idea at this time in my life, but it looked like it worked. My three month old is almost 20 pounds, exclusively breastfed. He’s so fat that you’d think he’d be sucking it off me a little faster, but it hasn’t worked that way! Anyway, like you said, different things for different bodies.

  5. Debora Diana says

    Hi Kimi,
    I would like to leave my comment on this. It is been three years I’ve been on the West A Price diet and I love your blog. But I have been struggling with my weight since then…I have tried Sally Fallon’s diet, it did not work to me. I can’t eat too much calories as she states… I’ve read Julia Ross book and I totally agree with her about nutrient therapy and biochemical rebalancing. I would like to try the aminoacids supplementation, but I can’t find them in Brazil where I live.
    Since the beginning of this year I decided to put that weight off and I have lost 22 pounds since then. What did I do? I tried to combine various things at the same time, from all I have read so far, and it has been working to me. I have been on a low carb diet, but still nutrient dense…but I do eat a small portion of carbs only at lunch, rice, potatoes, quinoa together with protein and good fats and vegetables. I remember Sally Fallon at Nourishing Traditions saying some people can only have few carbs. I have cut gluten off my life, I don’t eat wheat and related grains anymore. I believe that made a huge difference. I cut off sugar, even rapadura, honey, etc…but I eat very now and then a piece of home made candy. My cravings for carbs and sweets have gone away, I felt this clearly. I only eat one or two pieces of fruit a day. I believe my blood sugar and insulin levels are more balanced now, what made my hunger level balanced as well. And I have also tried Dr. Mercola’s fasting method one or two days a week. I have a low carb dinner at night and on the following morning I delay my breakfast to 9:30 or 10:00 am, sometimes if I can till lunch time, but only if can stand it, I don’t get to point of starving myself too hard. If I feel too hungry I will eat, like during my PMS.. It works! I have been on a multi-vitamin from A to Z, Clorella and Coconut Oil everyday which help my energy levels. All that combined made me lose those 22 pounds and I have more 15 to come off. As to exercise I can only walk during weekends. I don’t believe in a one-diet-fits-all also like you said, but people have to find their way, what works best for them, and sometimes in a trial and error basis. That’s what I did. Thanks for helping me in that journey with your lovely recipes and articles.
    Ah, let me tell you, through one of your Pennywise Platter Thursday i won the Gluten and Dairy Free E-course giveaway by Cooking Traditional Foods -(given by Easy Natural Foods), thanks for that too! I has helped me a lot!

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