Breakfast. It seems like forever since we’ve been told it’s the most important meal of the day, but a recent study shows that it’s actually true and not just Mom having been a nag. Breakfast is a key component of weight management. A study presented at the recent Endocrine Society’s annual meeting showed that participants who consumed large breakfasts lost almost five times as much weight as the participants who followed a traditional diet. So what’s the big deal about breakfast? And what is a big breakfast anyway? It doesn’t seem like the lumberjack special at the local diner would do much to get the pounds off, so what should we be eating?

The study supported the idea that when we wake up in the morning, our bodies want food. You’ve burned through all the fuel from the previous day, and now your body is ready to burn anything, like muscle, to get a jump-start on the day. And if you skip breakfast, muscle is indeed what your body will burn. Later in the day, your brain is still in starvation mode from breakfast (or lack thereof), so your body will store all the calories you eat as adipose tissue, or fat, to save up for the next day when you try to starve it again. The study also found that serotonin (the chemical responsible for controlling cravings) levels were much higher in the morning, which is why breakfast is the meal so many of us are willing to skip. But if our bodies are left unfed, our serotonin levels drop, and the cravings for sweets begin to rise throughout the day.

Now, before you hit McDonald’s for their 800-calorie Big Breakfast or, worse, their 1,150-calorie Deluxe Breakfast, or you swing by Denny’s for a 740-calorie Grand Slam or 950-calorie All-American Slam with hash browns, keep in mind these were not the breakfasts the study participants consumed. The big-breakfast group had a 610-calorie breakfast as part of a 1,240-calorie day. Breakfasts included milk, lean meat (sorry, no bacon or sausage), cheese, whole grains, a serving of healthy fat, and one ounce of chocolate or candy to defray the sweets cravings. The other group’s participants consumed 1,080 calories per day as part of a high-protein, low-carb diet. Both groups were on the diet for 8 months. The high-protein group lost an average of 9 pounds but the big-breakfast group lost an average of 40 pounds. And perhaps not surprisingly, the big-breakfast group complained less about cravings and hunger.

The big-breakfast group’s breakfast consisted of 58 grams of carbs, 47 grams of protein, and 22 grams of fat. Study reviewers attribute some of the success of the big-breakfast group to the fact that the protein and healthy fats eaten kept the participants full and reduced cravings. They also said that nutritional requirements were well met, that there weren’t empty calories consumed, as the breakfasts included lots of whole grains, fruits, lean proteins, and healthy unsaturated fats. So, bad news for the lumberjack-special devotees—a big plate of greasy hash browns, bacon, and biscuits with gravy isn’t going to get the job done, unless the job is clogging your arteries.

Here are some healthy big-breakfasts, like the ones consumed by the study participants..

Chicken and the Egg

2 eggs, scrambled
2 slices whole wheat toast
1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, roasted
1 grapefruit

602 calories, 54 grams carbohydrates, 51 grams protein, 19 grams fat

Low-Fat Breakfast

packet instant oatmeal with 1 scoop 1 scoop protein powder
1 cup blueberriess
3 oz. turkey breast
1 hard-boiled egg
1 oz. dark chocolate

633 calories, 66 grams carbohydrates, 48 grams protein, 12 grams fat

Two Egg Sandwiches

2 whole wheat English muffins
2 poached eggs
2 slices low-fat Swiss cheese
2 slices Canadian bacon

599 calories, 58 grams carbohydrates, 62 grams protein, 18 grams fat

Vegetarian Breakfast

1 cup cottage cheese (2% milk fat)
1 cup canned peaches in their own juice
1 slice whole wheat toast
1/2 avocado
2 vegetarian sausage links

630 calories, 61 grams carbohydrates, 48 grams protein, 22 grams fat

Pescetarian Breakfast

1 can light tuna
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise (preferably canola or olive oil based)
2 slices whole wheat toast
1 oz. dark chocolate

606 calories, 49 grams carbohydrates, 50 grams protein, 22 grams fat