By Michelle May, M.D.
In our information-driven society, we receive a constant stream of news reports, research, and expert advice telling us what to do. Don’t get me wrong. Smart choices based on a solid foundation are important. But to make long term lifestyle changes, it’s essential that you think about how information applies to you. Think about this common rule:
You have to eat breakfast
Complete this sentence: breakfast is _________________________________.
I’ll bet you said “…the most important meal of the day” right? This piece of wisdom is supported by numerous studies that have shown that people who eat breakfast experience the following benefits:
- Function better (and in the case of children, perform better in school)
- Are less likely to overeat later in the day
- Weigh less than breakfast skippers
You might think, “What’s the big deal? I only skipped one meal!” Well, if you ate dinner at 6:00pm, skipped breakfast, and ate lunch at 12:00pm, you have gone 18 hours without eating.
That is a big deal because that first meal after sleeping literally breaks your fast and prevents you from being too hungry to make mindful decisions later. In addition, eating breakfast reassures your metabolism that there’s a reliable fuel supply so that it doesn’t need to slow down and conserve energy.
Maybe you’re thinking, “But when I eat breakfast, I’m hungry all day.” Of course! When you kickstart your metabolism with breakfast, your body will freely use the fuel then ask for more. The kind of fuel and the amount you eat will determine how often you get hungry.
So, what’s the myth?
When I speak at any conference about the non-diet approach and hunger-based weight management, someone always asks, “So if a person isn’t hungry for breakfast, they don’t have to eat it, right?”
Right. But, why aren’t they hungry? They have to answer that question first to figure out how breakfast might help them with their health and weight management goals.
The chicken or the egg
The association between lower body weight and eating breakfast might be a case of which came first. People who skip breakfast generally weigh more — but perhaps it’s because they overeat in the evening due to triggers like TV, boredom, habits, or stress — so they don’t feel hungry when they first wake up.
Some people even get up and eat at night, so there is no “fast” to break. Is breakfast important for them — or is it more important to address why they’re eating at night?
In other cases, people who struggle with their weight skip breakfast because they’re afraid that once they start eating, they won’t be able to stop. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When they do finally eat, they’re overly hungry, so they feel out of control. That can lead to guilt and even more eating the rest of the day and into the evening. They go to bed determined they will “be good” tomorrow but wake up and repeat the cycle all over again.
If this sounds familiar, become aware of your overall eating pattern and remember to ask the question, “am I hungry?” before you eat.
Learning other ways to cope with head hunger, like finding something else to do besides eat in front of the TV at night, will allow you to feel hungry in the morning for breakfast. With practice, you can break the cycle of skipping breakfast then overeating the rest of the day.
The morning after
Even people who eat instinctively will sometimes have a heavy evening meal, for example, at a favorite restaurant for a special occasion.
When they do, they’re usually not as hungry the next morning. Skipping breakfast on occasion won’t harm your metabolism, and it allows you to intuitively balance your intake over the course of 24 hours or so.
Not a morning person
For some people, it takes a little while for their body to wake up and give them the “eat” signal. That’s ok. You don’t have to eat within minutes of your feet hitting the floor. Just check in with yourself again in an hour or so to see if you’re noticing hunger. Be prepared with a light breakfast as you retrain yourself to eat in the morning. Soon, you’ll have a healthy new habit.
Maybe you feel too stressed in the morning to eat breakfast. Instead, you slam a couple of cups of coffee while you’re getting ready, rush around to get the kids to school, then race off to work and stress out in a traffic jam. All that caffeine and adrenaline might mask your hunger, but skipping breakfast will make you even more irritable and less productive.
The obvious solution is to give yourself a little extra time in the morning to eat. Alternatively, have quick, healthy items on hand like a scrambled egg wrapped in a whole wheat tortilla or a baggie of low-fat granola, almonds, and dried cranberries to munch on.
Wake up call
Some people eat breakfast, but choose foods that are high in saturated fat, sugar, refined carbohydrates, and calories but low in nutrition — donuts, Danishes, and drive-throughs fall into this category. Some people eat more than they really need, like a large bagel or a stack of pancakes, then feel sluggish afterward.
Some people don’t eat breakfast — they drink it instead. A fancy coffee drink usually has very few nutrients but loads of empty calories.
Breakfast kickstarts your metabolism and your day. It’s also a convenient time to eat nutrient-dense foods like bran cereal, low fat or skim milk, whole-grain toast, peanut butter, hard-boiled eggs, yogurt, or fresh fruit.
So, is breakfast the most important meal of the day? Now that’s food for thought!
Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yoyo dieter and the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: How to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle. Find additional articles and resources at http://AmIHungry.com/.
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