I had a patient not too long ago who struggled to lose weight. A quick look at her food journal revealed why. To save calories, she skipped breakfast and simply sipped on coffee or one of those "skinny lattes" that actually contain a good bit of sugar.
She’s not alone. "I hate breakfast," many patients candidly reply. That’s unfortunate, since studies show besides emotional resilience, eating breakfast consistently correlates with longevity and a healthy weight. Eating breakfast is just that, "breaking" the overnight "fast".
Eating upon waking brings your blood sugar levels back to normal, kick-starts your metabolism, and sets you up to be on an even metabolic keel for the rest of the day. So break your fast every morning. It will make you healthier, give you more energy through the day, and help you lose weight.
Want to Gain Weight? Skip Breakfast
The old proverb "Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and supper like a pauper" now has some scientific muscle behind it. Many of us think that if we skip breakfast we will reduce our overall calorie intake for the day and lose weight.
Unfortunately, the opposite is true. Not eating breakfast means you will eat more the rest of the day. One study among healthy lean women found skipping breakfast impairs insulin sensitivity and leads to weight gain1.
If you want further proof, look at sumo wrestlers, who never eat breakfast. They wake up, and the first thing they do is start exercising vigorously. This combination of skipping breakfast and then training really hard for five hours means that by the time they get to eat, they are starving. As a consequence, they overeat.
Something very similar happens when you skip breakfast, work through lunch, and finally return home in the evening: you eat everything in sight. You feel stuffed, sick, guilty, and regret ever entering the kitchen in the first place. I see a definite pattern among patients who skip breakfast and then experience evening hunger and cravings.
A recent study found that almost 3,000 people who lost an average of 70 pounds and kept it off for six years ate breakfast regularly1. Only four percent of people who never ate breakfast kept the weight off.
The only difference between the two groups was that the group who lost weight ate breakfast and the other group did not. They both consumed the same number of calories and the same types of food. It turns out that it’s not only the type of calories you consume that determines losing weight and maintaining weight loss, but the time of day you eat as well.
Why Most People Do Breakfast Wrong
Does skipping breakfast and eating a large meal just before sleep sound familiar? It should. It’s the American way.
We consume most of our daily calories shortly before bed. We rarely eat breakfast. We hardly make time to eat during the day, and by the time we get home we are literally starving, we often consume more than we need and then go to bed or sit in front of the television or computer while munching on more snacks. Then we do the one thing that guarantees to make us gain weight: we go to sleep. No wonder we are looking more and more like sumo wrestlers every day.
Equally bad are those who make breakfast dessert. If you eat empty calories from refined foods (such as doughnuts and sweet rolls) and sugars, you will tend to eat more overall. You would never eat ice cream for breakfast, but many cereals, toaster concoctions, muffins, and other things that pass as breakfast – even "healthy" choices – contain as much if not more sugar. You’re essentially eating dessert.
So eat breakfast, but do it correctly. Bypass the cereal aisle and whatever vitamin-fortified concoctions that carry a healthy halo and try to pass off as a smart breakfast.
Studies show protein-rich breakfasts can improve satiety and reduce evening snacking2. Another showed a protein-rich breakfast helps reduce your hunger hormone ghrelin2 and increase cholecystekinin, which signals your brain to stop eating. Protein-rich foods like eggs, nut butters, a protein shake, or whole grains with nuts steady blood sugar and reduce metabolic fluctuations later in the day.
A Fast, Easy, Blood-Sugar Stabilizing Breakfast
Among the countless duties that confront us in the morning, many people struggle to have time for breakfast. That has always puzzled me, since you can make a healthy omelet with plenty of colorful vegetables in minutes.
If even that seems too much, or you’re just not that hungry in the morning, try a breakfast smoothie. You can pre-prep it the night before so the whole thing takes maybe 10 minutes the following morning. Here is my favorite smoothie recipe that provides protein, healthy fats, antioxidants, and major flavor in less time than it takes to order a designer coffee.
What strategies do you employ to prioritize breakfast and get a nourishing, fast meal to start your day? Share yours below or on my Facebook fan page.
1Hamid R Farshchi, Moira A Taylor, and Ian A Macdonald, Deleterious effects of omitting breakfast on insulin sensitivity and fasting lipid profiles in healthy lean women 1,2,3,, 2005 American Society for Clinical Nutrition
2Leidy HJ1, Ortinau LC, Douglas SM, Hoertel HA., Beneficial effects of a higher-protein breakfast on the appetitive, hormonal, and neural signals controlling energy intake regulation in overweight/obese, "breakfast-skipping", late-adolescent girls., Am J Clin Nutr. 2013 Apr;97(4):677-88. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.053116. Epub 2013 Feb 27.