Last week, I wrote a post about Intermittent Fasting, and then a reader of mine asked: “You speak about how it is better to put your meals earlier in the day, but since the traditional wisdom has always been to eat soon after you wake up, do you think that still applies here? Is breakfast the most important meal of the day?”
The short answer is yes.
But to understand why, let’s take a look at what happens when we skip breakfast….
First, your metabolism slows down.
As I mentioned last week, while we sleep, our bodies are in rest and recovery mode. During this time food is not required. However, when we wake up, our bodies are active again and need fuel. If the body goes for a prolonged period of activity without nourishment, it will likely go into preservation mode, slowing down the metabolism.
So then what happens?
- You realize you’re starving and make poor food choices.
So now you’re at work or going about your day and you suddenly get a pang of hunger because you realize you haven’t eaten since you woke up. With the best intentions to eat healthfully, you end up grabbing the nearest and quickest option, which is usually something less than ideal. (Read: pizza from a pizzeria on the street or a burger and fries from a fast food joint) Eating well takes planning, and extreme hunger leaves no time for that.
- You graze all day.
You may not have eaten breakfast, but you think you’re fine because your bag or desk are full of bars and snacks to get you through the day. But our mindless munching usually leads to taking in more calories than our intentional eating of meals and snacks. Having breakfast not only provides nutritional benefits, but it also mentally sets you up for more structured and mindful eating throughout the day.
- You calorie load at night.
You haven’t eaten all day, and when you finally get a chance to sit down for dinner, you may think you have the right to eat whatever you want because you have a day’s worth of calories to fill. But that’s the biggest mistake you could make for two reasons:
- As I mentioned last week, calorie loading at the end of the day can disrupt the circadian rhythm and throw off the metabolism. Your metabolism has slowed down to help get you through the day with no nourishment, and now it’s being overloaded with all this food just before you are about to go into rest and recovery mode.
- By eating so much so late at night, you will inevitably wake up feeling full and weighed down. Then, breakfast will be the last thing you want, thus perpetuating the vicious cycle of skipping it.
Now let’s looks at what happens if you do eat breakfast:
First, your metabolism wakes up.
When we wake up (and are hopefully not still full from the night before!), our body’s energy reserve is depleted because it hasn’t been fed in a while. As I mentioned last week, “When we wake up...our bodies are better equipped to respond to food, break it down, and use it for energy.” Eating breakfast sends a signal to the body to rev up the metabolism. The food we eat is then converted into energy, which powers our activities ahead.
Your eating throughout the day is more structured.
By eating breakfast, you are establishing the beginning of a general eating schedule. While some people differ, most people generally eat every 3 to 4 hours -- depending on their schedule, metabolism, and whether they like to have a snack in between meals. As such, you may plan to have a snack 3 hours after breakfast, lunch 2 hours after that, and so on and so forth. This leads us to the next point...
Your food choices are better.
Having a better idea about when you’re going to eat can give you more power over what you’re going to eat. Instead of just throwing random bars and snacks into your bag to “tide you over” (read: graze on all day), you can make a conscious decision about how many snacks you need and what those snacks should look like (read: not a protein bar loaded with sugar). And instead of waiting till you are starving for lunch, you can anticipate your hunger and bring or order in a healthy lunch in advance.
You realize how much better it is for you to eat breakfast, that you make a concerted effort not to overeat at night.
The best part about getting into a breakfast groove is loving your breakfast groove. You want to be hungry for breakfast so now you actually have more incentive not to overeat at night. You don’t feel like finishing your dinner is a sad end to the day’s eating because you’re excited to wake up the next day and eat again. In fact, if you’re anything like me, you go to sleep dreaming about what you’re going to have the next morning...
The final word:
So yes, eating breakfast is important. To say it is the most important meal of the day is deceiving because it makes it seem like the other ones don’t matter. But I hope this article has shown how eating breakfast creates a positive domino effect for the rest of your eating throughout the day and how skipping breakfast does exactly the opposite.
P.S. If like so many other people you just can't seem to make breakfast work with your schedule or are in a food rut and looking for breakfast inspo, stay tuned...I got you!