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The Breakfast Battles: Do you or don't you? [Dueling research!]

Posted Jan 30 2011 7:09pm
And now you're not hungry are you? Gah. I shudder every time I look at this.

Common sense vs the New York Times. This last week saw an epic showdown between conventional wisdom and the venerable Gray Lady over a topic everyone usually agrees on: breakfast. (Although now that I type that out, it's not the first time the two have been pitted against each other - anyone else read the Modern Love column ?) What is so controversial about breakfast? Whether or not to eat it, of course!

In one corner, the Times piece about new research from Germany:
For both groups [obese and normal weight people], a large breakfast simply added to the number of daily calories they consumed. Whether they ate a large breakfast, a small one or none at all, their nonbreakfast calorie intake remained the same.

“Whenever someone comes to me for dietary advice and says, ‘I never eat breakfast,’ I say, ‘Keep doing what you’re doing,’ ” said the senior author, Dr. Volker Schusdziarra, a professor of internal medicine at the Technical University of Munich. “Eating breakfast is just added calories. You’ll never compensate for them at subsequent meals.”
And in the other corner the February issue of Shape magazine, parroting the conventional dieter's wisdom :
"Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found dieters who eat a larger morning meal are more successful at losing body fat than those who don't make breakfast a priority.

If you don't eat within 2 hours of waking, your metabolism can slow down to conserve energy."
For the record, my beloved Rachel Cosgrove sees Shape's 2 hours and raises it to a mere 15 minutes, saying that you need to have breakfast within a quarter of an hour of waking if you want to maximize metabolism benefits.

While I was never quite able to meet Rachel's deadline - 15 minutes after I wake up I'm still sitting on the toilet doing the crossword puzzle (hush!) - I do always, without fail, eat breakfast. And yes it is usually within 1-2 hours of waking. In fact, I love my breakfast so much that it may very well be my favorite meal of the day. I take in quite a lot of calories in my morning meal (1/3 maybe?) and then I have a substantial lunch and a small afternoon snack and by dinner time I'm really not very hungry, often eating a very small meal. I do not like going to bed with a full stomach. And I'm normal weight so obviously whatever works for me must work for everyone right? (Of course right, Ms. Hanigan!)

But before we throw out the German study, I can see their point. I had a roommate in college who hated breakfast. She just wasn't hungry in the morning. Maybe she ate a piece of fruit. When we all went out to IHOP to celebrate the end of finals - because nothing says "I better have passed O Chem this time or else I'm a lifer" like a Rooty Tooty Fresh-n-Fruity! - she'd pick at a piece of toast and grumble about how orange juice hurt her stomach. And she was quite thin. The authors of the infamous Skinny Bitch (why oh why did I not think to include a provocative curse word in my book title?!) echo my roommate's sentiments, instructing followers to only eat fruit for breakfast, ever. (If you've read my book, you'll remember my disastrous Experiment with that particular gem.)

There is also the Intermittent Fasting crowd to consider. They have long decried the common warning that not eating for a certain amount of time will cause your metabolism to nosedive. Sure subjects' metabolisms may go down a bit when fasting but they also go back up again of their own accord. From an evolutionary standpoint, it wouldn't make a ton of sense to punk out after a mere 3 hours without food. The human body is remarkably adaptable and we need to give our metabolisms more credit. If you have any doubt that you can build muscle and burn fat while fasting, check out Lean Gains - this guy will blow your mind.

So there you have it: two totally contradictory studies that both kinda make sense. What I have decided for myself - intuitive eating and all - is that I like eating breakfast. I'm hungry in the morning and it makes me feel good to eat it. So I do. But I also think that if you don't like breakfast and you're not hungry then you now have official permission to skip it and not feel bad about it. (Just don't skip breakfast and then shovel down two bagels and a doughnut three hours later in the break room. If you're not hungry in the a.m., tote a healthy meal with you that you can when you do get hungry.)

Are you ravenous in the morning like I am or are you just not hungry? What's your typical breakfast like? What do you make of this new study? Anyone else now singing "The sun'll come out toMORrow..."?

Written with love by Charlotte Hilton Andersen for The Great Fitness Experiment (c) 2011. If you enjoyed this, please check out my new book The Great Fitness Experiment: One Year of Trying Everything for more of my crazy antics and uncomfortable over-shares!
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