My mother always told me breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Is this another one of her cover-ups, like the Santa Claus fiasco? Others before her have proclaimed "eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper." Supposedly a big meal in the morning will fire up your metabolism and slay your hunger for the remainder of the day (not completely true). The fact is science just doesn't know. There is lots of conflicting data floating around out there. One thing is for certain, eating breakfast makes me hungrier. Here's what science and history does know Breakfast Facts
People have been eating breakfast for at least 2000 years...but not always upon rising.
Breakfast has not ever been proven to increase basal metabolic rate. It does not increase your metabolism!
Throughout history and even today many populations wait a couple hours before eating breakfast.
Eating breakfast soon after rising will increase your insulin and blood sugar response more than other times during the day.
High fiber and protein breakfasts have been scientifically shown to decrease hunger throughout the day when compared to a protein neutral breakfasts.
In studies breakfast eaters on average are thinner than breakfast skippers - however this is correlation not causation research - breakfast eaters are usually shown to have healthier habits i.e. workout more often and less likely to drink and smoke.
A new study in JAMA debunks regular breakfast eating as a preventative measure against obesity.
We need better randomized controlled studies researching the effects regular breakfast eating has on diet, weight gain/loss, appetite, and hormone levels to properly assess its benefits or lack there of.
Most workdays I have a plain full fat yogurt topped with lots of seeds, nuts and berries for breakfast (high protein and fiber, low sugar with plenty of good fats). My nutrition books tell me this is the breakfast of champions and should easily sate my hunger pangs until lunch. Nevertheless, I'm usually hungry 2 hours later. On the weekends, I might have a bigger breakfast, especially if its brunch, this will not only make me ravenous 3 to 4 hours later, it'll zap my energy. Either there is a insatiably hungry mid morning monster in my stomach or eating upon rising is effecting my hunger/sating hormones. In hopes it is not the former, I have been experimenting with skipping breakfast and you know what? I feel great and not hungry or tired. So what's the deal?
"Consider a study published in Nutrition Journal in 2011. Researchers followed the eating habits of 100 normal-weight and 280 obese participants during a two-week period. They found that in both groups, the more calories they ate at breakfast, the more total calories they ate for the rest of the day. And when they ate a smaller breakfast, or none at all, their total calorie intake was less." - I know, I'm sure you can find a study that contradicts this one. The breakfast research is convoluted.
This is real cereal!
We all know some breakfast foods will induce hunger more readily than others. A breakfast high in simple carbohydrates like a bowl of Kellogg's Milk Chocolate Krave (I can't believe Bloomberg hasn't gone after this sugar bomb clearly marketed toward kids) will spike your insulin and cause a hunger surge much quicker than a high protein/fiber meal like a spinach and mushroom omelet. Unfortunately, for many people no matter what they eat in the morning it will "open" their appetite for the rest of the day. But whatever you do, steer clear of this weaponized imitation food product called Krave and others like it. If you eat this stuff the terrorists win...because you will die of diabetes and obesity related diseases.
Did you know your cortisol levels peak first thing in the morning? Upon rising when cortisol levels are highest they have a pronounced effect on feeding induced insulin secretion. Thus as you eat during this period it leads to a rapid and large insulin response, and a corresponding drop in blood sugar...which makes you hungry again and more predisposed to store fat. In people who are fit and insulin sensitive (diabetics are insulin resistant) this effect seems to be more pronounced. The interesting thing is by not eating, your blood sugar and insulin remain pretty low and your morning cortisol has nothing to potentate. Skipping breakfast and waiting a few hours to eat will naturally lower your cortisol levels thereby stripping its ability to spike your insulin and blood sugars. Moreover it will also increase your human growth hormone output which will advance fat burning and muscle building. If you'd like a more in depth explanation please read the great article from Leangains.com Detailed Scientific Explanation of Post Breakfast Hunger
It takes anywhere between six to eight hours for your body to use up its glycogen stores (sugar) and after that you begin to shift to burning fat. However if you are replenishing your glycogen by eating every eight hours (or more), you make it far more difficult for your body to actually use your fat stores as fuel. Skipping breakfast will ensure you have a least an 8 hour fast and will likely speed up your fat burning potential.
Now I understand there are many people who do not get hungry after they eat breakfast. If you are one of these people, good for you. For the rest of us, try pushing breakfast back 2 to 3 hours or skip it all together and see how that makes you feel. Don't just do this willy nilly. Have a plan, and most importantly don't binge eat later! Warning: it may take a couple weeks to get accustomed to skipping breakfast. If you are anything like me (I unknowingly trained my hormones through decades of breakfast eating to instigate ravenous hunger upon waking), it'll be hard for a week or two. Coffee (sans the sugar) makes the transition easier. Hunger pangs wane and wax but it gets easier and easier as you train your hunger hormones. If you'd like to go whole hog and try intermittent fasting read my somewhat interesting post: Fast(ing) Weight Loss
Please don't get me wrong, breakfast has been eaten by populations for thousands of years and is not bad in itself (although Kellog's Krave is evil). Ancient Romans soldiers ate breakfasts of porridge before they practiced or went into battle. Many early American farmers would work the fields and a few hours later come in for a light breakfast of tea and some form of cooked oats. Guess what? The farmers and soldiers did not have desk jobs and they were not obese. American's sit a and move too little to justify and big breakfast to start the day. I think the importance placed on breakfast by media, doctors, and nutritionists is definitely overrated. If you are not hungry first thing in the morning or you're choosing to fast, skipping breakfast is not a big deal. We should focus more on food selection, food amount, and food timing compared to focusing on a single meal.