A few weeks ago, a study was publicized that had me very surprised. It was published in various media outlets with the claim that it might be good for weight loss to skip breakfast. This contradicts almost all studies done over the last 20 years and it definitely contradices the advise I have been giving to clients that they must eat breakfast and it may very well be the most important meal of the day. So have I been wrong in my advice? Not quite. As usual, headlines in media outlets don’t always give an accurate picture of research. And as I suspected, this was a small study done over a short period of time and really means nothing at all. And yes, breakfast is the most important meal of the day.
If you don’t eat breakfast, you are in the majority. We live in a very fast paced society where pressures of being on time for work or school don’t allow a lot of leeway for sleeping a few minutes more in the morning. “The average American skips breakfast,” says Constance Brown-Riggs, MSEd, RD, CDE, CDN, registered dietitian, and certified diabetes educator. “You’re skipping breakfast and oftentimes you skip lunch as well, so by the time you do eat, you’re ravenous and overeat.” Skipping breakfast is harmful in many ways; 1) You most likely will end up overeating by the day’s end. 2) You will lack energy most of the day 3) You are more likely to become a type two diabetic and 4) Your cognitive brain function will be diminished making you less productive.
What happens when you don’t eat breakfast? As its name implies, the purpose of breakfast is to break the fast between dinner and lunch. Here’s what happens when you don’t eat a morning meal: Your body enters into a prolonged fasting state. It starts to believe that you won’t be eating any time soon. When you finally eat lunch, your body stores it as fat because it thinks, “I’d better save this for later. I don’t know when the next meal will come.” That, of course, leads to weight gain. When you break the fast in the morning, on the other hand, your body can use that food to power you through the day.
Aside from kicking your body into gear and keeping hunger at bay, why should you bother with breakfast? “The research shows that, without a doubt, students do better in school with breakfast,” says Brown-Riggs. “It helps in terms of fitness.” It affects the mind, too: Breakfast eaters are more productive at work, have better problem-solving skills, and increased mental clarity.
Not only that, but people who eat breakfast tend to have a healthier diet overall. “We know, when we look at the characteristics of individuals who are breakfast skippers, that they get inadequate amounts of fruits and vegetables,” says Heather Leidy, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at the University of Missouri. “They are deficient in calcium and other minerals.” On average, breakfast skippers snack more often, eat more sugary, high-fat snacks, drink more soda, are more likely to overeat at night, and are more often overweight or obese than breakfast eaters.
Forgoing the first meal of the day actually tricks your brain into thinking you want higher-calorie foods — foods that can make you fat, or at least increase your risk for weight gain.
A team from Imperial College London presented the news at the Endocrine Society’s 91st annual meeting in Washington, D.C. The researchers used a scan called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at how feeding behaviors affected the brain’s “reward” center, which plays a role in pleasures and the body’s response to them.
Functional MRI allows doctors to look at how blood flow increases in response to brain activity.
The study involved 20 healthy, non-obese people. They skipped breakfast before the fMRI exam. During the test, they looked at random photos of high- and low-calorie foods. The high-calorie foods included pizza, cake, and chocolate. The healthier options included vegetables, fish, and salad. The brain’s reward center lit up more vividly, or became more active, when the person saw a high-calorie food as opposed to a low-calorie choice. (The taste and smell of food can also activate the brain’s reward center.)
However, when the participants ate breakfast and had the same test repeated 90 minutes after eating breakfast, the brain’s reward center did not show any significantly greater activity when shown the high-calorie photos.
The study participants also rated how appealing they found each food picture. When skipping breakfast, high-calorie foods topped the list of favorites. After eating, however, the group did not show a strong preference for the calorie-laden foods. Their choices corresponded with the MRI findings. Breakfast has long been touted as the most important meal of the day, and researchers say their findings add credibility to what we have been saying almost forever. “Our results support the advice for eating a healthy breakfast as part of the dietary prevention and treatment of obesity,” Tony Goldstone, MD, PhD, a consultant endocrinologist with the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre at Imperial College London, says in a statement. “When people skip meals, especially breakfast, changes in brain activity in response to food may hinder weight and even promote weight gain.”
A 2012 study by Keith A. Wesnes Claire Pincock and, Andrew Scholey in England showed just how important eating breakfast is for school-age children. In this study, 1386 children aged between 6 and 16 years, from schools throughout the UK, answered a number of questions daily concerning their food and drink consumption that day and performed cognitive tests of attention and episodic memory. Children who had had breakfast showed superior performance on tests of attention and memory, confirming a previous laboratory based study using the same cognitive tests. This study adds weight (no pun intended) to the growing body of literature indicating that breakfast plays a positive role in maintaining cognitive function during the morning.
We always seem too busy to do the things that we need to in order to take care of our health. We are too busy to exercise, too busy deal with our stress and too busy to prepare the foods that are good for us. Now we are even too busy to eat the most important meal of the day in our schedule. MAKE THE CHANGE AND SCHEDULE YOUR BREAKFAST! And just like any other meal, make healthful choices and include whole grains and lean proteins and some vegetables too. If you are using whole-grain, low sugar cereals for breakfast, add some low-fat milk as a protein and perhaps some raisins or bananas or berries as a fruit and you will have a lot of energy to start your day. Remember, this is the first of 3 meals and 2 or three snacks that you should be eating daily, in proper portion amounts.
Eating a proper breakfast each day will, “add hours to your day, days to your year, and years to your life.”
Alan Freishtat is an A.C.E. CERTIFIED PERSONAL TRAINER and a LIFESTYLE FITNESS COACH with over 18 years of professional experience. He is the co-director of the Jerusalem-based weight loss and stress reduction center Lose It! along with Linda Holtz M.Sc. and is available for private consultations, assessments and personalized workout programs. Alan also lectures and gives seminars and workshops. He can be reached at 02-651-8502 or 050-555-7175, or by email at [email protected] Check out the Lose It! web site – www.loseit.co.il US Line: 516-568-5027