I gave up eating breakfast 3 years ago and it was the single best dietary change I’ve ever made. Now I’m healthier, leaner, wake up later and save the money I would have wasted on poor quality breakfast foods. Here are five reasons why breakfast is the least important meal of the day:
1. Are you even hungry in the morning?
I’ll bet you’re not even hungry right when you wake up. You just eat because you ‘know’ that if you don’t, then you’ll be starving in a few hours. Personally, I hate eating when I’m not hungry. Force-feeding yourself is unnatural and uncomfortable. Why are you doing it? Experiencing extreme hunger in the morning is not normal, it’s a symptom of metabolic syndrome, impaired health from a poor diet. It’s a sign that you eat too many carbohydrates and are an unknowing victim to a diet-induced, blood sugar rollercoaster. Listen carefully to the hunger signal, and eat only when you’re actually hungry.
2. Breakfast doesn’t ‘kick-start’ your metabolism.
Few concepts in our conventional wisdom are as pervasive as the nebulous and unscientific idea that breakfast ‘kick-starts your metabolism’. It does, but that’s not really helpful in any way. Every time you eat, your body responds adaptively and proportionately. Don’t eat, and your body will begin to conserve energy, eat a little and you’ll carry on as normal, eat a big meal and your body will be a rather wasteful. But why is kick-starting your metabolism seen as a good thing? The theory uses the logic that your body spends calories to digest calories, so the assumption is that eating more meals during waking hours helps with weight loss. The unfortunate reality, according to the data, is that there’s no truth in the idea that small frequent meals lead to a leaner physique. That and focussing on calories is misguided and wrong. You simply won’t see a difference in your body composition by manipulating how big your meals are and how many times you eat per day, so long as you get the same number of calories from the same types of food.
3. The most popular breakfast foods ravage your health.
A 2013 survey by YouGov confirmed that cereal and toast are the most popular breakfast foods in the UK, with over 80% of respondents saying they eat these items in the morning 5 times a week. The tragedy here is how poor these foods are for your health. Eaten occasionally, no big deal. Eaten chronically, breakfast cereals and breads are foods that contribute to weight gain, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, certain cancers, and other ‘diseases of civilisation’. The problem lies in the extremely potent insulin stimulating effects of these foods: they spike blood sugar more than virtually any other foods, which spikes insulin, leading to fat storage, insulin resistance, and the ills above. Not so bad in a young or athletic individual, but not everyone falls into one or both of those categories. Made of wheat, rice or oats, most cereals are inherently high in carbohydrates.
To extend shelf life and increase palatability, manufacturers fill them with added sugar. Adding industrially produced milk and perhaps a glass of orange juice serve to compound the carbohydrate load on your pancreas and liver, exacerbating an already sky-high demand for insulin. The pancreas often over-secretes insulin, causing blood sugar to crash. Since a fall in blood sugar is associated with an increase in hunger (your brain crying out for glucose), it’s no surprise that a breakfast of cereal and toast leaves you fatter, sluggish, full of brain fog and maddeningly hungry in just a few hours’ time.
Worse still, bread and cereal contain wheat, and modern wheat contains a particularly damaging form of gluten. Dave Asprey, biohacker and founder of the Bulletproof Diet, explains that gluten-containing grains are not only harmful but actually addictive. They break down in your gut into opioid-like compounds called gluteomorphins, and these trigger the same receptors in your brain as other opiate drugs like heroin. If you allow yourself to get addicted to these byproducts of grain digestion, as many do, you can experience cravings that last for days. Quite aside from addiction, plenty of new evidence shows that gluten causes inflammation, gastrointestinal distress and contributes to a host of autoimmune diseases.
And I haven’t even discussed the downsides of the fructose load from the orange juice, the problematic qualities of industrial dairy, or the fact that most people ply their toast with condiments loaded with yet you, you guessed it, added sugar (fruit preserves, honey, etc).
4. Intermittent fasting has huge health benefits.
New evidence has shown the many health benefits of giving your body a short break from food. The benefits may include fat loss, reduced heart disease risk, reduced cancer risk, longer life, reduced inflammation and increased autophagy. There are different fasting regimes. One option is fasting every day, which involves no food during 16-18 of the 24 hours. This works out as skipping breakfast and eating a slightly larger lunch and or dinner. Other regimes involve splitting your week between ‘normal’ days and ‘fasting’ days. Two popular examples of the latter are:
- a single 24 hour fast one day per week (eat dinner one night then nothing until dinner the next), and
- the 5:2 fasting regime, whereby you eat no more 500 calories two days per week (e.g. Monday and Thursday), focussing on protein and fat on those two days, consumed at any time throughout the day.
5. Studies in favour of breakfast are flawed.
Observational studies show that breakfast eaters are generally healthier than those that forgo the meal. But this is because people who skip breakfast without thinking about it often do so because they have dysregulated eating habits. This category of people is also more likely to make poor nutrition choices later in the day, once they’re hungry and not focussed on proper nutrition. Health conscious people are more likely to organise their meals, and eat virtuous foods in a regular pattern. People that disregard their health are less likely to take meal time seriously, opting for quick access snacks and convenience foods. What kinds of foods can you pick up on the go? Processed, long-life, industrial foods: chocolate, crisps, snack bars and sweets. Are you surprised they’re fatter and less healthy?
Try intermittent fasting, for progressively longer into the morning. Have a glass of water or two with a small pinch of high-quality sea salt to give you the extra morning sodium you need to let your blood pressure rise a little, and make you feel energised. Work up to a 16-18 hour fast, reducing your eating window in a 24-hour cycle to 6-8 hours. Put simply, avoid breakfast, eat lunch and dinner only. Anecdotal evidence suggests that women and children fare worse on intermittent fasting, so try these healthy alternatives to the mainstream breakfast foods:
- Whole foods: good quality eggs, bacon, sausage (gluten free), green or salad vegetables. These will keep you satisfied until lunchtime, avoiding the blood sugar roller coaster and associated metabolic ills.
- Protein shake: Tim Ferriss recommends 30g protein within 30 minutes of waking. There’s nothing magical about the formula, other than it will keep you satisfied from early on in the day, and thus minimise poor food choices. Choose a high-quality whey protein concentrate from a trusted source.
- Green smoothie: many people find a green smoothie gets them energised in the morning. Just be sure not to add much if any fruit or sugary ingredients. Prefer berries and green vegetables over other ingredients; they’re lower in fructose and higher in beneficial compounds. Opt for organic full-fat over low-fat dairy, or better still no-sugar-added almond milk. Never add dried fruit or low-fat products.
Have you tried fasting, or do you have other, healthy, breakfast suggestions? Have your say, leave a comment. *image by iluvu2