Many people come to me after a long struggle with losing weight. One particular patient was about to throw in the towel and have gastric bypass surgery. A quick look at his food journal blew the whistle on why he was stuck. To save calories, he regularly skipped breakfast save for coffee or one of those Starbucks “skinny lattes” on the way to work. In fact these actually contain a good bit of sugar, a hefty 165 calories.
He’s not alone. “I hate breakfast,” or “I can’t be bothered” many patients say frankly. That’s very unfortunate, because studies show that besides emotional resilience, eating breakfast is reliably associated with longevity and a healthy weight.
Eating breakfast is exactly what it says on the box, “breaking” the overnight “fast.” Eating after waking up brings our blood sugar levels back to normal, kick-starts our metabolism, and sets us up for a metabolic balance for the rest of the day. So eating breakfast is very important. It will make you healthier, and more energetic through the day, and help you lose weight.
If you’re trying to gain weight, skip breakfast.
The old saying “Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a beggar” now has some scientific backbone behind it. Many people think that if they skip breakfast they we will decrease their overall calorie intake for the day and lose weight.
However, the opposite is true. Not eating breakfast is likely to cause you to eat more the rest of the day. One study among healthy lean women found that skipping breakfast damages insulin sensitivity and leads to weight gain.
Did you know that sumo wrestlers never eat breakfast? They wake up, and the first thing they do is start exercising enthusiastically. This combination of skipping breakfast and then training so hard for five hours means that by the time they finally get to eat, they are starving. As a result, they stuff themselves like sumo wrestlers.
Similarly, when you skip breakfast, work through lunch, and finally return home in the evening: you eat everything you find… and then some more. You feel bloated, sick, guilty, and regret ever coming into the kitchen. I see a recurrent pattern among patients who skip breakfast and then experience evening famish and cravings.
A recent study established that almost 3,000 people who lost an average of 30kg and kept it off for six years ate breakfast on a regular basis. Only four percent of people who never ate breakfast kept the weight they’ve lost off. That was the only difference between the two groups. Both groups consumed the same number of calories and the same types of food. It turns out that it’s not only the type of calories you consume that determines losing weight and maintaining weight loss, but also the time of day you eat.
Does skipping breakfast and eating a large meal just before going to bed sound familiar to you? It should. For most of us it’s modern day’s living.
We consume most of our daily calories just before going to bed. We rarely eat breakfast. We seldom make time to eat during the day, and by the time we get home we are plainly starving, we often eat more than we need and then go to sleep or sit in front of the tele or the computer while chomping on more nibbles. Then we do the one thing that guarantees to make us gain weight: we go to sleep on a full tummy. No wonder many of us start resembling sumo wrestlers.
Just as bad are those who make breakfast into dessert. It’s the traditional western European way. They call it ‘continental’ breakfast. I call it slow indulgent suicide. If you eat empty calories from refined foods (such as doughnuts, chocolate or jam croissants, sweet rolls and other poisons) and sugars, you will tend to eat more overall. You would never eat ice cream for breakfast, but many cereals, toaster concoctions, muffins, crepes, and other things that pass as breakfast – even “healthy” choices – contain as much if not more sugar. You’re literally eating dessert.
So eat breakfast, but do it properly. Skip the cereal aisle in the supermarket and whatever vitamin-fortified creations that carry a healthy label and are disguised as a healthy breakfast choice.
Studies show protein-rich breakfasts can improve satiety and reduce evening munching. Other studies showed a protein-rich breakfast helps reduce hunger hormone (ghrelin) and increase Cholecystokinin, which signals the brain to stop eating.
Protein-rich foods like eggs, nut butters, a protein shake, or whole grains with nuts stabilise the blood sugar and reduce metabolic surges during the rest of the day.
Mornings are very busy time for most and many people struggle to have time for fix or eat breakfast. That has always baffled me, because you can make a healthy omelette with plenty of colourful vegetables in a few minutes.
If that seems too much time consuming, or you’re just not that hungry in the morning, try a healthy liquid breakfast. You can pre-prepare it the night before so the whole thing takes less than 10 minutes in the morning. A home made smoothie can provide protein, healthy fats, antioxidants, and major flavour in less time than it takes to order a designer coffee at Starbucks. Don't overload your smoothie with fruit though! Make sure you add spinach or avocado, grains (such as oats or chia) and a little fruit with a base of almond milk, water or coconut milk.