Is breakfast really the most important meal of the day? It's such a great question. I am both a breakfast lover and a hater. What I hate about breakfast is that we've been brain-washed to force food down first thing in the morning. There's loads of evolutionary evidence around how our eating patterns developed and what might actually be the "norm" (i.e. what our body is designed to work with best) for us humans. All of our exercise came almost exclusively from going out to find our food, and so a really important concept is that we would have almost always "exercised" and been awake and out in the world before eating our first food of the day. I think this is why I talk to so many people who honestly don't feel hungry first thing upon waking. Thirsty, yes. We're somewhat dehydrated from our sleep and need replenishing. But not hungry. However, get out, get moving, and suddenly the appetite kicks in. So, my first rule of breakfast is: don't force yourself to eat it.
There's also evolutionary evidence that we ate 14-17 meals per week, which is the equivalent of occasionally skipping breakfast. The problem that arises with skipping breakfast, however, is that it often leads to poor nutrition and eating choices later in the day. (Hangry, anyone? Biscuit binge, perhaps?) The other problem with always skipping breakfast is what it does to metabolism. The research around this when it applies to weight loss is that we maximise utilisation of stored fat when we sometimes eat more in a day than we "need" and sometimes eat less. This is sort of the equivalent of thinking in terms of 4-5 days per week in calorie deficit and 2-3 days in calorie excess. (I hate thinking in terms of calories, but it's kind of useful for cases like this.) When we are permanently in calorie deficit, our metabolism down regulates to adjust for this. Which is why traditional dieting fails big time, and we can regain fat stores even in a deficit.
But back to the question of breakfast. The other problem with skipping breakfast is whether or not the other food intake across the rest of the day is enough to supply the nutrients (not energy) the body needs for health and optimal function. For most people, it won't. Which isn't a good long-term situation to be in.
So, is breakfast important? Well, I believe it is, but with caveats. Don't force it if you're not hungry. Wait until 10am if that's when your body starts to want it. Ideally, move your body in the morning, which is what we're evolved to expect before food. You'll probably find you're hungry immediately after this. It's OK to occasionally skip breakfast altogether if your food choices throughout the rest of the day are nutritious, but never skip it if it will trigger poor choices or binges later in the day. And definitely don't skip breakfast every day--this will slow overall fat loss down, not speed it up. So, if your goal is weight loss, eat! Finally, there's a whole additional connection to eating windows and time-restricted or intermittent fasting, but I'll do a separate post on that in future.
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