Breakfast: Is It Really the Most Important Meal Of the Day?

by Maarten Van Nus
Breakfast Chart_3-01

Clearly our mothers’ words have stayed with us, since 93% of Americans believe breakfast is the most important meal, but our behaviour is more that of rebellious teenagers than adults since 44% of us do not eat breakfast despite knowing it is important and 22% of those who are obese skip breakfast.


You’ve heard this forever: Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

And, it’s absolutely right.

But why is it right?

Traditional Weight Loss Diets

Recent studies have found those who eat a healthy, hardy breakfast lose weight faster. According to the National Weight Control Registry, a 12-week study showed that overweight and obese people who ate a large, healthy breakfast, a mid-sized lunch, and a small dinner lost double that of those that reversed the order (small breakfast, medium lunch, and big supper).

The exact science of this phenomenon isn’t entirely understood yet. Many researchers rely on standard reasons we have heard before, such as:

Fact:

  • If you eat more calories than you burn you gain weight.
  • If you eat fewer calories than you burn you lose weight

Supposition:

  • You burn more calories during the day than at night.
  • Eating more in the early part of the day and less as you near bedtime results in the calories eaten early in the day being used up.
  • Eating a large meal at the end of the day and then retiring shortly after results in more unburned calories being stored as fat.

It all makes sense. But, it seems a bit simple. If we eat and burn the same number of calories each day why does when we take in the calories matter? Those who skip or eat small breakfasts are burning stored fat until they eat lunch, right?

Not exactly, and here’s why.

If you are on a traditional weight loss program and you follow its traditional pattern of eating, which looks something like this:

  • Between 6:30 and 8:00 pm – eat a large dinner
  • Between 9:30 and 11:30 pm – head to bed
  • Between 6:30 and 8:30 am – wake up and either forgo or eat a very small a breakfast
  • Between 12:00 and 1:30 pm – eat a medium-sized lunch
  • Return to the top of the list

Following this eating pattern, whether on a diet or not, means between dinner and lunch that next day, you have not sufficiently nourished your precious body for over 15 hours.

“But I’m sleeping most of that time,” you insist. “So I don’t burn many calories.”

Not true!!

Starvation Mode – A Defense Mechanism

Think about the name of our morning meal: Breakfast.

Break fast.

Break the fast.

There’s a good reason that breakfast is called breakfast … it is doing just that … breaking a fast during which our body is at work.

While we’re asleep our body is doing miraculous things other than resting our conscious mind and muscles: it is constantly repairing itself. Cell regeneration, flushing toxins from under the skin, muscle repair, and replenishing antibodies to combat infection and illnesses are just a few of the wonderful things that happen while we sleep.

With all this going on at night, our body is depleted of nutrients by the time we awake. If it doesn’t receive enough food and water once we’re up and moving, it goes into starvation mode.

“Starvation mode? After only a few hours?”

Yes. And, initially, weight loss will occur as our body burns certain fats to function. However, after a relatively short period of time (depending on our fitness and fat levels), those particular fats are depleted before our body is properly fed.

Once a hungry body runs out of the fats it needs, it switches to using proteins to function. Proteins are not stored in fat but in muscle, so our systems start consuming lean, protein-filled tissue — our muscle — to function, which results in weight gain.

“But,” you say, “By volume, muscle weighs more than fat. So how does losing it result in weight gain?”

That’s easy.

All the work our muscles do uses more energy (or fuel) than non-active fat cells. We want to hang on to muscle tissue in order to burn more calories and lose weight. It’s fat we want to lose, not muscle!

One should not attend even the end of the world without a good breakfast ― Robert A. Heinlein, Friday. And this image reminds us why: Regularly eating a hardy breakfast, smaller lunch, and still smaller dinner builds the healthy body we need to face each day's challenges.

One should not attend even the end of the world without a good breakfast ― Robert A. Heinlein, Friday. And this image reminds us why: Regularly eating a hardy breakfast, smaller lunch, and still smaller dinner builds the healthy body we need to face each day’s challenges.

Now, returning to our traditional diet plan and our starving body, when we finally do eat after 15 or more hours, our body — anticipating another period of starvation — will hold on to whatever we put in it each day so that it can survive until lunch the following day. When this happens, we may see some initial weight loss but it is quickly muscle being lost rather than fat, and that is completely counterproductive to losing and keeping weight off.

Along with physical stress, starving ourselves causes mental stress and stress hormones are released into the body. Stress hormones trigger a need for higher serotonin levels in our gut and our brain to counter act impact of stress on our body and mind.

When undernourished, we crave sweet or high glycemic carbs to raise both waning blood sugar and serotonin levels in the body. Satisfying these cravings does, of course, cause weight gain.

Contrary to what seems logical, starving ourselves does not lead to lasting weight loss. It simply weakens us, causes us to crave unhealthy foods, and diminishes the muscle that does help us lose weight to lower levels.

Healthy-Breakfast-in-the-Morning Kind of Person

By becoming an “eat-my-healthy-breakfast-in-the-morning” person, you feed your body right away so it can function at its best, stop storing fat for upcoming starvation periods, and burn fat instead of muscle to operate, which all result in weight loss.

You will feel more energy in the mid-morning hours and lose all those cravings for sweet and high-fat snacks. The best result is that your body and mind are healthier and happier and, really, isn’t that the most important outcome of all?

Now, I know, at first it is tough to get going with this change but, as with everyone who has followed my advice on this, once you are in the routine of having a healthy breakfast, you simply won’t be able to go without it.

You’ll know how a vibrant, energized body feels and you won’t ever think of going back to the starved one.

So get up tomorrow morning, walk tall into that kitchen, and make yourself a healthy, calorie-wise breakfast of whole, clean foods such as:

  • Large-flake oats (cooked on the stovetop, no microwaving – it reduces foods’ nutrients)
  • Quinoa (again, cooked on the stovetop, no microwaving)
  • Raw nuts and seeds
  • Fresh vegetables and fruits
  • Skinless poultry breast, white fish, beans, or tofu (protein is important to keeping those cravings away)
This old English adage still holds true.

This old English adage still holds true.

Remember, the body doesn’t label meals like we have been conditioned to do. You can eat anything you like for breakfast as long as it is healthy and comes from as close to the earth as possible (that is, it is as unprocessed as possible). Breakfast doesn’t have to be certain foods because some advertisement tells you so.

Your body only recognizes that food is either healthy and good for you or unhealthy and bad for you. So, make your breakfast a healthy, hardy meal and stop starving yourself. Then watch yourself transform into the best you there is!

Maarten Van Nus
 

Maarten is a health & fitness specialist who has a particular interest in health for Baby Boomers. He has over 40 years of experience in the fitness industry and loves what he does.

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