Breakfast has been touted as the most important meal of the day for so long we’ve taken it as truth and haven’t bothered to question it. However, the popularity of intermittent fasting, and research backing it up as a potential weight-loss tool, has flipped the concept of traditional meals and mealtimes on its head.
So now, the question of whether or not to eat breakfast really comes down to you — and the question isn’t whether to eat breakfast, but more like when and what. If your a.m. meal happens immediately after you get out of bed or several hours later, it doesn’t matter as much as having that first meal. Breakfast should be eaten when you’re hungry, not necessarily the second you get out of bed. In some cases, your stomach may only begin to growl around 10 a.m.
WHENEVER YOU EAT, MAKE SURE IT’S HEALTHY
Beyond the timing of the meal, consider what you’re eating. This study suggests children under 18 perform better in school when they’ve consumed a healthy breakfast. That’s why feeding your kids a fiber-packed bowl of oatmeal or eggs and whole-wheat toast before school is critical. And if you’re at the office when hunger strikes, be prepared to have something healthy on hand so your blood sugar levels don’t dip too low, along with your energy.
“The quality of this first meal is essential,” says Sidney Fry, MS, RD, adding that “convenience causes many of us to grab overly sugared, refined carbohydrate-based items that may actually have a huge negative impact on our health (think: donuts, pastries, muffins and bagels). Opt for protein and/or fiber-rich options like eggs, Greek yogurt, avocado toast or a spoonful of peanut butter.”
PAY ATTENTION TO HUNGER SIGNALS
Since breakfast is breaking the fast of many hours since dinner, there is a concern that if you go too long without food, you may overeat at your next meal. Avoid this by having healthy snacks at the ready once that hunger finally hits. “Even just a bite or two of something nutrient-dense can make a difference,” says Fry. This is also the case for why eating every 3–4 hours is so important.
RE-FRAME THE IDEA OF SET MEALS
For many, relabeling breakfast instead as Meal 1 might take some pressure off and help us achieve and maintain our personal health goals. Try re-thinking the notion of breakfast, lunch or dinner instead as Meal 1, Meal 2 and Meal 3. According to the American Heart Association, “intentional eating with mindful attention to the timing and frequency of eating occasions could lead to healthier lifestyle and cardiometabolic risk factor management.” With this approach, your first meal doesn’t have to be eaten at any particular time, just when you begin to feel hunger pangs.
This mindset expands the possibility for breakfast to include more than just breakfast food. For example, consider starting with a hot bowl of soup — a filling meal that you may find especially satisfying as the days get colder. And let’s be honest: There’s nothing quite like “breakfast for dinner” some nights.
Our bodies are powerful engines. If we listen to them they tell us things: when we’re hungry, when we’re full, when our energy levels are off. That’s why paying attention is really the key to managing our hunger levels. So, if you’re hungry first thing in the morning, then eat! And if you’re not, hold off until you are. Your body will let you know.