There is a lot of controversy surrounding whether or not we should be eating breakfast. We’ve been told our whole lives that it is the “most important meal of the day”, but at the same time there are many people who never eat breakfast and seem to be doing just fine. So what’s the deal? Should we be eating breakfast or not? The answer is: most people probably don’t need to, but some of us probably should.
I know, not exactly the sexy, concise answer we were all hoping for. But when is anything about nutrition that simple? To explain, I’d like to dive into a couple of the most popular arguments for and against breakfast, and then give my take on who could benefit from eating the most.
The weight loss argument:
Most of the conversation about breakfast and health is actually about breakfast and weight. There are many people who are trying to lose weight for a variety of reasons. If you are one of these people, you are probably wondering if breakfast is indeed as good for weight loss as everybody says it is. For years, breakfast has been linked to weight loss and healthier weight maintenance by health professionals. There are even scientific studies that are cited to prove this point. However, these studies are often misinterpreted, and in reality, the overall body of research on weight and breakfast consumption shows inconclusive results. At best, the research shows correlations with weight management for both eating breakfast and not eating breakfast. Based on the research available, it is impossible to say if breakfast consumption has a direct effect on weight or weight loss. But, anecdotally, many people has experienced positive results in their weight loss by including breakfast. So, it still may be something worthwhile to experiment with.
But let’s make something very clear: weight loss and health are not interchangeable concepts. A behavior that helps you lose weight does not necessarily improve your health, and a behavior that improves your health does not necessarily help you lose weight. So even though most articles about breakfast with point to weight loss or weight management as the reason to eat breakfast, there are so many other things to consider when deciding if breakfast will be good for you health such as hormonal health, gut health, immune health, and reproductive health. I would even venture to say that these other factors are almost always more important than weight alone.
The intermittent fasting argument:
You may have heard of intermittent fasting when it became incredible popular in the paleo community a few years ago. Intermittent fasting is the practice of only eating during a certain window of hours during the day. People who participate tend to stick to a window of 8-12 hour, meaning that most people end up fasting when others are eating breakfast and consume their first meal closer to the middle of the day. Proponents say that intermittent fasting can be beneficial for not only weight management, but blood sugar regulation, hormonal balance and overall longevity and health. There is lots of science that seems to prove this is true- for men. Women, on the other hand, often find the opposite effects from intermittent fasting and experience weight gain and blood sugar swings, as well as exacerbated anxiety and hormone imbalances. Yikes!
This is because biological male and female hormonal profiles are wildly different from each other. Female sex hormones are highly sensitive to changes in the stress response and blood sugar. Because of this, intermittent fasting can disrupt this delicate hormonal balance, especially if it leads to accidental undereating.
Of course, this does not apply to ALL women and some experience very good results with managing weight and health conditions with IF. That being said, I don’t recommend that women looking to improve their general health participate in intermittent fasting for long periods of time.
So, who should be eating breakfast every day? Here’s what I think:
Athletes have a high and regular need for calories in order to perform at their best and recover from their workouts. This goes for competitive athletes as well as non-competitive, intense exercisers. If you participate in high intensity exercise multiple days a week (yes, even if it is for weight loss!), especially if it involves weight training or lasts for more than an hour. skipping breakfast could mean underfueling your body, undermining your performance, and potentially leading to burnout and injury.
People with physically strenuous jobs:
If you are active at work, you need more calories than the average person. You will probably find you have more energy at work if you eat beforehand and fuel your body just like you would for a workout.
People who can’t easily eat at work:
Unfortunately, not everyone is able to sit down for a lunch break while at work. If this is you, it is SO IMPORTANT that you eat before hand. Skipping two meals is absolutely not an option if you are striving for optimal health or you have fitness related goals. Bottom line, if you don’t or can’t eat lunch, you must eat breakfast in order to get enough calories, nutrients, and make sure you have energy to do your demanding job well.
People trying to gain weight:
If you have ever tried to gain weight, you know how challenging it can be! Whether you are trying to gain overall body weight or just lean muscle mass, it is absolutely necessary that you eat enough food every day, and this can be challenging if your calorie requirements exceed your appetite. Breakfast is an important opportunity to meet your daily calorie and protein needs and minimize feeling over-full after your other meals.
People dealing with a lot of stress:
When you are dealing with a lot of chronic stress, it can take a huge toll on the body. If gone un-managed it can contribute to or cause a number of serious diseases and conditions. So, it is important to mitigate stress wherever you can. Under eating and fasting can be a stressor just as emotional stress or an injury can be. Eating breakfast can be an important tool for helping to keep your body’s stress levels in check.
People with hormonal imbalances:
If you have disregulation in any of your sex hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone) or your stress hormones, (cortisol, melatonin), eating a nutritious breakfast is probably in your best interest. This is especially true if you are a woman under chronic stress. Fasting and calorie deprivation often worsen hormone related problems. Some common conditions involving hormone imbalances are Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, HPA axis disregulation, and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).
People suffering from chronic illness:
If you suffer from a chronic illness especially one that is autoimmune in nature, your number one nutrition goal should be to get as many high quality, nutrient dense foods in your diet as possible. Chronic illness is usually accompanied or caused by micronutrient deficiency, malabsorption or increased need. Eating highly nutritious food often is a good way to maximize your nutrient intake. So, skipping breakfast could mean missing out of important nutrition that could help you heal.
People who like to eat breakfast:
This may sound silly and obvious, but if you enjoy breakfast and it makes you feel good, eat it! Even in times in my own life where I am disease-free, low stress, and not very active, I still eat breakfast. In addition to simply loving breakfast food (is there anything more perfect than a sunny-side-up egg?) I find comfort in the ritual of eating breakfast every morning. I also think that it is important to eat intuitively, and I am almost always hungry when I wake up!
If you are struggling to eat in a way that makes you feel well and helps you achieve your health and fitness goals, I want to help! My coaching services are designed to help people like you discover what type of diet and lifestyle are the best to help you feel and look your best. Contact me today for a free consultation!