“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day” – at least that’s what we’ve been taught since we were kids. In fact, the notion of eating “breakfast” has been so deeply ingrained in our minds, that the idea of skipping it might, for many, elicit guilt, shame and even a bit of fear.
For decades, nutritionists, medical doctors and mainstream “experts” have told us that skipping breakfast increases the risk of diabetes and weight gain. They’ve also told us that doing so impairs metabolism and, worst of all, increases heart disease risk.
While these factoids may carry a grain of truth somewhere, it has nothing to do with skipping a morning meal. To understand why, you must first understand one simple concept: A “break-fast” is a meal eaten after fasting. Yes, you read that right – “breakfast” literally means “breaking” a fast. In this case, it’s the average 8-hour fast that occurs when we’re asleep.
In this light, breakfast is not a meal: it’s a notion, turned tradition, turned trend.
To suggest that we all should break a fast in the morning is to assume that we all operate on the same clock. Consider essential workers like nurses, bus drivers and custodians who work irregular shifts. Perhaps twilight shift workers should eat before they go to bed? Oh wait, eating before bedtime is bad too, right?
Do you see where I’m going here?
Let me be clear: I’m not encouraging you to skip breakfast. My goal is to empower you to eat in a way that suits your lifestyle. Since the word “breakfast” has been taken out of context from the start, we lose sight of the fact that we can break a fast at any time of the day (or night), whether 12:00pm, 3:00pm or even 6:00pm if we choose.
What Really Happens When You Skip the Morning Meal?
The reality is, skipping the morning meal we’ve long called breakfast can actually help the body function in ways that promote safe and effective weight loss, long-term weight management and overall good health.
I can attest to this both on a professional and personal level.
For well over a decade, I’ve incorporated intermittent fasting into my lifestyle. I essentially skip the morning meal and eat any and all foods within an 8-hour window. Eating this way has greatly improved the way I look, feel and function.
And there’s ongoing research to back it up. Skipping breakfast as part of an intermittent fasting lifestyle not only supports weight loss, but it also lowers LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, improves blood sugar levels and reduces inflammation.
You can also find comfort in knowing that ditching the morning meal won’t adversely affect your metabolism. It’s quite the opposite, since doing so can substantially boost the body’s fat-burning potential.
Let’s break all of this down a bit.
If you normally sleep overnight, your body’s tendency to burn fat is at its most intense in the morning. This is because you’ve essentially “fasted” for 6-8 hours. In the fasted state, the body constantly breaks down stored fat and converts it into useable or ‘burnable’ energy. In other words, the body ‘feasts’ on its own stored fat.
Interestingly enough, your body will continue to use stored fat until your fast is broken with breakfast. So, extending your fast by skipping the morning meal supports weight loss and long-term weight management by maximizing the body’s overall fat-burning capabilities.
Debunking the Most Common Myth About Skipping Breakfast
Now, what about the common claim that skipping the morning meal adversely impacts blood glucose (sugar) and insulin levels? Well, this notion is largely driven by misrepresentations of only a handful of correlational studies.
Truth be told, in the absence of a morning meal, blood glucose levels are very well maintained. In a fasted state, the body breaks down glycogen, which is basically the glucose that’s stored in our liver and muscle cells. The average person can hold about 2,000 calories in stored glycogen. This is enough to fuel around hours of intense exercise.
Indeed, I’ve run many marathons in the fasted state and never “hit the wall.”
Remarkably, skipping breakfast can actually improve insulin’s ability to store larger amounts of blood glucose as liver and muscle glycogen. The more glucose stored as glycogen, the less that’s stored as fat. Over time, this reduces the likelihood of weight gain, especially in the belly.
Now Wait! What If You Actually Want to Eat Breakfast?
If you enjoy your morning breakfast, as many people do, by all means continue to enjoy it. At That Salad Lady, we want your eating experiences to be as enjoyable as possible. But, if you choose to eat the traditional morning meal, know that the potential value of “breakfast” lies in the overall nutritional quality of what is eaten.
For many, breakfast is comprised of refined carbohydrates like cereals, bars and pastries. When it comes to weight management and overall good health, I can just about guarantee that eating such foods will do more harm than good.
To reap any potential benefits of eating breakfast, ensure you’re breaking your fast with high-protein, high-fat foods as opposed to the typical carb-dense foods.
Compared to protein and fat, the body preferentially burns carbohydrates as they can easily be converted to glucose, which is the body’s preferred source of energy. When carbohydrates are scarce, the body’s stored fat is mobilized into the bloodstream and transported to the liver where it’s broken down into free fatty acids that are used for energy.
Believe it or not, this process continues when high-fat and high-protein foods are consumed in place of carbohydrates. In light of this nutrient “hierarchy,” when you’re really trying to maximize fat burning for the purpose of weight loss or long-term weight management, starting your day with protein-rich, high-fat foods can be just as beneficial as skipping breakfast altogether.
Some great high-fat and/or high-protein options include eggs, strained (Greek-style) yogurts, oily fish (tuna, sardines or salmon), nuts or seeds. If you must consume carbohydrates, better to opt for those low in sugar like leafy green vegetables, berries or whole oats. Maybe even go with a salad like our Kale Cobb Salad. Who said salads can’t be eaten in the morning?
Don’t Be Afraid to Skip Breakfast if You Wish
If you’re not really a fan of breakfast, embrace your personal preferences and do what works best for you. While the notion of skipping breakfast may sound unorthodox to some, it’s a way of life for many, including myself. We all have different lifestyles. In all actuality, the presumptive value of breakfast has never been clearly proven anyway.
On the flip side, an abundance of research has shown that you can successfully manage your weight and maintain good health by eating as little as one or as many as seven meals a day. For overall good health, what matters most is your total nutrient intake (carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins and minerals) and diet quality over the course of each day.
It’s also especially important that your daily water intake is adequate. You can survive for over a month without eating food but only 3-5 days without drinking water.