Myth: Breakfast is part of an essential diet

I have been re-learning about food from posts on Ruth’s and Kara’s blog.  It has been my inspiration for this next myth-buster.  There are many things I have been told by society and my mother (who is a dietician) about breakfast.  They are something like ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ and ‘you need to eat breakfast to lose weight’.  Sound familiar?

My relationship with food and breakfast was force feed.  My mother often used food to control me – she withheld it and forced me to eat at a certain time.  I ate breakfast every morning before I went to school.  And when I lived on my own I ‘felt’ the need to eat when I woke up, to have a ‘breakfast’.

My relationship with food began to change slowly – not only was I living on my own at university but I was also exposed to ‘cafeteria food’.  After graduation, I started a job where I worked rotating shifts (1st week 3pm-11pm, 2nd 11pm-7am, 3rd 7am-3pm, 4th – off).  Needless to say my ‘breakfast’ varied during the week and plus I found that I valued sleep more than food when I worked night shifts so I ate only 2 meals a day because I just couldn’t stomach eating at 4am in the morning.

Through all this, even after I changed to a job without shifts, I still maintained in my head that I needed to eat ‘breakfast’.  It was important to a healthy diet (here, I mean the way we eat and not a weight loss program).

pain

Eventually, I changed my behaviours to suit me – I think I did this unconsciously to survive.  I’m never hungry after I have gotten up, showered and dressed.  It takes a good hour to 2 hours before I can eat something.  When we stayed in a hotel last, I did something that I usually don’t do.  I forced myself to eat.  When we are traveling and ‘forced’ to eat at certain time I usually only eat the fruit because that is only what my stomach can take.  This last time, I forced myself a piece of toast (due to our travel schedule and access to food that day).  About 30 minutes later I felt sick, I wanted to vomit.  And then a habitual memory about ‘home’ life with my parents was triggered.  I went to school every day until I was 17 feeling nauseous.  Whenever I eat too early for my body, I feel nauseous.  I have often went to the toilet and thought I was going to have it come up – it never did, it just felt like it.

With this recovery process I am so grateful to find blogs, books, etc that challenge how I think.  Question a lot of what I have been told – so – is breakfast essential?  Well, I think eating is essential ;).  If breakfast is right when you get up, then NO – I don’t eat breakfast.  This whole ‘proven theory’ about breakfast – where has this come from?  Well, there have been numerous studies that prove me wrong and are they telling me something I should know and accept?  Well, BBC Future didn’t think so.  I enjoyed reading this article merely for the fact that it looked at a lot of the research that was done on this subject and asked some relevant questions – questions that could be asked of any research.  I hope you enjoy reading it!  Any thoughts on this?  What’s your ‘breakfast’?

Hugs, TR

Highlights of the article (if unable to access through link) – Does skipping breakfast make you put on weight? by Claudia Hammond (BBC Future)

1.  The idea of eating a breakfast comes from the fact that we will be more hungry if we miss breakfast and therefore more likely to consume higher calorie foods the rest of the day.  This would lead to weight gain.

2.  Studying the correlation between weight gain and eating/missing breakfast is challenging.  Example, definition of breakfast (time specific or not?; before 10am); variety in what is eaten for breakfast across countries; reviewing snapshots in time rather than longitudinally.

3. A review of old research was done in the article.  In the end, various studies among different continents revealed confusing results to show any clear link between the two.  Conclusion from review: difficult to prove causation due to how study was conducted and it is difficult to discern if being overweight causes skipping breakfast or vice versa (chicken or the egg).  Looking at a longitudinal study (eliminating chicken and egg factor) of 2003 revealed that heavier children who missed breakfast actually lost weight over time.  Yet, another study of obese women revealed changing eating routines helps lose weight.  So, whichever study you pick you can prove a point to either eat breakfast or not.

4.  Article concludes that people who eat breakfast do tend to have a more balanced diet overall (when looking at it from a weight aspect).

5.  The article further suggests that it is about personal preference and until good controlled research is done, we should follow our stomachs and not fight it.

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19 thoughts on “Myth: Breakfast is part of an essential diet

  1. Love your post, TR! I’m much happier if my first meal of the day is around 10 a.m. If I eat earlier, I’m hungry all day long. It doesn’t matter if I eat 3 square or 5-6 small meals. I know this works for others; it does not work for me. If I eat between 9 and 11 a.m., I want to eat dinner between 3 and 5 p.m. I snack less. I make healthier choices. I do have to change it up from time to time, but I’m endeavoring to not feel guilty about eating in a manner that works for me.

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    • Hi Judy,
      There have been a lot of information about how to eat – how many meals, snacks, etc. I think some info can be a way to become aware of our own eating habits and why they have developed a certain way. We have to try and figure out what works for us as you mention :). xxoo

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  2. Hi TR,
    I couldn’t access the article. This is the message that I got when I clicked on the link: “We’re sorry but this site is not accessible from the UK as it is part of our international service and is not funded by the licence fee.” Can you share a bit more of what it discussed? It sounds very interesting.

    Hugs,
    Kara xxoo

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      • Hi TR,
        Thanks for expanding a bit more on the article. I used to really believe this because all the people I know who skip breakfast are overweight, but after reading your post I realised that, actually, come to think of it, a lot of people who DO eat breakfast are also overweight. Case in point: my parents are both very overweight and one eats breakfast while the other one doesn’t.

        I think basically where a lot of this advice is wrong is that they make it “one rule fits all” and that can never be the case: people with different metabolisms need different things. I also find it hard to eat first thing in the morning. Staying at a B&B where they do a cooked breakfast is nothing short of an ordeal for me. However, in the days where I used to skip breakfast, one day I had a black out and fainted, so even if I don’t feel like it, I eat breakfast every morning. Normally, I’ll have a cup of tea with parma ham or smoked salmon on toast (artisan bread when I can get hold of it; our local supermarket has its own bakery on site and they bake a lot of french artisan style bread). Years ago when I used to follow the “healthy” standard recommendation of orange juice and cereals, I used to feel faint and ill by lunch time. Having fruit juice in the morning messes up my sugar levels. That’s why I think that, in the end, the best thing is to get to know your body and what works for it and what doesn’t, and ignore the standard advice.

        Hugs,
        Kara xxo

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      • Well said – That’s why I think that, in the end, the best thing is to get to know your body and what works for it and what doesn’t, and ignore the standard advice.

        It is so great to hear other’s experiences with this. I guess in some ways I am eating in the morning – if it happens a few hours after I got up. In some the definition is too rigid – 10am the cut off. I’m a night person and that is probably why breakfast right when I get up is difficult. I liked how it challenged and reviewed these studies.

        I like smoked salmon on toast too!

        xxoo

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  3. Thanks for the post and the link about how little actual research is behind the myths. I am working at challenging what I thought I knew. I appreciate another myth busted.

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  4. Hi TR, I too cannot eat first thing in the morning. I need to coffee up. But I usually must eat by 9am or my energy starts to lag. It might depend on what one’s sleep habits are too. I used to never eat breakfast, for many years, and during those years I was heavier than I am now. Who knows if that’s why–but I had a problem with after dinner snacking. Still do, unless I have exactly what I want for dinner, which has to include some carbo-bomb like pasta, or I’ll just snack out on Stacy’s Pita Chips. Which I do anyway, frankly. I find if I eat more during the day, I’m able to avoid snacking at night, and I sleep better. But even breakfast has to be fairly light for me or it just sends me back to bed.

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    • Hi CS, I’m worthless without my coffee too :). I think that is a great point – sleep habits. It mentions in the article that people who have energy at night don’t eat a breakfast.

      I do think that when I skip meals I consume more calories in the day then I would have had I eaten more meals. Somehow, my mind plays tricks – oh you haven’t had anything all day – you can eat this. I sort of justify it like that.

      Speaking of sleep; I did have trouble at the beginning of this week with sleep – there was a full moon then.

      Hugs, TR

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  5. Hiya! I have never liked to eat anything when I await…only tea or coffee. Only with marriage have I eaten breakfast, but I solved that by not gettting out of bed to make it for the husband. LOL!]

    Oh, the screen is jumping around so I probably am screwing h
    ]

    I think for me, eating breakfast makes me hungier during the day. Once I eat, I have trouble stopping…eathing

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    • Hi Lady Nyo,

      Thank you for sharing this; it sound like you are listening to your body. I think the article stressed that at the end. In some ways we need to see how we feel when we eat and eat when we are actually hungry. I found this hard when my mother controlled when I ate and now, I find I’m reconnecting what my body tells me to the part that is aware and acknowledges what is going on.

      Thanks for the comment and reading!

      xxoo TR

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  6. Well, that was scrambled!~ But! I think for me (diabetic) eating breakfast contributes to weight gain. Perhaps for others, not so, but for me? It really sets up a syndrome of hunger for the rest of the day.

    Lady Nyo

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  7. I like this. For years I have found two ironclad dietary rules contradictory: “Always eat breakfast” and “Don’t eat when you’re not hungry.” I am never hungry when I first wake up! Back when I commuted to work, I used to have breakfast once I reached the office. It would be about two hours after I woke up, after I had the getting ready and the driving out of the way and could actuallly enjoy eating. It worked for me; I could never figure out why that fact wasn’t enough.

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    • Hi Cassandra,
      Me too! I used to wait until I got to the office before I ate – I had about an hour commute. That is a point I hadn’t realised in me as well. I couldn’t enjoy my breakfast until I got to work. That is so revealing – I think I would feel stress about getting to work if I made time to sit down and eat at home – always watching the clock. Thanks for sharing your experience – it helped me connect some of my behaviours.

      xxoo TR

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  8. Hi TR,
    This is an excellent post, and once again we are so much on a similar wavelength. I’ve been overweight for a few years now, and just recently started to get serious about getting back in shape (my partner Jim, too). We’ve started strength training with a trainer, and I have been doing a lot of nutrition research, I’m sure largely motivated by Kara’s great posts on diet and nutrition at Through the Looking Glass. I too have found many studies de-bunking the “people who eat breakfast are thinner” idea! As you said, it’s very hard to make actual correlations about this. One theory that makes sense is that people who eat breakfast are more nutrition conscious overall, and are thus thinner. But the bottom line is that there is no causal relationship between eating breakfast and being thin. In fact, it doesn’t matter how you break up your daily calorie intake–you can eat 1 large meal or 2 medium meals or 3 meals or 6 tiny meals, your body expends the same amount of energy burning the calories–which is perfectly rational, isn’t it? The only thing that causes problems is OVEReating, whether it’s eating too big a breakfast and too big a dinner, or too much snacking, or whatever. As long as you are mindful about calories in–calories out, you will stay a healthy weight. (Or, as in my case, lose weight.)

    This was very liberating for me, because I don’t like to eat breakfast, either, and now I don’t have to feel guilty about it anymore! I have also found that eating some form of protein with every meal to be beneficial to weight loss, particularly now that I’m lifting weights (but important even for people who aren’t, though in smaller doses). Protein keeps you feeling fuller because it takes longer for the body to digest than carbs or fat, and it also uses more calories. So Kara eating smoked salmon for breakfast is perfect. In fact, it sounds so good I just may go out and get some right now–yummmmmm!

    Love and hugs,

    Kitty

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    • Hi Kitty,

      Love the food posts on Kara’s blogs too – it really got me thinking about how my relationship with food was formed by my mother. What you say about eating patterns in general seems logical. People who do eat some sort of breakfast (who don’t skip meals) are probably more aware about food. You bring up a great point about calories in and calories out. Healthy is a specific and complicated topic however that equation is true to looking at our bodies in a way that is very understandable. It is a simple equation and in some ways all the info about losing, maintain, gaining are centred around this principle.

      I liked the article because it asked a lot of important questions. In theory I do eat breakfast – not just how most people or studies would define it. A lot of health studies are really limited and at times misleading when drawing conclusions. I’m glad the food posts have been liberating (for me too!) and would love to hear more about what you find out about as you try new things.

      xxoo TR

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    • Hi CS,

      I did survive! I am writing it up – I’ve been struggling because I am having a hard time with the jet lag this time. Overall the visit went well and I used many of the techniques you guys have discussed. I’ll catch up with everyone this week!

      How are you?

      xxooTR

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