Eating breakfast can help prevent overeating later in the day, help manage your weight, improve energy, and increase attention.
I'm sure you have heard the age old saying "breakfast is the most important meal of the day". But, is that really the truth? What if you are somebody who isn't hungry in the morning? Or your mornings are just too hectic to get in the kitchen and cook whole meal.
If chaotic mornings mean that breakfast gets put to the bottom of the priority list, you are not alone. Some studies show that 60% of Americans skip breakfast (1).
Some people truly aren't hungry for breakfast. However, others may be hungry but are not able to feel their hunger cues due to the stress and chaos that can come with mornings. All the sudden it's lunch time and we are STARVING.
So, are you really doing yourself harm if you skip breakfast? Not necessarily! The answer is a little complicated. We'll start by looking at some of the benefits of eating breakfast -
Benefits of Eating Breakfast
When you skip breakfast, you set yourself up for getting too hungry later in the day. I think we've all been there where we are so hungry it doesn't matter what it is or how much, we just need to EAT. When this happens we typically eat very fast and choose foods we may not otherwise. By eating a protein rich breakfast, you can feel more in control of your appetite throughout the day (1).
Similarly to what is mentioned above, by feeling more in control of your appetite you can choose healthier foods and prevent the "hangry" feeling that leads to overeating (1). All of this helps your body reach and maintain the weight that is right for you .
Have you ever heard the saying, skipping breakfast is like driving a car on fumes? If you think about it, come morning time it's been 8-12 hours since we last ate (that's a long time!). When you jump straight into your busy day without fueling yourself, you are likely to crash later in the afternoon and feel more sluggish throughout the day.
According to a review published in Advances in Nutrition, eating breakfast was shown to have a positive effect on cognitive function, including memory and attention (2,3). I don't know about you, but I can always use a little help in the attention department!
Part of this improvement in cognitive function has to do with maintaining steady blood sugar throughout the day. So focus on whole grains (oatmeal, quinoa, brown rice, whole grain bread, etc.) which keep your blood sugar more stable than refined grains (white bread, white rice, donuts, cakes, etc.).
So, Do I Need to Eat Breakfast?
Even though there are definitely benefits of eating breakfast, traditional breakfast isn't for everybody. It is important to listen to your hunger cues which can be difficult to do. Stress can suppress your appetite and not give you the chance to feel if you are truly hungry or not. If you are hungry in the morning but not feeling it due to stress, you may be overly hungry come lunch time (think "hangry"). This can cause you to overeat or choose less healthy foods that you otherwise would have.
So, the take away here is that NO you do not need to force yourself to eat breakfast if you are truly not hungry. BUT if you feel that your mornings are a whirl wind and come lunch time you are ravenous, you may want to try and slow down and give yourself a chance to feel your hunger and have a meal or snack at some point before lunch.
How to Include Breakfast in Your Daily Routine
So by now you have hopefully bought in to the fact that by eating breakfast you can reap some serious health benefits. HOWEVER, mornings can be hectic and stressful and most people don't want to spend an hour in the kitchen. For less stressful mornings, try the following:
Wake up 10 to 20 minutes earlier (promise it's not that bad!)
Allow yourself some downtime each morning to feel if you are hungry (remember, I don't believe in forcing yourself to eat when you're not hungry). If you still don't feel hungry, check in with yourself again in 1-2hrs to see if that hunger has kicked in.
If you can't do a full meal, at least try and have a protein rich snack
Gwin, Jess A, and Heather J Leidy. “Breakfast Consumption Augments Appetite, Eating Behavior, and Exploratory Markers of Sleep Quality Compared with Skipping Breakfast in Healthy Young Adults.” Current developments in nutrition vol. 2,11 nzy074. 28 Aug. 2018, https://doi:10.1093/cdn/nzy074
Katie Adolphus, Clare L Lawton, Claire L Champ, Louise Dye, The Effects of Breakfast and Breakfast Composition on Cognition in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review, Advances in Nutrition, Volume 7, Issue 3, May 2016, Pages 590S–612S, https://doi.org/10.3945/an.115.010256
Gajre NS, Fernandez S, Balakrishna N, Vazir S. Breakfast eating habit and its influence on attention-concentration, immediate memory and school achievement. Indian Pediatr. 2008 Oct;45(10):824-8. PMID: 18948652. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18948652/