To Eat or Not to Eat Breakfast

When and how often people eat meals is actually influenced by their culture. In Mediterranean countries are known for long, leisurely, filling lunches followed by some down time. This approach is very different from that in the U.S. and U.K. where dinner is typically the largest, most involved meal of the day, while lunch may be eaten at a desk. In Indonesia, it’s common for the main meal to be breakfast, with subsequent left-overs consumed throughout the day. In a variety of countries around the world, people eat just two meals–some due to lack of food, but more often just out of custom.

A very typical Malaysia breakfast of noodles and vegetables

So is breakfast worth all the hype or not? It seems like very few things in the world are definitive: Is (fill in the blank) good or bad for us? Breakfast is no exception. The adage that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ is ingrained in most Americans. It kick-starts the body’s metabolism and offers fuel for the brain. A study by the American Heart Association on the impact of when and how often we eat cited numerous studies that link obesity and/or higher body fat mass to skipping breakfast. Other research, like one out of Canada and another out of the U.K., found that skipping breakfast did not have much of an overall impact on determining health. Some go so far as to argue that not only breakfast, but the whole three square meals a day regimen is not only unnecessary, but undermines our health (see Fasting is Great, Unless You have Food Issues http://cantquitfood.com/2016/08/30/fasting). As with most research on health, so many variables come into play that it is difficult to offer blanket recommendations.

Not typical, but an excellent breakfast sandwich I had in Singapore with vegan cheese and faux bacon, using tofu in place of bread.

I am definitely not a morning person and am rarely interested in eating for about two hours after I get up. Because my mom either had to drag me out of bed, or as I got older, had drag myself out of bed at the last minute, I was never interested in eating breakfast. That well-established pattern in my formative years would seemingly have made it exceptionally difficult for me adjust to eating breakfast when I started my lifestyle change. Yet, because I was so starving hungry when I got up in the morning, I actually looked forward to eating breakfast. It occurred to me that one reason I so easily was able to skip breakfast before this change was because I woke up still digesting food from the previous day.

I regretted having weaned myself off of carbohydrates when I saw this amazing breakfast spread in Italy. Everything- including the preserves- were homemade. I think this was considered a continental breakfast because a typical western European breakfast would be cold cuts, cheese, salad vegetables, yogurt, and cereal.

I continue to use how hungry I am when I get up in the morning as a gauge of whether or not I’m mindfully eating. If I wake up and am only mildly hungry, it’s an indicator that I ate more than necessary the previous day. So the bottom line for me is that I need breakfast. I need it to be there to keep me in check and help me to feel as good as I possibly can. Really, the most important point to take from the breakfast studies is the importance of making decisions that work for you, because both sides offer compelling evidence in their favor.

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