Why Breakfast is Your Most Important Meal and What Most People Get Wrong
Updated: Aug 13, 2020
If you’re a client and you’re reading this, you know one of the first questions I ask is: When and how do you break your fast. Breakfast stands for breaking the overnight fast, it really has nothing to do with the time you’re eating, it's what you're eating. I encourage all my clients to break their fast before 11 am. Ideally, around 10/ 10:30 am for most people. See the very end if you can't have your first meal till 11 or noon.
So why is it so important? Your first meal will predict the whole day’s blood sugar response curve. It will actually dictate your energy levels, cravings, and crashes. By eating too many quick carbs, not enough food, the wrong foods, or skipping it altogether, the body will have to do a lot of work when blood sugar starts to drop off - hello stress hormones. If you’re waiting till noon or 1 pm to eat, you may find you overeat in the evening or you feel out of control. When our blood sugar is rocky, the body has actual mechanisms in place to help correct it. There's a host of different hormones, such as cortisol - a key stress hormone that is associated with both stress and fat storage - that work together to correct this. If we rely on this long-term it can result in burn out, weight gain, brain fog, chronic inflammation, hormonal imbalances, gut issues, and more.
There is so much evidence showing our whole day’s energy production is based on the first meal. The first meal will dictate our energy levels, future cravings, and more. If we are not eating enough food, our body perceives a state of starvation and ultimately lowers our metabolism.
Several studies have found that breakfast determines the circadian rhythm of fat, our liver, and intestinal tissues. These tissues monitor metabolism, and the breakdown of fat and glucose for energy production. Here are some studies to prove it:
How to Break-the-Fast
Many of us love a big bowl of oatmeal, toast, or some gluten-free sweet potato pancakes for breakfast, but if we’re just having that with nothing else, our body expects to be buried in starch/carbs all day, making us resistant to both starch and insulin. Not good. Insulin is a fat-storage hormone. We want to be insulin sensitive, not resistant. The two most important macronutrients when building breakfast are protein & fat. Protein is actually the most important here. Ideally, your breakfast should have between 20-25g (European friends, that is like 114-160g) of protein with few good carbs like berries and non-starchy veggies and 1-3 tbsp of fat. For protein, think one serving size of protein powder, 3 eggs, 3 tbsp hemp seeds & 3 tbsp of pumpkins seeds. You get the idea.
Why Low Carb
From a circadian rhythm standpoint, carbs actually lower the production of cortisol. We want cortisol higher in the morning, it’s what helps us get out of bed and when in its proper rhythm, is a powerful anti-inflammatory hormone. I like to enjoy my carbs later in the day.
Also, a low carb breakfast has been actually shown, proven to improve blood sugar response throughout the day, and greatly decreased the desire for sweet foods in the evening. Study: https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article-abstract/109/5/1302/5435774?redirectedFrom=fulltext
Here is a study showing that high carbohydrate breakfasts can increase glucose concentrations and leave you feeling hungry as soon as two hours later. Also, this study shows that high carb & fat high breakfast options increase insulin secretion, which is associated with fat gain and inflammation. Study: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4204795/
What About Fasting?
Yes, I believe in fasting and pushing breakfast until noon or even at 1 pm some days. After a late-night out with too much booze and treats, it can help mitigate hormonal responses, but not every day. Many people who save the majority of their calories for the afternoon/evening not only overeat but also have impaired digestion. Reverse fasting is my preferred type of fasting. This type of fast means you start your fast earlier in the day. Think of an earlier dinner around 6/6:30 pm and breaking the fast around 9/10 am.
For those who find this just isn't realistic and prefer to fast til 11 or noon then have some nuts and berries before your first meal. Get something in your body because if you show up to this meal starving because you are more likely to overeat and as a result have reactive hypoglycemia. So basically you will crash a few hours later and then we tend to overeat and this will promote insulin resistance (studies below). Do your best to be done eating by 7 PM when you can control meal times. Late night dinners decrease gut motility aka poor digestion.