Why Breakfast is Your Most Important Meal and What Most People Get Wrong
Updated: Apr 8
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 10 am 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. If weight loss is goal, research has suggested morning‐loaded energy distribution as a beneficial strategy for weight control. AKA eat breakfast!
Several studies have found that breakfast determines our circadian rhythm.
PSA you can loose weight and eat carbs. :) Fat-burning mode gets thrown around a lot but is not synonyms with weight loss.
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, can cause ups and downs. Remember the body see mismanaged blood sugar as a stressor. The carbs in the meal don't make you fat, but with the rocky balance can come over-consuming calories, which leads to weight gain. Also, chronic stress hormones like cortisol are linked to insulin resistance which is a precursor for diabetes. When building breakfast we can protein & plant fiber with some healthy fats. Protein is actually the most important here. Ideally, your breakfast should have between 20-30g (European friends, that is like 114-160g) of protein with few good carbs like berries and non-starchy veggies and 1-2 tbsp of fat.
If you do like a higher carb breakfast, don't skimp on protein or plant fiber. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient. If weight loss is a goal, protein and plant fiber yield the highest thermic effect.
Why Slow 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/ Digestion:
For me, a higher carb meal lead to be snacking frequently. As someone with a history of gut issues, this was very problematic. Remember, digestion takes time and energy and when eat snack back to back this can cause problems with our Migrating Motor Complex (MMC). The MMC is a series of electrical signals that act as a "sweeper" for your small intestine. Between meals during a fasted state (no eating), the MMC stimulates a series of "wave-like movements" that push bacteria and undigested food particles out of the small intestine and large intestines. If you snack too much between meals or tend to eat meals every two hours, your MMC won't be fully activated. This results in bacteria and undigested foods backing up in your small intestine leading to fermentation.
Do not skip on this step! In a perfect world, we'd focus on lots of non-starchy veggies at every single meal, but I'm a realist! The gut needs plant variety to thrive, so be sure to add in some plant-rich fiber at breakfast, such as ground flaxseed, chia seed, or hemp seeds. Prebiotic fibers like inulin are great for the production of short-chain fatty acids! Think of these short-chain fatty acids as superstars in the colon that help lower inflammation!
Going low-carb high protein and neglecting plant fiber can lead to negative shifts in gut health.
What About Fasting?
Yes, I believe in fasting and if you prefer to push breakfast until noon or even at 1 pm some days, so be it. I am not here to judge you or force you into something that doesn't work for you! 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. Control what you can!