Breakfast, the most important meal of the day, right? Wrong. You do not need to have breakfast every morning. I repeat, you do not need to have breakfast every morning. Take a minute and think about breakfast around the world; in some cultures it is traditional to eat pancakes, in some, pastries and in others rice or noodles. In each of these cultures the appropriateness of various foods in the morning differs, to some the thought of having something sweet like a doughnut or Danish pastry is stomach turning while for others the very idea of a bowl of congee – a porridge like rice dish – is enough to make them go hungry. Despite these differences though there is an ever present and growing importance being put on eating breakfast. As a child I remember hating breakfast, I wasn’t hungry when I got up at 6am, I was tired and I wanted to go back to bed! I would come downstairs every morning to one of my parents asking me what I wanted, the options were normally either cereal (which I would have separate from the milk because soggy cereal made me want to be sick so I just mixed the two bits in my mouth – it was a true art form), toast with marmite, cheese, Nutella or peanut butter, sometimes an omelet or a Pilsbury Toaster Strudel. I would sit at the table in the kitchen and eat my food, most mornings not particularly hungry and then I would head to school, lunch box in hand prepared for snack at 10am – which I rarely ate because I didn’t feel great after breakfast – and lunch at 12.I would always tell my parents that breakfast made me feel sick, but I was told I had to eat it, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day”. As I got older and became a grumpy, moody teenager I discovered that no one could actually force me to eat breakfast, so I didn’t. Yes I got told off for it most mornings but I didn’t care, I was sick of feeling sick by the time i got to school at 7:30. Downside: I was starving by 9am and still had two hours of class to get through before I could eat which meant I was ravenous by 11 when we got our first break – never good.Now that I am older (and potentially wiser) I have realised a few things about breakfast.
- Aside from it being the best meal to go out to eat – because who wants to cook and wash dishes on a lazy Friday – breakfast is a fairly fluid concept, you can eat anything for breakfast there are no rules. Want eggs? Have eggs. Want a steak and salad? Have a steak and salad. It just goes without saying that chemical and sugar filled cereals and Pop Tarts are probably not your best option.
- Kids should have breakfast. Studies have shown that eating a meal first thing in the morning helps improve their performance in school, especially on task-oriented behaviors—and particularly in students younger than 18. You’ll probably find that your sprog isn’t keen on eating first thing in the morning though, but that doesn’t mean they can hold out until first break at school. I would suggest taking breakfast in the car for them to have while you do the school run, a smoothie, homemade breakfast bars or egg muffins are good on-the go choices packed with yummies. I found out the hard way that first break is just that bit too far to comfortably go from waking up to eating so find the middle ground.
- As an adult it is your choice. Unlike a child you can eat when ever you want so if you’re not hungry when you wake up but you know you’re ravenous by 9am, take breakfast to work with you and eat it as soon as you feel hungry. If anyone has a problem with it warn them that it’s better you don’t go to meetings hangry. I am not saying sit with a client and crunch on a bit of toast, lets be reasonable.
- Sometimes you’re just thirsty. I wake up and have a big glass of water before deciding if I eat now or later because 9 times out of 10 I am just thirsty and if I eat I will feel ill for the rest of the day. So have a glass of water, rehydrate and listen to your body.
Just like everything else we eat there are so many conflicting reports, studies and advice floating around the big wide world of the internet that you probably end up feeling pretty lost and confused. In fact a recent report from Japan actually suggested that eating ice-cream when you wake up helps make you smarter (oh how I wish I was joking) and although this “research” was widely covered by the global press it has proved incredibly difficult to find a peer-reviewed academic research study to back-up this particular claim. So when stuff like that is popping up on your news feed you’re probably left questioning everything you thought you knew about what makes up a “healthy breakfast”, but don’t buy out your local Ben & Jerries supply just yet.It goes without saying that food is an important aspect of our bodies ability to function. In fact, the cortisol awakening response (CAR) shows that the secretion of cortisol from the adrenal glands follows a diurnal cycle, increases when we wake up. The thinking behind it is that the anticipation of the day ahead has a huge effect on our personal levels which can lead to a 50% increase in cortisol levels, and all you did was get out of bed. In fact, the CAR is the reason why having a huge cup of coffee first thing in the AM might not be the best idea, since caffeine also stimulates the release of cortisol.Normally our bodies will produce the most cortisol occurs between 8 and 9am – and that is just from waking up. But having breakfast before that doesn’t mean you will produce more, in fact, you would be better served saving breakfast and / or coffee for somewhere between 9.30am and 11.30am (and between 1.30pm and 5.00pm) when naturally circulating levels of cortisol will most likely be dipping. Depending on your lifestyle obviously your times would be different, if you’re the type to get up at 4am then you’ll probably need a cortisol top up at 6am rather that 9:30am… We are all aware of the the three-meal-a-day rule that has become ingrained into our modern society – don’t skip meals, make sure you eat breakfast, lunch and dinner…but the human body doesn’t really work like that. If you eat a big meal the night before, then chances are, you’re not going to be hungry first thing in the morning; more often than not those that wake up hungry are typically the ones who ate a light meal in the evening, skipped dinner or ate a large meal, but much earlier in the day. So you see it is all circumstantial and it is all personal.Now I am not saying you should never have breakfast and should be starving yourself until lunch time – let’s not be stupid about this. The point that I am trying to make is that if you are not hungry when you wake up, don’t eat. Wait until you’re hungry, be that an hour after you’ve got out of bed or three hours into your day, do not force food into yourself when you do not need it. Of course there are people who really should be having breakfast, diabetics for example, but for the most part eat when you are hungry.