You have heard it before. You have heard it from your mother. You have heard it from various media outlets. You have heard it referenced to in various studies. Hell, I’m even going to call myself out here. You have heard it from me:
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.”
Well, let me clarify. You used to hear it from me. What I used to think was a certainty is now something that I question. So what’s the deal? Why have my thoughts changed? Let me explain my reasoning.
There are many differing opinions when it comes to what is right, wrong or healthy in terms of nutrition. You can find a study on any nutritional issue to prove your ways of thinking are right and prove others ways of thinking are wrong. Go to a bookstore or take a look on Amazon for a diet book and you are going to find a diet or nutritional approach that is structured in every imaginable way possible. There is going to be some minor differences between each. There is going to be some major differences between each. But there is also going to be one commonality that exists between each. Each book or diet is going to have a way of controlling your calorie intake.
So let me circle back to the breakfast thing. I used to personally follow the advice and belief that eating breakfast helped control your daily total caloric intake. Breakfast set the tone for the rest of the day as far as what and how much you were going to consume. If you set aside the time to put breakfast together your mind would be in the right mindset to follow up on that the rest of the day. Plus, we are in this catabolic mode upon waking and we have to get to an anabolic mode ASAP, right? Add that to the metabolism boost a good breakfast was supposed to provide and how could you possibly skip breakfast if you were trying to control your weight?
“You’ll never lose that extra body fat until you start getting your ass out of bed earlier than you want and set aside the time for breakfast. In fact, you should probably just give up that body fat idea until you start eating breakfast.”
Down went my daily oatmeal concoction. If I had a little bit more time an omelet would get whipped up. If I was training in the morning there was no way possible I could train on an empty stomach. This went on for years. I preached this for years. And then I started to question what I had been doing for years.
It was around 2012 where intermittent fasting started to make it’s away amongst the nutrition discussion. I read about it, questioned it and then decided that maybe I should give it a shot.
There are many different protocols for intermittent fasting. Some versions consist of a 24 hour fast 1-3 times a twice a week. Some advocate daily fasts that last anywhere from 12-18 hours. For example, with a 16 hour fast you would have your last bite of food at 8pm and then not have your next meal until 12pm the next day. Some water, tea or coffee during this fasting period is allowed.
Seems to go against two of the major nutritional habits I had been practicing and advocating for years: one, breakfast is a must and, two, you should eat every 3-4 hours. But I figured it couldn’t hurt to give it a shot. Worse comes to worse I go back to my regular eating habits if I feel skipping breakfast and not eating frequently didn’t work out for me.
So I started out with a shorter fasting window, 14 hours. I would stop eating around 8pm the night before and not have my first bite of food until about 10am the next morning. My trusty bowl of oatmeal around 5-6am would be set-aside. My first bite of food would come around 10am and that would be another trustworthy meal of mine, my Greek yogurt concoction. If I had to work out in the morning I would work out with nothing in my stomach except coffee. I was ready to feel trashed. Ready to feel grumpy. Ready to feel low in energy.
So what happened? I actually felt better. That morning bloat I used to get from my big bowl of oatmeal went away. The lethargy that I usually suffered through around mid-morning went away. My workouts did not suffer. I actually felt better and more focused on an empty stomach. I even actually dropped about 3-4 pounds and leaned out a bit even though I wasn’t trying to. I felt so good in the mornings that I decided to extend my fast out another 2-3 hours and not have my first meal until 12-1pm. The only exception was that if I had a morning workout scheduled I would consume some type of protein based recovery meal or shake post-workout.
I ended up losing another 3-4 pounds without intending to do so. Where did this weight loss loss come from? Basically I eliminated 1-2 feeding opportunities over the course of the day: my breakfast and my mid-morning snack. Cutting out those feeding opportunities cut out anywhere from 400-800 calories a day…at least. You might think cutting out 400-880 calories a day would result in a weight loss larger than 5lbs, but I usually made up for those missed calories by eating more later in the day. Basically, dinnertime was chow down. Dinner for me became the most important meal of the day, not breakfast.
Dinner became more enjoyable because I could basically eat more if I wanted to eat more. Dinner became more enjoyable in social settings, because now I had more leeway since my calories were down earlier in the day. Dinner became more important because this was the meal that was going to fuel my training for the next day. Dinner became more important because this is where I could choose to stay at or under my calorie allotment or even go over my calorie allotment. Breakfast was not so enjoyable or important any more.
In the end, what is important is how you are going to get to your numbers at the end of the day. What is your total caloric intake at the end of the day? What are your macronutrient ratios at then end of the day? Some control their numbers better by eating breakfast. In these situations breakfast is important. Some control these numbers by skipping breakfast. In these situations breakfast is not so important. What is important to one person is not necessarily as important to another person. And, yes, that includes breakfast.