Our Great Grandmother would have told us that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. However, what we now eat for breakfast, following general advice from government and nutritionists, would make Great Grandmother’s eyebrows reach her hairline. People come to me regularly for nutritional advice to help lose weight, to improve health or to stop feeling so tired all the time. To find a good starting point, we go through the daily eating events, starting with breakfast. I suppose I encounter 3 variations: nothing (generally belonging to those of the biggest girth); cereal and milk or toast; yoghurt and berries; and Porridge. All these variants are washed down with tea or coffee with added skimmed or semi-skimmed milk. And, as they see me sigh deeply, I am categorically told that, ‘I can’t stand full fat milk’. Also I get the people who tell me that they have given up caffeine because it is bad for you. Deary, deary me.
Somebody, somewhere has much to gain by giving out appalling advice about how to eat for good brain function, good health and good physical performance. None of the above variants help us get through a productive day, so over the next few weeks, I’m going to explain why.
Nothing for breakfast.
As I said, this is a frequent choice of those with the most to lose. I think the simplest reason why eating nothing for breakfast is so bad is that it raises stress levels – when is the next meal going to wander into my mouth? Belly fat is associated with stress and is a tough thing to get rid of. To reduce it, we have to do absolutely everything we can to reduce stress – and eating a good breakfast so the body knows there is food about, helps. I do realise, in the desire to lose weight, we automatically try to eat as little as possible. But cutting out a meal, for most, is not helping. Because the other fact that is brought to my attention is just how much non-breakfast eaters eat in the evening. So when they get up in the morning, they simply are not hungry! For weightloss, this is completely ridiculous. Skip breakfast and the bill to be paid later in the day will be a stuff fest of Cheesy Wotsits.
Lets take the case of a particularly large man that came to see me. When I say large, well there was too much of him for me to take a body fat reading using callipers because I would need hands the size of a shovel. My tape measure did make it round his waist – just. We went through the daily eating – and apparently he ate very little indeed. And was never hungry for breakfast, so ate none. So far, no one had helped him lose weight and he’d tried everything. Was this a case of a very slow metabolism? A man who was genetically adapted to survive on very little? Such tribes do exist and are much studied as they hit the Western lifestyle – they rapidly develop all the Western diseases, especially diabetes. Anyway, we decided to try eating little and often along with the fish oil and carnitine weightloss programme. Progress was slow at first. Until a good friend of his dobbed him in. This friend wanted to help – his levels of body fat really were unhealthy. His friend told me just how much he could eat in the evening – with a take-away, he would eat 3 Chinese meals. The reason why he could not eat breakfast was abundantly clear. He was not hungry. So we had a strong conversation and shortly after that, the weight fell off. He lost 7kg in 1 month without feeling hungry. He got his head around eating every 2 hours, including a good breakfast.
To summarise. If belly fat is an issue, eating a good breakfast lowers stress and assists weightloss. Skipping breakfast in the hope of saving calories for later just leads to a huge amount of noshing later – stuffing down far more calories than could be eaten at breakfast.
So what is a good breakfast? A breakfast that keeps the blood sugar stable, is sustaining and nourishing. Read any of my pages on How To Eat Well for more details. This breakfast will include high quality protein – of animal or fish origin – and some fat. And there is nothing wrong with a cup of tea or coffee at breakfast. As long as we can handle caffeine, it is good for us. But to preserve the antioxidants in it, we need to drink it with double cream, or at the very least, full fat unmessed about milk, or drink it black. Great Grandma had not heard of skimmed homogenised milk in tea. And going to work on an empty stomach was just plain daft.