We've all heard that "breakfast is that most important meal of the day" so one of the most common questions I'm asked is, "Should I eat breakfast if I'm not hungry?"
Studies show breakfast eaters tend to have higher school attendance, less tardiness and fewer stomachaches. They also score higher on tests, concentrate better, solve problems more easily and see improvements in athletic performance.
Studies have also shown that breakfast-skippers are more likely to be overweight. But most studies don't fully explain why. It’s important to understand why this is true because ultimately, for any lifestyle change to stick, you need to understand why we do what we do and believe the behavior change makes sense for you.
So here are some of the possible reasons that skipping breakfast is associated with higher body weight, poor performance, and achy stomachs. Hopefully these will enlighten YOU about your own choices and help you make decisions about eating breakfast that work for you:
1. It may affect your metabolism. When you skip breakfast, your body has to manage the fact that you haven’t eaten for almost 18 hours! For example, if you ate dinner at 6 and didn't eat again until lunch, that’s a long time. Many people explain that they don’t “feel” hungry, and that’s because your body is in a state of semi-starvation and hunger cues are shut down.
2. Being overly hungry often leads to overeating. Going too long without eating can lead to overeating. The reason is that hunger is a physical signal from the body that your blood sugar is low and your body needs fuel. When you ignore it for too long, you may develop more extreme symptoms of hunger, such as being irritable, unable to concentrate or having a headache. As a result, making decisions about what and how much too eat can be difficult. This also can lead to eating too fast and not being able to notice feelings of fullness until it is too late.
3. Overeating at night. For some people who don’t eat breakfast because they aren’t hungry, it can be related to eating too much the night before. This starts a vicious cycle of skipping breakfast (and maybe skimping on lunch) because they feel guilty and regretful. When they start eating later in the day, the body is overly hungry, and the cycle of overeating continues. That is the issue that needs to be addressed.
4. Thinking that eating breakfast “triggers more hunger.” Some people state that once they start eating, they feel hungry all day. In actuality, when we look at the time that their hunger is developing again after breakfast, it usually makes sense since they haven’t eaten for a few hours. “Feeling moderately hungry” about every 3-4 hours is a normal feeling, but for some, it can bring up anxiety or fear that if they start eating, they won’t be able to stop. So they avoid eating until the symptoms are really strong. Over time, only these intense feelings of hunger are recognized as the time to start eating rather than when the hunger is developing. And, since intense hunger often results in overeating, the association is set up. Learning to trust your body and its internal cues while making a plan for a balanced breakfast (that includes protein) can help stabilize normal hunger and fullness cues throughout the day.
Val Schonberg is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian who specializes in weight management, sports nutrition, disease