So you’re looking to lose weight and need some easy places to cut calories. What about skipping breakfast? Bad idea.
It turns out that eating a healthy breakfast and achieving sustained weight loss are inextricably linked.
The National Weight Control Registry has been tracking the eating and lifestyle habits of more than 10,000 people, all of whom have maintained a 30-pound (or more) weight loss for at least a year (some have been participating for as many as six years). The researchers tracking these studies found that 78 percent reported eating breakfast every day, and almost 90 percent reported eating breakfast at least five days a week.
But why does breakfast help with weight loss?
One of the primary reasons breakfast is so effective may be as simple as reducing hunger later in the day. By eating breakfast, you stock up on (hopefully!) healthy fuels which reduces your hunger as the day progresses. This can certainly help prevent overeating in general, and may also help by avoiding times when you snack on the go, for example by purchasing food at vending machines or gas stations, where healthier choices are harder to make.
Skipping breakfast increases insulin response
But it’s not just about reducing temptation. There’s also a physiological response that happens when you skip breakfast. The type of prolonged fasting that occurs when you skip out on that first meal of the day can increase your body's insulin response, which in turn increases fat storage and weight gain. So it may sound counterintuitive, but going without this vital meal can actually increase your risk of obesity.
Eating breakfast right can be a great way to get you on track and set the tone for making healthy choices all day. When you eat a breakfast based on whole grains, healthy proteins and fruits, you tend to eat a healthier overall diet, one that is more nutritious and lower in fat. When you skip breakfast, you're more likely to skip fruits and vegetables the rest of the day, too. Breakfast is the perfect meal to start adding whole foods into your daily meal plan.
Eating breakfast also gives you energy, which increases your ability and desire to undertake physical activity during the day. A healthy breakfast refuels your body and replenishes the glycogen stores that supply your muscles with immediate energy, meaning you are more likely to go for that run, take a walk or simply go about your daily business and get things done. Conversely, skipping breakfast is associated with decreased physical activity.
The theory is all well and good, of course, but many people who don’t eat breakfast aren’t really skipping it as a conscious decision. They are simply having a hard time fitting it into their busy lives. Likewise, many people who aren’t eating the healthiest of breakfasts aren’t necessarily deciding that nutrition doesn’t matter — they’re simply finding that the go-to convenience foods are easier rely on and/or they don’t realize there are better options available.
Tips to make sure you eat
Luckily, there are plenty of practical strategies available to you to make sure you eat breakfast. Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Prep ahead of time
Put smoothie ingredients into individual baggies. Make healthy muffins ahead of time. Consider healthy crock pot recipes like steel cut oats that can be ready for you by the morning.
2. Start small
Finding the idea of a complete meal overwhelming? Well, it’s important to remember that something is better than nothing. Start by eating a cup of yogurt and/or a piece of fruit, then as you get used to making time for breakfast, add more foods and food options slowly.
3. Wake up early
Get up 10 minutes earlier than you normally would so you will have time to eat and enjoy your food. Why not make it a treat — read the paper, listen to some music, or sit out in the yard and watch the birds? This should be a pleasure, not a chore.
4. Create a routine
Pick a couple of easy breakfasts and repeat them every other day. This will eliminate having to think about what to make. You can always add more options as you get used to eating breakfast.
4. Eat what appeals to you
If eating a little leftover chicken or a few spoons of cottage cheese sounds good, go for it. Who says breakfast has to be cereal, toast or pop tarts?
But what is a balanced breakfast?
A balanced breakfast consists of three main food groups: a protein and/or a healthy fat, a fruit or veggie, and a grain. Even many convenience foods like breakfast cereals offer healthy options — just be sure to pay attention to the ingredients lists, and lean toward whole grains, fewer ingredients and lower fat, sodium and sugar content. See my post on introducing whole grains to your family for more on this topic.
Easy breakfast recipes
Below are a couple of easy examples of recipes that can be made ahead of time and frozen.
Savory Breakfast Muffins
This is a vegetarian version of a recipe from the wonderful Iowa Girl Eats. If you need meat with your breakfast, you could add ham or even a little bacon. Just don’t go overboard on saturated fat. Feel free to also play with different veggies and herbs, or to switch up the cheese. (I have an inkling that Gruyere would be delicious…)
- 2 cups cooked quinoa (3/4 cup uncooked)
- 2 eggs
- 2 egg whites
- 1 cup shredded zucchini
- 1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 2 tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 green onions, sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Add all ingredients to a large bowl and mix to combine. Liberally spray a mini muffin tin with non-stick spray and spoon mixture to the top of each cup. Bake for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges of the cups are golden brown. Let cool for at least 5 minutes in the tin before eating or freezing for later use.
10-Minute Steel-Cut Oats
I discovered this way of cooking steel cut oats via a recipe at The Kitchn. Feel free to play with it, like I did. Adding fruits and nuts either during cooking, or serving at the table, is a great way to up the nutritional punch.
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup steel-cut oats
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup whole milk (or nut milk)
The night before, bring 3 cups water to boil in large saucepan over high heat. Remove pan from heat; stir in oats and salt. Cover pan and let stand overnight.
In the morning, stir milk, cinnamon, apple, and brown sugar into oats and bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until oats are softened but still retain some chew and mixture thickens and resembles warm pudding, 4 to 6 minutes.
My husband became a little obsessed with this way of cooking eggs, and for once I didn’t have to nag him about nutrition. Avocados are a wonderful source of healthy fats, as well as soluble and insoluble fiber. A diet high in avocados has even been linked to lower blood cholesterol levels too. Add the protein of an egg to that, and the whole grain toast he was eating it with, and he was doing pretty well. (I still had to push him to try some fruit though.) Watch the video below for an easy how-to:
Jenni Grover MS RD LDN is a registered dietitian and co-founder of Realistic Nutrition Partners. She specializes in child, maternal and prenatal nutrition, with a focus on whole foods.