Nutrition Articles

Debunk the Breakfast Myths

Get the truth behind these five common breakfast myths

By Kelly James-Enger

breakfast
Susan Derrington, 43, used to think that skipping breakfast would help her lose weight. "I wouldn’t eat breakfast because I was saving up calories for later," says the Hawaii native. "But it didn’t work. It would make me spacey, and then I would be so hungry I’d feel like I was going to binge." 

When she started eating breakfast, she was surprised at how much better she felt. "It was almost like when I didn’t eat breakfast, I lost my morning hours because I wasn’t coherent," Susan says. "When I started eating breakfast, it was like I gained time because during those morning hours I was awake and better able to concentrate on other things than how hungry I was!"

Today, Susan’s a breakfast convert. "Now I eat breakfast every day," she says. "I can’t imagine not eating something in the morning—even if it’s just a snack bar."

Let’s face it, eating breakfast is one of those things we know we should do but we skip it anyway. What’s your reason for missing this meal? Maybe you think that eating breakfast isn’t that important, that you don’t have time, or that it will help you lose weight. Wrong, wrong, wrong!

Read on for the most common breakfast myths—and the truth behind them:

Skipping breakfast saves calories

If you’re trying to lose weight, skipping breakfast can sound like an easy way to bank several hundred calories, which will help your diet. It sounds logical. Problem is, your body doesn’t work that way. Go without breakfast and chances are you’ll simply eat more later on, says registered dietitian Dawn Jackson of the Northwestern Memorial Wellness Institute in Chicago, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

"The people who eat breakfast and the people who skip breakfast end up eating the same amount of calories at the end of the day," Jackson says. "Skipping breakfast doesn’t save you calories in the end so it’s not a good fat-loss strategy."

Still, her clients usually need convincing that she’s happy to provide. "Number one, according to the National Weight Control Registry, 80 percent of the people who lose weight and keep it off eat breakfast every single day and 90 percent eat it most days," Jackson says. "There’s only 4 percent in this study who don’t eat breakfast. This is the largest group of successful `weight losers’ we’ve ever looked at and if they’re all eating breakfast, then it’s a pretty good technique for weight control. I call breakfast the greatest prevention meal ever. Eating breakfast will prevent you from overeating at lunch which will prevent you from overeating at dinner, so it starts your day off in a preventative way."

A healthy breakfast takes too long

No time for breakfast? That’s no excuse. "Breakfast doesn’t have to be hot or be eaten sitting at the kitchen table for it to be healthy," Jackson says. "In fact, there are plenty of portable, healthful options that ensure good nutrition whether you’re eating in the car, on the train, or at your desk—stuff you can grab and go."

Tracy Hatch admits she "grew up on Hostess® for breakfast" and often skipped it because of her busy schedule. "I was on the go and didn’t have time, and if I did have breakfast, it was something that was sugar," Hatch says. "Sometimes I’d have a Frappuccino™ for breakfast! I don’t think I was aware of it, but I was always sluggish throughout the day."

Tracy’s still on the run, but now she drinks a protein shake in the car on her way to work. "I have a lot more energy and feel a lot better, especially if I have a good mix of protein and carbs," she says. "If I start the day eating well, it’s easy to finish it eating well, too."

I work out first thing

Even if you exercise in the morning, a small breakfast will improve the quality of your workouts. "People who claim they can’t work out with food in their stomach will generally do better even if it’s as minor as a clementine," says nutritionist Joy Bauer, author of The 90/10 Weight Loss Plan (2002, St. Martins Press.) "That will help generate a little blood glucose after a fast of at least eight hours. Even with a couple of spoonfuls of yogurt or some cheese, you’re better off."

If you exercise on an empty stomach, you’re more likely to feel shaky and weak—a light snack beforehand will stave that off and make for better results. "Your workout is that much better when you have better muscle control and energy," Bauer says. "You can work that much harder and burn that many more calories or are able to perform more reps." After your workout, have the remainder of your breakfast help refuel your body and make sure to drink plenty of water.

Eating breakfast isn’t that important

Come on, now. You know deep down this one’s wrong—that’s why moms insist their children sit at the table and eat something for breakfast every morning. "We know kids who eat breakfast do better in school," Jackson says. "If I ask a parent is your kid eating breakfast, he or she will say, of course my kid’s eating breakfast—yet the parent isn’t. We know it’s a nurturing healthy thing to do for our kids. It’s also a nurturing, healthy thing to do for ourselves."

Research has proven this—published studies prove that people who eat breakfast regularly are less likely to get sick, perform better at memory tasks, and are less depressed than non-breakfast eaters. "Studies show that eating breakfast helps people become more focused, have a better attention span, and concentrate better over the morning hours," Bauer adds. "It’s also a no-brainer for getting nutrition—it’s one of the best times to get your biggest hit for fiber and to get calcium and protein."

Tracy Jeffries, was a non-breakfast eater. "You think if you skip it, you’re fine and I didn’t really like breakfast," she admits. "If I did eat breakfast, it would be something sugary like French toast or processed cereal." As a result, she often felt tired in the mornings. "I felt horrible. I’d get cranky, I didn’t have any energy, or I would drink coffee to get some energy," she says.

Now Tracy eats a high-protein breakfast every morning, usually oatmeal with egg whites or yogurt with cottage cheese. "I just feel satisfied and when I go to do my workouts, I don’t feel as sluggish throughout the day," she says. "I feel more balanced and healthier."

Eating breakfast makes me hungrier

You say you’re not hungry in the morning? Usually this means you’re overeating at night—consume less after dinner, and you’ll start waking up wanting something to eat, Jackson says. If you feel hungry immediately after breakfast, though, you may need to tweak what you’re eating.

Some breakfast is better than none, but the best choice is a well-balanced one, Jackson says. "Look to see that you have a whole grain component, a protein component, and a fruit or vegetable component," she says. "So instead of a high-fiber bagel, try half a bagel with a piece of cheese or soy cheese and maybe tomatoes on top—or have high-fiber cerealwith sliced fruit and milk. There’s reason to believe a more well-balanced breakfast will make you feel full longer."

Now, let’s address those "but breakfast-makes-me-hungry-all-day" worries. "So many people say once they eat breakfast, it’s like they open Pandora’s box, and they’re hungry, hungry, hungry," Bauer says. But what usually happens is people who eat breakfast regularly discover they’re not as famished later in the day. "You need to give yourself the rhythm of a couple of weeks of eating breakfast to prove to yourself and validate that it doesn’t make you get hungrier," Bauer suggests.

If you’re still worried about gaining weight, remember that the calories you eat for breakfast are the least likely to be stored as fat. "It works toward a dieter’s advantage. Calories eaten during the day burn more readily," Bauer says. And eating breakfast also makes your metabolism rise due to the thermic effect of food, or the energy your body must expend to digest it.

Need one more great reason to eat breakfast? The morning meal may even help you overcome any late-night munchies as well. "It’s such a great diet tool," Bauer says. "After you eat dinner and have a snack after dinner, you have something to look forward to in the morning."

Five speedy breakfasts

On the go in the morning? Here are five quick breakfasts that take less than five minutes to make:
  • Peanut or soy butter on whole-wheat toast with alfalfa sprouts

  • Yogurt with whole-grain cereal and fruit tossed in

  • Smoothie made with skim milk, fruit and protein powder

  • A protein bar and a piece of fruit

  • Whole-grain bagel with cheese and tomato slices

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