As a working mom with three kids at home, mornings are always hectic. Getting everyone up, fed, dressed and out the door takes precision timing and a level of organization that most businesses couldn’t match. And while I insist my children have a good breakfast every day, making sure I have something to eat before I start work is usually at the bottom of my priority list.
Don’t get me wrong—I know all the reasons why I should eat breakfast. But knowing what I should do and actually doing it are two very different things. But it was my desire to lose those ten pounds that really prompted me to start eating in the morning.
A 2002 study by the National Weight Control Registry, a group of more than 3,000 people who have lost at least 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year, found that breakfast eaters were more successful at maintaining their weight loss. Another study found that women who skipped breakfast made up for it by eating more throughout the day. So even though I thought I was saving calories by skipping breakfast, I was actually eating more overall (probably because I was hungry).
But why does breakfast make the difference? Scientists have proven that eating at regular intervals helps your brain sends a signal to your body, telling it not to store the calories as fat—that you literally aren’t starving. When you skip meals however, your body can switch into “starvation mode,” hanging onto every calorie because it doesn’t know when, or if, the next meal is coming.
By the time you get up in the morning, 10 to 12 hours have passed since your last meal and your body is in fasting mode. Eating soon after rising will literally break this fast (see where the word “breakfast” comes from?) and fire up your metabolism for the day. If you aren’t hungry as soon as you get up, have something nutritious to eat anyway, even if it’s small. After two to three weeks of eating even a small breakfast (like yogurt or fruit), your body will reset your appetite and you’ll begin to naturally feel hungry in the morning—that’s a good thing!
A morning meal also gives you a head start on getting the five to ten servings of fruits and vegetables you need each day. Banana slices on cereal, a glass of juice, or diced veggies in an omelet all count towards your daily requirements, while some calcium-rich yogurt, milk, or soymilk help you get the nutrients you need to build strong bones.
If you find it hard to get up in the morning, eating breakfast may help boost your energy levels (and mood), by raising your blood sugar levels and increasing your ability to concentrate.
Need more convincing? Here are a few reasons why breakfast is so important for everyone in the family:
- Breakfast boosts memory. Eating breakfast improves memory and learning ability. One study of college students found that those who ate breakfast scored 22 percent higher in word-recall tests than students who skipped breakfast. Breakfast raises your blood sugar, which is needed to make the memory-boosting neurotransmitter acetylcholine.
- Breakfast boosts mood and performance. A Harvard study showed that children who ate breakfast had 40 percent higher math grades and missed fewer days of school than non-breakfast eaters. Kids who skipped breakfast were twice as likely to be depressed, four times more prone to anxiety, and 30 percent more likely to be hyperactive. When children who “rarely” ate breakfast began eating breakfast “often,” their math grades increased one full letter grade, and their levels of depression, anxiety and hyperactivity all decreased. While this study looked at children, it is natural to assume that adults would see similar results related to work performance and mood.
- Breakfast boosts nutrition. Breakfast eaters consume more nutrients each day than breakfast skippers. Eating an a.m. meal particularly increases one’s intake of important nutrients like calcium, iron, zinc, B vitamins and fiber.
- Breakfast boosts heart health. Blood tends to become “sticky” overnight, making it more prone to clots in the morning. According to researchers at Canada’s Memorial University in Newfoundland, eating breakfast “unsticks” your blood. Skipping breakfast triples the blood’s clot-forming potential—and the risk of morning heart attacks and strokes. Recent studies have also found that cold cereals fortified with 400 micrograms of folic acid help curb homocysteine, a blood factor that boosts the risk of heart disease and strokes.
Few families have the time to cook an elaborate meal each morning. Fortunately, having a healthy breakfast doesn’t mean you have to slave over a hot stove for hours. Some quick, yet nutritious, breakfast ideas include:
- A scrambled egg with whole-wheat toast and half a cup of fresh blueberries
- A whole-wheat toaster waffle topped with fresh strawberries
- A flour tortilla filled with leftover chicken, low-fat cheese, peppers and avocado
- A low-fat, multigrain muffin with applesauce and an ounce of cheese
- An English muffin with low-fat cheese melted on top, and a glass of orange juice
- One half of a cinnamon-raisin bagel with peanut butter and banana slices
- One half a cup of whole-grain cereal with banana slices and skim milk
- A hard-boiled egg and whole-wheat toast
- Protein shake with fresh berries and soy milk
- Slow-cooked oatmeal topped with milk, cinnamon and raisins
Although I wasn’t in the mood to eat first thing in the morning, it didn’t take long for me to get used to eating breakfast every day. After only a few days, I noticed a big improvement in my productivity. I got so much more work done when I was wasn’t dragging myself through my morning routine, wishing I could crawl back into bed. And having a morning meal meant I wasn’t starving at lunchtime anymore, enabling me to make more sensible food choices that would help me reach my weight loss goals. It seems Mom was right again—breakfast really is the most important meal of the day!