The Big Breakfast Question

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Should I be skipping breakfast to aid weight loss?

Most theories on the origin of the traditional meal times of breakfast, lunch and dinner conclude that these are built around or dictated by the average working day. From the industrial revolution to the 20th century office based culture that still exists today, a large percentage of the UK workforce will have their food consumption restricted by their workplace timetable. Unfortunately our physiology is not so easy to shape and the mechanism by which we regulate our system is more complex than the break patterns set out by the boss in your office. Homeostasis is the regulatory system which controls the processes occurring naturally within our bodies. This dictates everything from our core temperature to PH levels, ensuring that we operate at the most optimum levels. If specific levels drop too low or are driven too high beyond the parameters set out by homeostasis then the brain takes measures to redress and rebalance. One of the systems most affected by food intake is our blood sugar. The old saying that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ carries a lot of weight in relation to blood sugar even if it’s a statement believed to have been born out of advertising popular breakfast cereals.

Skipping Breakfast

Consider the following questions:

1.       Would you consciously go without food for 12-16 hours?

2.       Do you skip breakfast?

Hopefully you answered the first question with an emphatic ‘NO’ however you may have answered ‘yes’ to that second question. If you do skip breakfast and don’t eat until lunchtime then choosing to go 12-16 hours between meals is exactly what you have done!

Our blood sugar levels are especially low when we wake up due in part to it being 7, 10 or 12 hours since our last meal. Without breakfast these levels will drop further towards a level which the body will deem dangerous. When the brain is deprived of energy, specifically carbohydrate, it often results in a craving for sugar and starch.

As a result it is likely that the lunchtime meal with be rich in carbohydrate as the body craves the sugar which it has been denied for so many hours. This often leads to grabbing a sandwich or heavy starches such as pasta or potatoes. Try and count how many baked potatoes you’ve seen served for lunch over the last year.

When we have eaten more than our fill of sugars the body releases an increased level of insulin in an attempt to handle the excess that we cannot process. This extra sugar is often stored in our fat cells. In each of these ‘sugar spikes’ that occur when we over do it our bodies may only store seemingly minute levels of sugar however this eating pattern will result in 3-4 spikes per day, across 7 days and when multiplied over 12 months we can see that this leads to significant weight gains. Anyone that has gained a few unwanted pounds has yet to say that it went on over-night. The phase ‘the weight crept on’ is often used and it’s highly accurate!  The spike in blood sugar leads to an inevitable crash, an extreme drop in energy levels (Carb Coma). This in turn leads to another craving for a pick me up such as caffeine or sugary snack/drink and so the cycle of peaks and troughs continues. So how do we combat this?

Unless you sleep walk and can get a nutritious meal from the fridge at 3am then you are likely to always wake up with relatively low levels of blood sugar. If we over compensate by eating lots of carbohydrate for breakfast then the ‘sugar spike’ pattern will still happen. A balanced breakfast incorporating appropriate levels of carbohydrate, protein and fat will allow you to control your hunger, energy and blood sugar levels throughout the day. That’s not to say it won’t go off track however it gives you the best chance of keep that balance by getting it right from the first meal of the day.

When a nutritious breakfast is coupled with small well-balanced meals throughout the day we see a more steady pattern. Blood sugars are never allowed to increase or decrease to levels that the body is uncomfortable with. And by snacking little and often we can keep away from storing excess sugars as well as being continually satiated and more energised throughout the day.

Breakfast Tips

  • Do not change your routine completely; make small changes to help you sustain positive change such as reducing the portion of cereal as an initial step rather than cutting it out altogether.
  • Hydrate: a glass of water with breakfast will add to the feeling of satiety or satisfaction. This is due to the fact that the signal, from your stomach to the brain, for both hunger and dehydration are very similar. Often we confuse hunger for dehydration.
  • Carbohydrate should still be present but with an appropriate amount of fat and protein.
  • Avoid adding fresh fruit to your breakfast as this will ramp up the sugar level potentially causing a spike in blood sugar levels. Use dried fruits as an alternative if need be.
  • If you skip breakfast due to discomfort at eating first thing in the morning then meal replacement drinks can be effective. However avoid those which are high in sugar, even if derived from natural sources. Make your own, blend up your porridge and seeds or a similar combination if you’d rather drink than eat.

Sample meals might include:

  • Beans on a slice of Toast
  • Poached/Boiled/Scrambled Eggs on a slice of Toast
  • Porridge/Oats with seeds such as linseed, pumpkin, hemp and flaxseed
  • Salmon and salad leaves

Hopefully this helps shed some light on breakfast and the pitfalls of a poor first meal. Whatever you do please please please do not skip brekkie!

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