Questioning the Gospel on Breakfast

BreakfastWe’ve seen the headline splashed everywhere this week: Study shows eating breakfast helps teens lose weight.

So now everyone one has jumped on the bandwagon to reiterate mom’s advice that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

I just don’t buy it.

I’m not convinced that just because the average teen diet is improved by eating breakfast, it means that we all need to get a meal in before 10 am.

Dr Biffa has put forward the case and I accept all his points. Namely:

  1. Caloric restriction can reduce the metabolic rate
  2. Skipping breakfast can make you ravenous later in the day
  3. Skipping breakfast can make you seek out carbs later in the day

All of this: definitely possible. But it strikes me that these are issues for people who are running on glucose and suffer from swings of blood sugar levels.

If you are a high carb consumer, then yes, getting regular small doses is better than the roller coaster ride. And given that the study was done on teens, it’s probably a fair bet to say that their diet was loaded with carbs.

But the analysis that says “if doing X is better than what you are usually doing, then X must be good” is flawed. X might be good but it also might suck as far as all the other viable options go.

Modern Forager takes this kind of thinking apart in his post: So What’s The Real Scoop On Whole Grains?

Yet we’re constantly told that whole grains prevent diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and every other malady under the sun. I will accept that whole grains are better for you than refined grains. That doesn’t really boggle the mind. What does boggle the mind is why all of these studies refuse to pit a whole grains-rich diet against a grain-free, produce-rich hunter-gatherer diet.

Exactly. Better doesn’t mean best. It might not even mean good. And it certainly cannot mean “absolutely best for everyone.”

Which brings me around to breakfast.

There have been many people who have reported good results from intermittent fasting. This is in effect an extreme form of “skipping breakfast.”

For an excellent yes-I-know-this-is-an-anecdote-and-not-research datapoint, read this great account of how skipping breakfast helped Lee Shurie cure his diabetes without meds (he also lost a few pounds in the process):

Upon waking in the morning I tested my sugar levels and found they were typically in the 150 mg/dl range. I expected them to come down by noon, but was surprised that they stayed above normal for quite some time. As the day went on I became worried (and hungry!), but I held off eating until nearly 6 PM, when my blood sugar level was normal. At this point I wanted to eat a huge meal, but I ate a normal dinner instead. As the evening progressed I snacked on healthy, low glycemic foods.

After following this regimen for days, which stretched into weeks, I discovered it provided whole new level of physical energy and mental alertness. After the first few days I was already “un-training” my body of the expectation that food would be provided at set meal intervals. After a week or so I no longer felt hungry until about 4 PM. On some days, I do not get hungry until 7 or 8 PM, but if I do get hungry earlier, I wait until 6 PM to eat. The one exception to this schedule is if I am doing strenuous exercise; I might have a small mid-afternoon snack (an apple or a few nuts).

I suspect that once you have trained your body to work off slow burning ketones instead of fast burning glucose, you do not need to be teathered to the 3-5 meals a day routine. I also suspect that “back in the day” when we were foragers, that skipping breakfast was a regular occurance.

As such, without a bit more compelling evidence, I find the case for the biological imperative weak. Call me cynical.

What about breakfast being the most important meal of the day? This slogan is brough to you by the same system that has helped make 65 percent of Americans overweight; it has helped to sell a lot of breakfast cereal and toaster pastries. You can see for yourself whether you’re better off with breakfast or without it. Put it to the test. – The Fast-5 Diet, pg 28

Of course everyone is different and some people will do better with breakfast. No doubt the average carb junkie is better not skipping meals. But once you’ve got the sugar monkey off your back, there can be a lot of reasons why a diet without breakfast works for you.


2 thoughts on “Questioning the Gospel on Breakfast

  1. Pingback: Breakfast Quote « Harpoon

  2. I agree. I did Fast-5 for a year and got to a very comfortable weight for me. However my potassium level went down in the process so I abandoned it for a bit to fix that situation. Now it’s been so hard to get back on but I’m not giving up. I’m glad I found your blog!

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