Breakfast has long been touted as the most important meal of the day.
(Do you think this has made lunch and dinner jealous!?)
It’s been said to jumpstart metabolism and has been shown time and again to not only aid weight loss but also help maintaining that weight loss.
Yet about 10% of the US population skips out on breakfast.
And recently the practice of intermittent fasting — and the very positive results some individuals are seeing from it — has been challenging whether or not breakfast is even as beneficial as we’ve been told!
To understand the benefits of eating breakfast, it’s helpful to take a look at what happens when we don’t eat breakfast…
When we skip breakfast, the body increases cortisol production.
It does this in order to stimulate glycolysis or gluconeogenesis, which in turn raises your blood sugar levels so that your body has energy for you to go about your business. But this excess cortisol production and increase in blood sugar levels can wreak havoc on blood sugar balance for the rest of the day, promoting crazy cravings, “hanger”, brain fog, and that afternoon slump.
High cortisol levels also affect the body beyond blood sugar levels. Managing and maintaining normal cortisol levels is key for regulating inflammation, boosting the immune system, maintaining hormonal balance, and regulating energy and mood. As the body’s primary stress hormone, cortisol can easily get kicked into overdrive — not just from mental stressors like a stressful job or relationship, but also from physical stressors like an undiagnosed food intolerance or lack of sleep. I’d also include skipping breakfast in this “physical stressors” category. And so as much as possible, it’s important to reduce or eliminate these stressors to maintain normal cortisol levels.
So how is it that some people do well intermittent fasting and skipping breakfast?
If you haven’t heard of it before, intermittent fasting is exactly what is sounds like: fasting intermittently. While some intermittent fasters fast for 1 complete day out of the week, it’s more common to skip one meal each day. Often, this skipped meal is breakfast. Another approach is to simply constrain your eating within a 8-12 hour window (which I do — I usually stop eating for the day around 7 pm in order to give my digestion a break and allow my body to focus on detoxification rather than digestion while I’m sleeping, and resume eating around 7 am).
Many people have great results with intermittent fasting, including increased energy, fat loss, improved insulin sensitivity, and a boosted immune system. They feel fantastic.
But intermittent fasting is not for everyone— we’re all biologically unique individuals and what works great for some doesn’t work as well for others. And specifically when it comes to skipping breakfast as part of intermittent fasting, I’d argue that it’s only best for individuals who are already in good health, have normal cortisol levels (so really don’t have many mental or physical stressors), and good insulin-sensitivity. For these individuals, the rise in cortisol is not extreme and the body adapts extremely well. On the other hand, for those who don’t have normal cortisol levels or optimal insulin sensitivity, this rise in cortisol in the morning can wreak havoc throughout the day and long-term on their health. It’s also important to note that women are prone to an exaggerated cortisol response to fasting and so may see less benefit.
I don’t suggest skipping breakfast as part of intermittent fasting if you experience a lot of mental stress or are dealing with some sort of physical stressor. And if you do want to try intermittent fasting and skipping breakfast, I would suggest keeping a close eye on your energy and sleep patterns while you experiement — if you feel lethargic, “wired and tired”, or have trouble sleeping, it’s probably not the best option for you and breakfast should always be on the menu. You could alternatively try intermittent fasting by skipping out on dinner or with the approach I take (which is really very doable — honestly until recently, I hadn’t even considered it to be “intermittent fasting”, just not snacking after eating dinner).
Of course, what we eat for breakfast is just as important to consider.
Like skipping breakfast altogether, starting your day with a Standard American Diet breakfast high in carbohydrates (especially from breakfast cereals, bread, sweetened low-fat yogurt, and pastries) will raise your blood sugar levels and send your body off on the blood sugar roller coaster all day long.
So it’s best to start the day with a meal rich in protein and healthy fats to keep you satiated and blood sugar levels balanced.
And if you’re one of those “Oh I don’t have time for breakfast!” types, I encourage you to look for ways to prep breakfast ahead of time so you can grab it on the go. Of course, try to take a deep breath and slow down for a bit while you’re eating — since digestion is a parasympathetic (the body’s “rest and digest” mode) process, eating while stressed or on the run impedes digestion.
Quick and easy healthy breakfast options:
- Eggs! — So long as you don’t have an intolerance, eggs are a very healthy breakfast option. If you’re short on time in the morning, hard- or soft-boil eggs ahead of time to grab on-the-go.
- Green smoothie with healthy fat and collagen peptides for added protein
- Chia pudding with collagen peptides for added protein — I like to make my chia pudding with canned full-fat or homemade coconut milk, which are rich in healthy fats. You can add a little pure liquid stevia extract or vanilla extract for extra flavor, and top with berries. Make a bigger batch ahead of time and portion into smaller jars to grab for breakfast!
- Homemade and healthy banana pancakes — Made with just bananas, eggs, and vanilla extract!
- A bake-ahead egg breakfast casserole — Add some veggies to amp up the nutrition.