Still, as in now that there’s IF, intermittent fasting.

IF is either the weight loss fad of the moment or an ancient practice, normal living for indigenous peoples and our hunter gatherer ancestors.

It is both.

If you aren’t familiar with IF, it simply means deciding to not eat for several hours, longer than usual for many; 12, 16, 20, or 24 hours at a time. The result is metabolic switching, or going from glucose burning to fat burning.

And it’s hot for two reasons.

1) Many people lose weight and improve their health.

2) The media loves to quote any researcher with an animal study full of the kinds of results anti-aging practitioners — and anyone wanting to lose weight and reverse aging — love.

But… No breakfast.

That’s what happens with IF. Breakfast, “the most important meal of the day” is toast.

Well, not toast actually, toastless.

Why are we talking about breakfast anyway?

Thank my friend Catherine.

We were chatting yesterday about everything from getting paid speaking gigs in the age of virtual events to NOOM.  (Side note about her, she’s an expert in presence for virtual or live events and I was lucky enough to benefit from her coaching a few years back.)

She’s liking the NOOM app. It’s teaching her mindfulness about what she eats.

And what she doesn’t.

She doesn’t eat breakfast. Never has.

What? Blasphemy!

Or is it? Turns out, she’s just not hungry in the morning.

But… the most important meal of the day…. should she change her habit?

Only research on the latest science could answer that and here we are.

Let’s start with a few of the myths so often repeated they are now considered fact.

  • Eating breakfast helps you lose weight
  • Breakfast jump starts the metabolism
  • Eating breakfast means you’ll eat less for the rest of the day

As usual when it comes to the science of health for humans, conflicting data is the norm.

Like these results from the same study.

Headline From an NHI study:

“Skipping breakfast has been associated with a 27% increased risk of heart disease, a 21% higher risk of type 2 diabetes in men, and a 20% higher risk of type 2 diabetes in women.”

And their conclusion:

“Eating breakfast was associated with significantly lower CHD* risk in this cohort of male health professionals.”
*Coronary Heart Disease

There is a lot of data in between these two conclusions (and a good reason for the conflicting information,) but imagine if an author of a blog post (where I first saw the NIH headline about increased risks) only read and reported on that first bit of data? (which they did.)

How is a lay person to make sense of science with this kind of thing going on?

I’ll be your sorter of the science and promise not to mislead.

Back to the question of the moment and the myths, or maybe I should call them half-truths.

The first one, about weight loss, is half right.

Eating breakfast does not cause weight loss but people who eat breakfast probably also have other habits that are good for weight loss, like not snacking and not eating dinner late. They skip calories, one part of the weight loss equation, but only if they don’t eat more later in the day.

The Big Breakfast Diet, written by Professor Daniela Jakubowicz MD, a specialist in internal medicine and endocrinology, suggests that you can have all the foods you crave, from pasta to bacon to ice cream, with just one catch ― you have to eat them before 9:00 A.M.

The book’s blurb says, “Based on the body’s natural rhythms, eating a big, complete breakfast revs up your metabolism; helps burn more calories during the day; satisfies hunger all day long; boosts your energy; eliminates cravings for sweets; and reduces the risk of serious health conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease.” 

See how easy it would be to use her research to support the “breakfast helps with weight loss” myth?

The question of metabolism is answered simply.

No, it doesn’t.

Our metabolism is at work 24/7. Eating starts digestion, which leads to food being metabolized in a healthy human. Metabolism is also involved in breathing, thinking, blood circulation, and temperature control. Our metabolism slows at night when we are less active.

Ergo, just getting up and becoming active coincides with a waking up of our metabolic rate whether we eat or not.

For the intermittent fasters amongst us, Dr. Monique Tello, MD, writes on the Harvard Healthy newsletter online, “intermittent fasting studies suggest that extending the overnight fast is indeed associated with weight loss, but also more importantly, with improved metabolism.

Overnight fasting of at least 16 hours (which really isn’t that extended) allows blood sugar and insulin levels to decrease, so that fat stores can be used for energy. This makes physiologic and logical sense: Our bodies can’t burn fat if we keep filling it with fuel. The idea that having a meal first thing in the morning revs up the metabolism isn’t based in reality.”

That 3rd myth, eating breakfast means you’ll eat less the rest of the day,

is not even half-truth, it’s absurd.

Anyone who has gone on a diet or new eating plan will agree that no matter how well we do for our first one or two meals of the day, when stress hits, it can all go to hell in hand basket full of cookies.

The answer to the “should you eat or skip breakfast” question?

The enormously unsatisfying answer: it depends.

It depends on your health, your hunger, and how you feel when you do or don’t eat it.

Breakfast is one part of a day’s food intake. Timing is less important than what’s on the plate and what’s to follow.

So, Catherine, keep right on doing it like you’ve been doing it.

And thanks for asking.