The Old Lie: Breakfast Is the Most Important Meal of the Day

Everybody knows the saying "eat breakfast like a king, eat lunch like a prince and eat dinner like a pauper." And we've all been told that if we want to lose weight we should never skip breakfast.

Unfortunately, neither "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" nor "you should eat a big breakfast" are true! Both are pieces of once-widely-believed dietary wisdom that, largely, turned out to be lies--lies that only recently collapsed under the weight of many, many major discoveries in the domains of human metabolism and nutrition science.

I've addressed many other examples of now-debunked consensus diet ideas elsewhere here at Casual Kitchen, where I've talked about the Big Lie of the Food Pyramid, in my discussion of the logic behind paleo-style eating, and in my discussion of some of the counterintuitive insights in Gary Taubes' excellent book Why We Get Fat.

The Big Eating Window
Here's the problem with breakfast: depending on when you eat it, it can massively expand the number of hours of potential eating time available to you during the day. If you eat at, say, 7:30am or earlier and then go to bed at, say, 10 or 11pm at night, you will have an "eating window" of as much as 15-16 hours over the course of the day. That's a lot of time to eat--and a lot of time to feel hungry if you're trying not to.

An axiom: the longer your eating window, the shorter your your fasting window. And vice versa. Remember, you fast while you sleep, and your body burns fat while you fast. Therefore, if you can extend this fasting period by eating breakfast later, or not eating breakfast at all, you will accomplish three incredibly beneficial things for your body's long-term health:

1) You'll burn a lot more body fat,
2) You'll ingest meaningfully fewer calories over the course of the day,

...and, more importantly (and counterintuitively!):

3) You'll feel less hungry.

Meals beget meals. The moment you start eating food, you prime your body to expect still more calories in the (near) future. How often have you eaten breakfast only to be hungry again just an hour or two later? Of course you only compound the problem further eating a typical (and carb-based) breakfast of grains, branded boxed cereal, fruit and juice.

Finally, it's worth noting that all of these insights slot comfortably into place with many of the various ideas we've discussed here about intermittent fasting and how to expand your fasting window, ideas I've borrowed (stolen?) from Arthur De Vany's excellent book The New Evolution Diet to help me improve my body's metabolism and reduce my body fat levels. (Note to readers: I reviewed De Vany's book here, and I highly recommend it.)

So, push back your breakfast until later in the day, and shorten up your eating window by a few hours. Or, skip breakfast entirely and shorten your eating window by a lot. Whatever you do, make the first meal of your day protein- and fat-centered. Combine these easy dietary tweaks with a healthy, balanced diet, take your exercise up a notch or two, and you'll be extraordinarily happy with the results.

Some of the ideas in this post come from the strikingly useful diet and fitness book Engineering the Alpha by John Romaniello and Adam Bornstein.

READ NEXT: The Scientific Study That Cried Wolf

AND: Minimum Viable Progress

How can I support Casual Kitchen?
Easy. Do all your shopping at via the links on this site! You can also link to me or subscribe to my RSS feed. Finally, consider sharing this article, or any other article you particularly enjoyed here, to Facebook, Twitter (follow me @danielckoontz!) or to bookmarking sites like reddit, digg or stumbleupon. I'm deeply grateful to my readers for their ongoing support.


Marcia said...

Luckily for me, I go to bed early (9-ish). So the most important thing for me is to not eat after dinner. Dinner is any time between 6 and 7. (Mondays I eat late because I bike home from work and don't get home until 7). Those late night snacks are a killer! (I have a friend who is 44, a single mom of 2 kids, trying to lose weight and that's her biggest struggle - snacks after the kids are asleep).

I generally eat breakfast around 7 am. What I've discovered in the last 2 years is that I need carbs in the morning for my brain to function. Not a lot of them, just one serving of grain will do. My typical breakfast is a protein/ fruit/ peanut butter smoothie. About two years ago, when work was really really horrible, and I was busy losing the baby weight, I was really depressed. My brain function at work was terrible, and I attributed it to the horrible workplace.

But one day on a whim I bought bagels, and ate 1/2 of one with my smoothie, after a swim day. I couldn't believe the change in my brain function! So I tested it a bit more off and on, and learned that yep, a slice of toast, a bit of oatmeal, really goes a long way to help me focus in the morning. (along with my protein and fat)

So I pretty much stick to breakfast and dinner for my carbs. If I skip carbs for lunch I'm less likely to get tired in the afternoon.

Daniel said...

Thanks for sharing Marcia, good comment. Interesting to hear your thoughts about cognitive function and how it was helped by a small addition of extra carbs. Intriguing.