Food for Thought on a Fast Day – Do you need breakfast?

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Food for Thought on a Fast Day – Do you need breakfast?

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  • Over the next few weeks, we’ll be posting  10 myths about dieting from the article by Michael Mosley in The Times.

    On my first day at medical school a hundred of us gathered in a lecture theatre to be greeted by the Dean. He talked for an hour but there are only two things he said that I still remember. The first was that, based on previous experience, four of us in that room would marry. He was right; I met my future wife that day.

    The other thing he said was that while we would learn an enormous amount over the next 5 years, within 10 years of graduating much of what we had learnt would be out of date.  Medicine is constantly changing and unless you keep up you are doomed to cling to outmoded ideas.

    This is particularly true in the field of human nutrition and dieting. So what are some of the most common and firmly held dieting myths?

    Claim 1 Eating breakfast is important if you want to avoid putting on weight.

    We are often told that eating a good breakfast is a simple way to control your weight. If you skip breakfast then you will get hungry later in the day and snack on high calorie junk food. Eating breakfast revs up your metabolism, preparing you for the day.

    It seems a plausible suggestion but is it true?

    There have certainly been plenty of studies which have compared people who skip breakfast with people who don’t and the breakfast eaters are often found to be slimmer and healthier. This could be for the reasons stated above, or it could be that breakfast skippers are generally less healthy individuals and the fact that they are a little bit fatter has little to do with when they decide to break their fast.

    One way to test the merits of these claims is to take two groups of people, breakfast skippers and breakfast eaters, and make them swop habits. Get the breakfast skippers to eat breakfast and vica versa.

    In a recent study, The effectiveness of breakfast recommendations on weight loss: a randomized controlled trial”,, researchers did just that. They got 300 overweight volunteers and asked the breakfast skippers to eat breakfast, while those who routinely ate breakfast were asked to skip breakfast for the duration of the trial.

    They weighed the volunteers beforehand and then at the end of 16 weeks. There was high compliance with the new regimes, so what actually happened?

    Well, the breakfast skippers who had made themselves eat breakfast lost an average of 0.76kgs. That is not a huge amount, but it is consistent with what breakfast advocates might expect.

    Except that the breakfast eaters, who had spent 16  weeks skipping breakfast, lost an almost identical amount, an average of 0.71kgs.

    The researchers concluded that, contrary to what is widely believed, a recommendation to eat breakfast  “had no discernable effect on weight loss in free-living adults who were attempting to lose weight”.

     A similar randomised study done years ago, but with smaller numbers, came to a similar conclusion. The researches thought that making people change their habits was what made the difference, or as they put it “those who had to make the most substantial changes in eating habits to comply with the program achieved best results”.

    I like breakfast, it is one of my favourite meals to the day, and I certainly think that children should eat breakfast. If you want to keep fuller for longer then the evidence is clear that you should eat a breakfast that is rich in protein, like eggs, ham or fish, rather than sugary cereals or toast. Protein is more satiating than carbohydrates.

    If you are one of those who don’t like eating breakfast and who, perhaps, find that eating breakfast first thing makes you hungrier, then there seems no compelling scientific reasons to do so.

    Thanks for posting this, as the article requires a subscription.

    Whilst on one level I’m pleased that there is now evidence that early morning break fast isn’t all it was hyped up to be (I’m not an early bird but have been pressured for a lot of years to eat first thing), isn’t it just a teensy bit mad that we need official peer reviewed research evidence (and bearing in mind we will need more and bigger trials to verify these findings) before we can even begin to challenge the establishment about their dietary guidelines (three square meals a day, high carb load, snacks etc). Particularly when those guidelines themselves are hardly science-based and clearly aren’t maintaining the health of the population.

    The longer I live the more I realise the (human) world really has gone mad.

    Thank you for this interesting post. I never used to have breakfast until I started a high-protein diet. And it never seemed to agree with me. Now that I am on the 5:2 I have gone back to that habit and I am feeling much better.

    Michael, thank you very much for posting this. I do like to eat a small high-protein breakfast myself, except on fast days, when I prefer to save all my calories for the evening meal. But I think it’s annoying that people who just aren’t hungry in the morning are pressured to eat when they’re not hungry! Now they will be able to counter the pressure with scientific evidence. Any time someone is pressured to eat when they don’t feel hungry, I think that’s a problem.

    This is an interesting read.

    I never used to eat breakfast as I used to find eating early in the morning made me queasy. Then about 10 years ago when I got to my heaviest weight I started eating a healthy breakfast albeit not until around 9 or 10am as part of a ‘calorie controlled diet’. I lost lots of weight but it was not eating breakfast that helped me lose weight per se it was the fact eating breakfast meant I stopped eating rubbish at 11am because I was so hungry and couldn’t last until lunch. Also because I was restricting my calories for the first time in a while I was actually hungry for breakfast.

    I don’t eat breakfast on fast days preferring to save all my calories for my evening meal (and sometimes a small evening snack).

    I got started fasting more than 3 years ago now because I didn’t wake up hungry and if I don’t take a lunch to work, I don’t have an opportunity to eat there. So you see how easy it was to just go until late afternoon, early evening until starting (and then eat like crazy until an hour before bed), and I lost weight. After I’d been doing it for awhile I heard Michael talking to Diane Rehm on the radio while I was driving to work.

    Interestingly I think, after losing more than 60 pounds I often wake up hungry and I really enjoy breakfast. It’s become my favorite meal. Enjoying breakfast like a “normal” person is another of the many benefits I gathered from this.

    Almost forgot my point. The reason I think it’s interesting is that if many other people also don’t wake up hungry because they’re overfed (we’re all different and I know not everyone reacts this way), but if very many others are like me, then it would make breakfast eating correlate with healthy eating without breakfast being causative making the data difficult to interpret. I’m a nervous eater. I eat to keep busy and provide stimulation as well as to relieve hunger, so attacking the problem solely from a hunger-satiety perspective doesn’t work for me, and I suspect for many others.

    interesting stuff..

    i always used to eat breakfast as a child and as a teen and really sort of stopped once i started working..I just find It too much to stomach – unless its cereal which to be honest I find makes me feel tired an hour later and craving more sugar, hence the reason i avoid cereal. I don’t tend to really start feeling hungry until about 11am. Quite often though I don’t actually eat anything until about 1- 2pm. I have noticed since reading into the IF way of eating that what happens to me is that if I havent eaten until 2pm (sometimes 3pm on a work day) then I tend to be so hungry that i’ll pretty much eat anything and possibly more of it. I think that this is possibly where the idea of breakfast being an important part of losing weight comes from – which Im not so sure is true. Eating when not hungry just does not make any sense to me. However I do wonder if it does have something to do with overall calorific intake – if i eat breakfast I tend not to overeat so much later on in the day….

    I like an egg for breakfast on my fast days, as a small amount of protein helps me get through the day. If not an egg, then I have fish.

    I have reached my goals in weight and size, thanks to 5:2. I lost 15 kg (33 lbs) in 23 weeks, sticking to 5:2 as set out in Michael’s book. My waist is 17 cm smaller and I am down two clothing sizes and loving it.

    On most days I have a small amount of protein and lots of green vegetables for dinner. I am continuing on 5:2 the emotional control over food feels good, and I enjoy the fasts. I also believe in the health benefits of fasting.

    Breakfast is the very important meal of the day. I started my day by eating my breakfast. My usual breakfast is porridge with fresh fruits. Fruits are the best for breakfast, it is delicious and healthy. I also drink almond milk during breakfast. Sometimes we eat egg sandwich and frittata during breakfast.

    Personally, I love breakfast. Is it necessary? Nope.

    It is important to eat when you are hungry. Losing connection to what the body is saying to us about hunger is likely to be one of the reasons we became overweight to begin with.

    Wait to eat until your body gives a clear signal it is hungry. If you don’t eat three meals a day, that is OK.

    Also, stop eating when full. Left overs are good!

    haha it must be because I am on a fast day and have lost my marbles your post sophierogers makes no sense at all to my fat reduced brain.
    anyone else get her jist !!!

    I think it’s computer generated using buzz words. Maybe someone should report it. 🙂

    One-Tray Baked Cod Provençal

    Serves 2
    Calories per serving: 247
    Preparation time: 10 minutes
    Cooking time: 20 minutes

    1 red pepper, seeded and cut into wedges 30 cals
    1 yellow pepper, seeded and cut into wedges 30 cals
    1 courgette, thickly sliced 34 cals
    1 red onion, peeled and sliced 38 cals
    1-cal cooking spray
    2 x 150g cod fillets, skin removed 288 cals
    100g cherry tomatoes 20 cals
    30g drained and rinsed pitted black olives 40 cals
    zest and juice of ½ lemon 9 cals
    1 tbsp fresh oregano or thyme leaves 5 cals
    salt and pepper

    1. Heat the oven to 200˚C/400˚F/Gas mark 6. Place the chopped peppers, courgette and onion in a shallow baking dish. Spray with a little 1-cal cooking spray, season well with salt and pepper and roast for 10 minutes.
    2. Place the cod fillets on top, season and spray with 1-cal cooking spray. Scatter the tomatoes, olives and lemon zest around the fish, and squeeze over the lemon juice. Sprinkle with the herbs, season again, and bake for 8–10 minutes, until the cod has just turned a denser white colour (this shows it’s cooked). Scatter with the olives and serve immediately.

    I always thought breakfast was important my whole life but now I realise that was just something that was pushed by breakfast manufactures mainly . I stopped eating breakfast once I started 5.2 so I could save the calories for lunch and dinner and then I decided to cut it out during the week also, bar weekends. I do not feel Hungary mid morning, no lack of energy, absolutely no difference to any performance mentally or physically so that makes me believe you do not need breakfast but if you like it that’s fine, we are all different.

    What about the health of the stomach, if after preparing itself for food intake and after releasing the bile/acids, to digest the food, it remains empty, doesn’t it lead to sores and possible tumours? I am worried about this aspect of fasting, and the effects on the workings of the stomach.

    davidfitness46 – I can’t remember the last time I ate breakfast (other than when I’d paid for a B&B bed in a hotel) and I’ve been doing 5:2 since August 2012, so my stomach acids haven’t revolted yet 😀

    Why would they anyway? Why would they ‘expect’ food? Maybe they do at the moment because you feed yourself at rigid, set times but a couple of weeks of not having breakfast and you’ll get used to any hunger pangs and break your stomach of its expectations no problem.

    The human race would not have gotten very far if it were possible to die of hunger or stomach acid/bile overload just by missing a couple of meals every now and then. 5:2 works precisely because the human body is set up to deal with austerity of food availability from time to time.

    The digestive system is reactive rather than proactive, and not eating will not cause it any ill effect.

    Got to admit that before finding this way of eating, I’d always believed that breakfast was ‘the most important meal of the day’ but have personally speaking found that not to be the case now.

    On a Fasting day the first thing I eat is my main meal in the evening whilst I fill up on Tea/Coffee during the day. I have no real desire to eat unhealthy fatty or sugary food.

    However on the occasions I do have an early breakfast I find I crave food a lot more often including unhealthy or sugary foods

    I love breakfast, but I don’t need it because I am never truly hungry first thing in the morning, and I doubt that many of us are. I am invariably thirsty, and a pot of tea is all I need to keep me happy until lunch. On FDs I don’t eat until dinner but have found that a bit more difficult in cold weather now that I’ve lost so much weight. Thanks to someone on another thread, I’ve re-discovered the delight of a mug of Bovril. But I digress, the need to eat breakfast is a myth perpetuated by Mr Kellogg et al in order to line their pockets. Fill yourself up with a bowl of sugar laden processed carbs, initiate insulin overtime and guarantee you’ll be starving by 10.30!
    Children need a healthy breakfast but most of them don’t get one as they eat cereals. They would be much better off having a boiled egg, but that takes more effort than opening a packet!

    I skip breakfast on a FD and then eat at lunchtime and early evening. I thought that it would be impossible to miss breakfast and then walk 45 minutes to work….it isn’t.

    Yeah I think one of the key side effects of IF in whatever method you follow it is that after a while it can break a lot of the habit/non thinking eating we do. It’s morning so I must eat, it’s lunch so I must eat a meal etc etc. Years of training has led to a routine of eating whether our bodies actually need the food or not. On an eating day I quite often realise in the evening I’ve had no lunch, yes not miraculous but definitely something that would not have happened before

    I normally eat breakfast every day but have found on my fasting days that as soon as I eat something I am hungry within a couple of hours. If I don’t have anything for breakfast, I am less hungry during the day. I save my breakfast until early/ mid afternoon and then have my light supper early evening. I can keep myself busy during the day so tend not to think about the lack of meals too much. I also find trying to sleep with a grumbling stomach difficult so this plan seems to work for me.

    I ate breakfast as a child, then again when I embarked on a fatloss plan. However I never enjoyed it, found mornings to busy to actually sit down and eat it, leaving me feeling nauseous. I no longer eat it on any day and feel great. I won’t be reintroducing anytime soon.

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