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The Breakfast Myth, Part 2: The Art and Science Of Not Eating Breakfast
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June 8, 2011
4:46 am
First-Eater
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February 22, 2010
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Caution: contains SCIENCE!

In , we discussed why the modern "breakfast" is really just snacks and dessert—and why eating it at all might be evolutionarily discordant. Here in Part 2, we explore the scientific evidence for and against breakfast—and what we should do in response.

But first, a short and entertaining detour!

The Shocking Origins Of Breakfast Cereal

We've already established that breakfast cereals are the nutritional equivalent of candy—but how were we bamboozled into eating expensive empty calories? Surprisingly, cereal wasn't originally a cynical marketing ploy to sell sugar to children. Felicity Lawrence, a British journalist, investigates:…

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June 8, 2011
6:03 am
Emma
Guest

I haven't eaten breakfast in ages (I'm a woman :D). I have a long black with a dash of cream first thing and then usually eat my first meal around 1300.
Sometimes, if I get caught out of the house without suitable food, I'll wait until dinner to eat. I'm pretty hungry by then, but it hasn't killed me yet.
Sorry, I don't have any portable breakfast ideas, but I haven't needed to think of any!

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June 8, 2011
6:52 am
Jo
Guest

I have a wide-necked thermos. I cook up a bacon and cheese omelette, slip it in the flask and it stays warm till lunch time if necessary. I don't add any liquid to the mix. Yum.

Alternatively I have the traditional continental breakfast of cheese and cold meats.

Another theory on women and breakfasts is that women are more likely than men to follow dietary advice. If we are told that eating breakfast is health and will keep us slim (which we are), then we eat it. Men don't seem to care so much. Just a thought. I'm a woman, and I have a late breakfast or sometimes skip it. I saw an interesting article some time ago that suggested that our culture identifies 'light' carb foods as more feminine (e.g breads) than 'heavy' fatty/protein foods (like steak) which are more masculine. Thus high carb low fat diets are aimed at women, and low carb more likely to be aimed at men. Just another point of view to ponder.

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June 8, 2011
6:56 am
Bodhi
Guest

Another great blogpost! I don't think you left any rock unturned. For me breakfast is just a habit, one that I need to break.

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June 8, 2011
7:06 am
Birgit
Guest

@Franco
"I visited and even partially lived in many european countries and according my observations there’s an universal trend among women to have a bigger feeding frequency (aka snacking through the day) as well as leaning more towards fruits/vegetables/salads and lean meat (like fish/chicken breasts) and shying mostly away from fatty cuts/eggs/offal.
Does this lead back to our hunter-gatherer past?
I think so."

My guess is they snack because they are ravenously hungry because they are constantly calorie restricting (or trying to) because they are forever trying to lose weight, and the usual low fat/high carb diet that goes with that wouldn't help either.

And they are leaning towards the salads and low fat crap because they are brainwashed to believe that that's the way to lose weight.
Women are targeted heaps more by the advertising industry and put themselves under a lot more pressure to conform to some super skinny ideal of health. They just do what the mags tell them.

I've been skinny all my life, and I've always loved eggs and fatty meats and cream and butter, and my favourite breakfast had always been dinner leftovers. If I had had weight trouble, I bet I would have fallen for the lean meat/salad/healthy whole grains and what not nonsense as well.

I could see it the other way round as well of course. If I had fallen for the nonsense, I would have ended up with weight troubles... But I was lucky to grow up in a butter loving European household :-)

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June 8, 2011
7:59 am
Beth@WeightMaven
Guest

As I have a lot of personal experience in this (sad, but true), I've often thought that the reason obese folks statistically were more likely to skip breakfast is because we/they just weren't hungry for it ... largely of later night eating patterns.

There are folks, like Tim Ferriss, who promote eating within a half-hour of waking to try and beat that early AM cortisol shot. Me, I don't think it's necessary to try and counteract millions of years of evolution ;).

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June 8, 2011
8:08 am
Kikilula
Guest

Have you tried a roast-witch? 2 slices of cold leftover roast, homemade mayonnaise, greens, cheese, slices of boild eggs, bacon, onions... combine as you like it.

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June 8, 2011
8:08 am
Check the links̷
Guest

[...] The Breakfast Myth, Part 2. [...]

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June 8, 2011
8:08 am
Check the links̷
Guest

[...] The Breakfast Myth, Part 2. [...]

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June 8, 2011
8:30 am
Peggy The Primal Par
Guest

You take on an important topic for sure. Typical breakfasts are a nightmare, but I question the validity of the studies you provided. What is the value of the research on diabetics or the research on daily energy intake if the studies used subjects who ate a standard diet before the study and who ate carbs for breakfast during the study? How do we know that a high fat, zero carb breakfast isn't actually optimal? We don't if there haven't been any studies on that. Definitely, there is value in skipping a high carb breakfast, but this says nothing about skipping a low carb, high fat breakfast.

"And that’s why modern “breakfast food” is snacks and sugary junk: it’s all we can force ourselves to eat when we’re not hungry."

I don't think this makes much sense. I, and probably half the paleo community, have no problem eating bacon and eggs upon rising. I don't personally get hungry before about 9 or 10, waking up around 5 or 6, but I eat because my family wants to eat. We all eat the same thing - bacon and eggs. We don't eat carbs in the morning and we all eat our breakfast voraciously and with immense pleasure.

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June 8, 2011
8:36 am
Jan
Guest

Yet another stellar post - and you quoted me! I'm flattered. :)

My husband and I are beginning to experiment with a little intermittent fasting - mostly just not eating until noon a couple of days a week, although last week we both went without eating for 24 hours. It wasn't anything we planned - it just sort of happened - but we both dropped a couple of pounds quite suddenly. Nor was it difficult at all.

The new slogan should be "Breakfast: The Most Overrated Meal of the Day."

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June 8, 2011
9:02 am
Halifax, UK
Gnoll
Forum Posts: 365
Member Since:
June 5, 2011
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I'm the "dingo's breakfast" guy :)

The conclusion does seem hazy and it is perhaps one of those things that remains inconclusive when studied. I think we are all reaching the same conclusion, though - eat if you are hungry, eat later if you're not.

The idea of drinking water when you wake up is good - one of the very first things I do (after the "scratch" ... but before the "piss") is drink about a pint of water which I have by my bedside and the rest overnight allows the chlorine to drop out ... I then have my "look around".

When I do eat breakfast, it is usually later in the morning around 11 or so. This does not fit into my work pattern, so during the week I just go straight through until 12 and have something then. At weekends I get the chance and it fits into the pattern of our weekends - I usually do the full monty of an English breakfast, but since focussing some attention on exactly what I eat I will be making a few changes:

  • Bacon, sausage and black pudding - these stay on the plate
  • Mushrooms - these stay on the plate
  • Eggs - these stay on the plate
  • Fried bread, toast and beans - these can go*
  • Hash browns - these can go

* my wife, bless her, will always follow me as I have her best interests at heart but she really likes beans and fried bread. I like fried bread, too and so will continue to put these on her plate and maybe a small piece of fried bread on mine. I do all the cooking, BTW.

What else can be included to substitute the starches?

  • Lava bread - part of the Welsh breakfast; a great pack of iron and flavour - seaweed boiled down and minced
  • Spinach, sea spinach or samphire - oddly, I am finding that these green foods satisfy any desire for bread or pasta on the plate
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Living in the Ice Age http://livingintheiceage.pjgh.co.uk
June 8, 2011
9:06 am
Paul Verizzo
Guest

Coincidentally to these two recent posts, I had started on delaying breakfast for the IF factor. Breakfast is, of course fatty, eggy, and meaty or cheesy. And jalapenos in the eggs!

What I've found is that with a 1000 calorie brunch or lunch, I'm good for most of the rest of the day. And you are reading comments from a certified foodaholic. Fifty years of being skinny let me do that. Then my evil ways and sorta-SAD caught up with me about almost two decades ago.

Batman, Kellog, at least, definitely had a moral goal in his work. He was very proud that he and his wife had a pure marriage....like, you know, no sex. He believed that fiber (which is a misnomer) would reduce the sex drive. For a great read on this and all matters of the mythology of fiber, go to http://www.fibermenace.com/ Poke around, he has most of his book content online.

Oh, I had a girlfriend who loved her steaks RARE! Like, wave it over the flame, ya know? Anything left over for me the next day absolutely needed to be cooked more.

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June 8, 2011
9:49 am
Halifax, UK
Gnoll
Forum Posts: 365
Member Since:
June 5, 2011
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Oh ... I meant to say that as well ... my wife likes steak rare. I think I converted her with buying good meat and meat that has a good marbling which just turns gorgeous and moist with a little heat.

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Living in the Ice Age http://livingintheiceage.pjgh.co.uk
June 8, 2011
10:48 am
Jessi Hance
Guest

Fantastic article and discussion here. I had no idea that your first meal could warp your metabolism for the rest of the day.

I do a cooking marathon on the weekend and pack up 10 meals for the week. I grab 2 meals in the morning and take them to work, and eat them when I get around to it. Usually my first meal is between 10:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. Sometimes I never get around to eating the second meal until I get home, around 5:30 p.m.

I don't distinguish between different kinds of meals. Any good meal is good for breakfast. Meat, seafood, or eggs, with plenty of veggies, and maybe some yummy toppings like avocado or Bubbies' sauerkraut. Occasionally a little goat feta, what a treat.

Regarding Mr. Kellogg, from now on, his name will bring a cold shiver to my spine (and other parts). I happen to be leading a celibate life, but it doesn't mean I want to suppress or mutilate myself!

Here's to a healthy libido for everyone! :D

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June 8, 2011
10:59 am
Timothy
Guest

Tremendous post as usual. J., you da gnoll.

I've been a big fan of fasting for a while now. For most of the past year, I fasted until dinner 5-6 days out of the week. Once your body gets used to it, it's terribly convenient and energy levels just keep going up until you break the fast in the late afternoon/early evening. Upon breaking the fast, I experienced the truth that hunger is the best sauce. Those who eat when they're not really hungry are missing out on the full gastronomical experience.

Just lately I've started weightlifting, and so I eat lunch on those days. Since I work in an office, time is in short supply, so I usually go for the following:

Sardines
Raw broccoli
Whey concentrate shake with raw eggs, raw cow's-milk kefir, cinnamon, and berries

Sardines are an outstanding choice for a convenient and quick lunch. The taste might be a little unusual at first, but it's easy to get used to. Get them with the skin and bones intact, and you're getting not just a clean protein source, but also plenty of calcium, significant amounts of vitamins B12 and D, and one of the most concentrated sources of EPA and DHA available. All at a bargain price, and in a convenient tin which can be stored for over a year. I can take in 60-80g of protein in one meal from sardines alone. They go well with broccoli.

As for the shake, generally I try to chew my nutrients, not drink them. So the whey shake is a bit of a compromise for convenience, and I drink it only after half-filling my belly with sardines and broccoli, slowing absorption somewhat.

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June 8, 2011
12:37 pm
Carl
Guest

"Paleo" man I'm sure rose pretty early. What would be considered breakfast vs. lunch. 4 hours, 6 hours after waking?

Pemmican for Brunch for me.

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June 8, 2011
12:59 pm
Melissa.
Guest

@ Franco: Modern women's eating habits have nothing to do with their Paleolithic ancestresses' snacking while gathering berries.

Women in Western societies eat smaller, more frequent meals because they are bombarded by diet and weight loss advice from childhood. Women--to a degree that men have a very hard time imagining--are raised with the constant admonishment against getting fat, because to be a fatgirl is to be worthless and unloveable. This is nothing new; I was put on my first diet at the age of nine, way back in 1976, and was constantly on- and off weight-loss diets for the next thirty years. My mother, born in the early '40s, has had a similar experience. And all the women around us did--and continue to do--the exact same thing.

Most diet and weight-loss advice from experts is packaged and sold first to women. It's on daytime television shows, in women's magazines, and in any other media targeted toward women. If you're female, you can't avoid it--it's everywhere. Watch TV or flip through a magazine and pay attention to exactly what kind of people are featured in ads for low-fat, "lite," calorie-reduced, "diet" foods. If you do, you'll very soon realize that they are almost all female.

Since the prevailing diet/weight loss wisdom has been to eat restricted calories, low fat, and high carbs, women often eat many small, light meals to stave off hunger as best they can. This isn't how they want to eat; it isn't how they have evolved to eat after millennia of berry-picking; it's how they eat in order to cope with culturally-mandated chronically elevated insulin, semi-starvation, and malnourishment.

Certain foods are perceived as "feminine" because they are the foods women are allowed to eat to while on diets, so women eat more of them. However tasty they may be, they aren't very satisfying or nutritious on their own, and the few that are are only eaten in small amounts (tuna, skinless chicken). Women eating small meals, primarily composed of plant matter, is a cultural construction--not something women have somehow evolved to do separately from men.

As for the "women (as a massive, undifferentiated group) don't like rare/blue/bloody meat" claim, I don't know where you're getting that from. Well-done meat may be a preference among the women you know, but it is by no means universal. If women do tend to order their steaks cooked medium- to well, it is more likely due to fears of e. coli or foodborne illness than a genuine preference for overcoooked meat. Women tend to be far more aware of these hazards since they still do most of the cooking, as well as looking after their kids, so they are more likely to minimize risk to themselves and family members by overcooking meat.

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June 8, 2011
1:20 pm
Melissa.
Guest

Okay! Where were we? Oh, yes--breakfast!

I've never been a fan of breakfast. Never been a fan of set mealtimes, either--they never seem to coincide with when I'm actually hungry. So rather than following culturally-dictated mealtimes, I wait for hunger to show up, then eat. And since dehydration can feel like hunger, I make sure it's the real thing by using the glass-of-water tip you've given--about half the time, it's not.

When I ate a "healthy" low-fat, high-carb diet, hunger showed up all the time. In fact, it sat on the stoop and hung around in between meals, too.

Since switching over to high-fat, very-low-carb, I'm rarely hungry, and never first thing in the morning. Most days, I don't get the first hunger pangs until well after noon, or even well into the evening. I usually only eat one big meal a day, and maybe one smaller, lighter meal, and that's it.

There are also days when I never get hungry at all, and on those days? I just don't eat. Then, when hunger returns, I feed it whatever it wants.

The most important meal of the day? It's the one you eat when you have genuine hunger, no matter what the clock or your mom or the latest dietary "experts" say. Animals know this perfectly well; funny how we humans have to wake ourselves up to it.

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June 8, 2011
1:47 pm
TruthandJustice
Guest

I have been skipping breakfast for the past several months and it has been amazing. I don't really feel any different, but I do find it easier to eat my target number of calories and it saves me a lot of time. I can wake up and be out the door in less than 15 minutes, sometimes 10. All I do is wake up, jump in the show, dress, and head out the door. No need to sit around waiting for breakfast to cook.

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